With summer officially around the corner and temperatures edging higher, we've put together a giant list of ways to keep your cool.
We'll start with a quick apology to our readers in the Southern Hemisphere: We know you're there. Bookmark this and read it again in six months — but you'll find some general energy tips here that work as well during the winter as they do all summer long.
Energy isn't cheap, and power generation means more toxins and greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. So keep yourself cool while saving money — and the environment!
The little things
This set of ideas costs nothing to implement. Most are just a matter of thoughtful energy habits. Since none of these involve capital improvements, they're renter-friendly.
• Set your thermostat to 78. Go higher, if the humidity is low enough and you feel comfortable. Turning a thermostat down to cool a room quicker doesn't work, by the way — it makes the A/C run longer, not colder.
• Wear short-sleeved, loose clothing. You dress lightly to go out on a summer day. Do the same indoors. Absorbent, wickable cotton is the hot weather classic.
• Drink lots of water. This is good practice, anyway. Cold drinks lower your body's core temperature and cool you down quickly.
• Draw your drapes. Keeping your blinds, shades and curtains closed — particularly on the west side of the house — a practice that helps keeps heat from getting inside in the first place.
• Turn off unnecessary heat-producing devices. Incandescent light bulbs are a big heat generator. Shut down electronic gear when you're not using it.
• Use the microwave. Conventional cooking dumps heat in the house, but microwaves cook the food directly.
• Wash and dry clothes when the day is cool. Do laundry early in the day and late at night. Don't forget clotheslines: they generate no heat in the house.
• Skip your dishwasher's dry cycle. Rack your dishes and let them air dry instead.
• Open the bathroom window when showering. Vent heat and humidity outside, rather than back into the house. Obviously, you don't want to put on a show for the neighbors. If you have privacy concerns, open up the window after dressing. Keep the bathroom door closed.
• Run your air conditioner fan on low. This is particularly helpful in areas with high summer humidity. The low air volume helps your A/C dehumidify.
• Keep heat-producers away from your thermostat. Don't allow a closely located TV or water heater to convince your thermostat that it's hotter than it really is.
• Check your refrigerator settings. The fridge takes heat out of your food and transfers it to your kitchen, so be sure you're running it efficiently. The refrigerator works best when set between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the freezer around 5 degrees.
• Turn off your furnace pilot light. You can always re-light it next autumn.
• Close the fireplace damper. Don't send cool air up the chimney. If your fireplace has a glass door, shut it.
These are all relatively inexpensive things you can do to keep your cooling costs and summertime energy use down. Most will pay off in savings from season to season.
• Install ceiling fans. If you're a mammal, you're surrounded by a small envelope of body heat. Fans move this heat away from you and provide evaporative cooling as you sweat. If you choose fans with lights, look for the kind with dedicated (pin-type) CFLs. It's also smart to have a few portable fans you can move around the house.
• Replace your air-conditioning filters. Clean filters in window units. You should do this every month, so keep a stock of filters on hand.
• Buy a dehumidifier. EnergyStar says a 40-pint unit will save up to $20 a year and last up to a decade. Moderating your home's humidity — in addition to making you feel cooler — will reduce musty smells and the growth of harmful molds.
• Shade your air conditioner. If your A/C is in full sun, it's working harder than it needs to. Don't obstruct the air flow.
• Have your air conditioner serviced. Coolant levels should be checked every year. A professional also will clean and lubricate the system. Without annual service, your air conditioner will lose about 5 percent efficiency each year — more if the coolant is low. Use Puron or some other non-CFC coolant, rather than environmentally harmful Freon.
• Check your weather stripping. Caulk leaky window frames, while you're at it. This also will suppress drafts in the winter. If you have a window-mounted air conditioner, be sure the accordion seal is tight. Add rubber gaskets to wall and light switches to make sure the wall is sealed.
• Insulate interior hot water pipes. There's no point in heating your room air along with the water. If it's indoors, wrap your electric hot water heater with an approved insulator. Gas heaters should be insulated by professionals.
The big stuff
Here are some big-ticket items appropriate for homeowners committed to long-term energy savings. The more you do, the more you save!
• Upgrade your attic insulation. Most experts recommend 10-17 inches of R38. You have a lot of options in this area, so it pays to consult with a professional.
• Improve attic ventilation. It can get up to 140 degrees in your attic during the summer. Adding an electric fan or wind turbines will move some of this unwanted heat away from your living space.
• Plant deciduous trees on the west side of your home. You're looking for fast-growing shade trees to keep the hottest part of your house cool during the summer months. They'll lose their leaves each autumn, letting sunshine through once it turns cool. Opt for lightweight trees in areas prone to hurricanes and winter ice storms.
• Replace gas appliances with efficient electric units. Pilot lights contribute to indoor heating, and electric prices are generally more stable than natural gas.
• Replace older windows with new, energy-efficient units. The U.S. Department of Energy says this is the best bet for improving year-round home energy efficiency. Modern units feature advanced coatings to keep cooling and heat where you want it. If you're on a tight budget, consider interior or exterior storm windows to beef-up your current installation.
• Upgrade older air conditioners. Another expensive item, but cooling can account for half of your summer energy bill. You're looking for a unit with a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ration (SEER) of 13 or more. The best deals are obviously found off-season, but this is one investment that will immediately return savings.
Now it's your turn. Got any tips on staying cool through the summer months? Big or small, please share them in our comments section!
Also on MNN: 7 ways to live a more sustainable life
Copyright Lighter Footstep 2008