Air Conditioning in the Summer: To AC or Not To AC?
It’s mid-summer. It’s hot. If you’re lucky, you might live in a cool spot where an open window provides a cooling breeze. I’m a lucky one, but I have friends and family in the southeast and the low desert. Without air conditioning, they’d be dead. Or really uncomfortable!
Folks that live in extreme climates, though, get used to it. I have a friend who grew up in Tucson. He said he remembers riding around with the car windows down when it was 114. That’s their summer. When the temperatures drop to 75, they are cold. Temperature is relative. And so is comfort.
So how can you eliminate your AC or at least cut back on its use and its high energy bills and stay comfortable?
Ways you can cool down your house
First, do a little work on your house. Just like extra insulation keeps your house warm in winter, it also keeps it cool in summer. Batts, blown-in loose fill or rigid insulation all keep hot and cold air separated and where they belong. Good insulation will keep hot summer air outdoors.
Next, weatherproof your home. Sealing up small air spaces further keeps air infiltration down. Caulk around windows and doors, where the ceiling meets the attic and where vents go through ceilings. Put a strip at the bottom of exterior doors, too. Anywhere you feel a draft can be sealed for summer and winter efficiency.
Now that your envelope has been tightened, you can do a few things on a daily basis to keep your house cool.
Cool by design
Buy good quality, light-colored curtains for your sunny windows, and close them during the day. The light color will reflect the heat. Sun heats space in winter, which is fine, but in summer it will drive your cooling bill up.
Keep lights turned off, especially the old-school incandescent bulbs. They produce heat. It wouldn’t hurt to replace them with CFLs and LEDs, which are cooler and more efficient.
Open your windows at night to let cool air in, then close them up in the morning. A ceiling fan helps draw that lovely nighttime air in, too. Mine goes all summer, and sometimes the house gets so cool, I have to turn it off. If you can’t install a ceiling fan, put a small fan facing inwards in a window. Once you create the current, air will enter from all open windows.
Change your routine
Cook during the cool part of the day. If you work during the week, try cooking meals over the weekend to put in the freezer to be heated up quickly at night. When my kids were young, I used to buy cooked meats from the butcher, like a cooked chicken, ribs or brisket. Consider sliced turkey, ham or roast beef, too. (I steer away from cold cuts like bologna and other processed foods. They are full of preservatives and carcinogenic ingredients!) Salads, fruit salads and yogurt were also good summer foods in our house.
Use your dryer when it’s cool. Hang laundry on clothes racks or a clothesline instead. You want to create as little heat as possible in the house.
Create a natural breeze by opening a window low in the house (first floor or basement) on the shady side and a window at the peak on the opposite side of the house. This is called the stack effect, and the warm air will exit through the upper window while cool air is drawn in through the lower window. Brilliant!
Encourage air movement
If you are building new or remodeling, place windows where they can catch the natural breezes of your area. We get wind from the southwest, so I open windows on that side and on the northwest side for air movement. Moving air is cool air, even if it’s 100 degrees!
You can drop the temperature of air just by keeping it moving, even slightly. Experiment by closing up your house for 15 minutes. It will feel hot. Open a couple of windows to catch a breeze, and it will feel cooler.
Cool remodels for hot weather
Take note of the summer sun when placing windows, too. The less sun coming in during hot weather the better. Think carefully about window placement when building. Also consider a light colored roof. When I replaced my aging shingled roof, the roofing company suggested a light metal roof. Since I’m in the desert with no trees close to the house, the off-white color reflects the intense sun.
Reduce your reliance
Don’t worry. Fall will be here soon, and you will be trading popsicles and ceiling fans for hot chocolate and wool socks. In the meantime, cut your energy bills and lower your carbon footprint by reducing your reliance on your air conditioning unit, which will also last longer!