About this time of year, I start to wonder if my home will be comfortable enough to get my family through the heat of summer. We still haven’t made the leap to an active cooling system, and so far we’ve been fine without one. In part, that’s because we’re cheap. But it’s also due to our embrace of the whole house approach to energy efficiency. This means that we treat our house as a system of interrelated parts and we try to tackle its efficiency strategically. Here are some simple tips related to the whole house approach, including low- and no-cost measures you can take today to keep your home cool:
First, avoid the need for cooling in the first place:
- Air seal and insulate your house to recommended levels. (Consider a home energy audit to help you make these decisions.)
- Plant deciduous trees that leaf out during the summer on the south, west, and east sides of your house.
- Open windows at night and in early mornings to bring in cool air and close them during the day.
- Shade south- and west-facing windows – cellular/honeycomb shades are particularly effective.
- Close your blinds and shades during the day. (Leave enough light for houseplants.)
Then, if you’re still uncomfortable and want an active cooling system:
- Use portable room fans or strategically located ceiling fans.
- Install a whole house fan, which is the ‘whole home’ cooling option that is least expensive to operate.
- Consider using an evaporative (swamp) cooler. They are generally more efficient than air conditioners but use more water and require regular maintenance.
- If you are also considering a new electric heating system, heat pumps can both heat and cool one or more rooms. No ductwork is required.
- Use room air conditioning only in the areas where it is needed.
- Regularly change air conditioning filters and clean the condenser.
- Purchase Energy Star and Most Efficient products when shopping.
- Be especially cautious with cooling methods if your electric utility charges special summer rates based on usage.
- Check out our Cooling System Calculator to compare costs of different active cooling systems.