Staying cool during the hot summer months is a challenge for those who are also concerned about their electricity bill. Here are some ideas for staying cool without turning up the air-conditioning.
1. Make windows work.
As much as a third of your warm weather heat comes from your windows. With or without air-conditioning, keep window shades down and curtains closed during the hotter middle portion of the day—this is especially important for those windows that face south or west.
To increase air circulation and encourage cross-ventilation, open one window at the top and another window across the room at the bottom. Because heat rises, the cooler morning or evening air will enter the low opening, rise as it passes through the room and escape through the higher opening.
2. Fans improve flow.
Place a box fan in the window so that it blows outside during the cooler parts of the day; then open a window on the other side of the room to create a cross-draft. The fan will pull cool air in one side and send warm out the other side of the room. Hit the switch on your ceiling fan, so it runs counter-clockwise during warm weather. Set the speed a little higher to create a wind-chill effect that will make you feel cooler.
If your central heating system has a manual fan, turn the fan (only) on to circulate cooler basement or first floor air throughout the house. For a quick fix during the hottest part of the day, place a bowl of ice or an ice pack in front of an inward blowing fan to cool the air before it gets to you.
When you go to bed at night, take a cold shower or bath to cool your body. Then position an oscillating fan to blow gently over you while you sleep. Not only will the air make your body feel cooler, but the imitation breeze may also stir up fond memories of ocean or lakeside vacations!
3. Shut the door.
There’s no need to keep the guest room cool if no one is using it. Shut the door to rooms you are not using, so that you have one less room to share cool air with. If you are using air-conditioning, close the vents in those rooms. If you have a sunny enclosed porch or vestibule, keep that door to your house closed during the summer months. Otherwise you’ll invite a lot of warm air inside.
4. Hands off hot appliances.
To help maintain cool indoor temperatures, avoid using the kitchen stove. Grill food outside, serve cold meals or use the microwave. If you do use the stove, turn on the overhead fan to draw the extra heat outside.
To dry clothes, hang them on an outdoor line or limit the use of your clothes dryer to the cooler parts of the day. The same is true for your dishwasher—run it during the cooler hours, skip the hot drying cycle and opt for air drying. Switch from incandescent lights to CFL bulbs that give off much less heat. You might even opt to skip the hot hair dryer for a more natural air-dried style.
5. Find the right A/C setting.
Don’t go with the theory that one constant setting, 24 hours a day, is the best way to save energy and money—it’s not true. As a rule, you will save 3% on your utility bill for every degree you raise the temperature setting. You may have to experiment to find the best comfort level, but recommended settings are 78 degrees F when you are home, 85 degrees when you are away, and 82 when you are sleeping. Install a programmable thermostat to make it easier to manage your settings.
6. Plug up the leaks.
More than doors and windows, leaks in your duct work, plumbing and household trim can lead to as much as 80% of your lost cooled air. Contact your local utility company for a free energy audit. Though it may require a significant investment to upgrade, be aware that older air conditioning systems are less efficient, use more energy and produce less cool air. Regular maintenance will keep your equipment running at its best–and don’t forget to change the air filters at least every two months! Dirty filters block air flow and make your air conditioner work harder than it needs to.
Allison Levin is vice president of energy services for Cost Control Associates, Inc. She has been with the company 22 years and achieved industry certification as a carbon reduction manager in 2015. She received her MST from SUNY Plattsburgh and her BA in mathematics from Boston University. Learn more.