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It might sound like a strange goal. But in a world where energy use is skyrocketing and resources are dwindling, we have to start somewhere, right? That’s why we are trying a grand family experiment: to get through the heat of a Pennsylvania summer without turning on the air conditioning, yet managing to stay cool anyway.

Where to start?

The first seeds of the experiment were planted by trees. We live in a forest of majestic trees, all of which seemed to spring into full green foliage overnight. Dappled sunlight streams through the tall canopy, but areas where direct sunlight graces the property are few and far between. We wondered, early in the spring, what it might be like when summer rolled around: How much difference would all that shade really make?

“I wonder how long we will be able to wait until we have to turn on the air conditioner,” my husband mused.

A few weeks later, we started to wonder if we might be able to avoid it completely. And just like that, our plan was born.

Granted, we do have some serious advantages in our quest to keep the utility bills low. Here are a few of the best ways to prevent your home from becoming a sweltering pit during the worst of summer.

Big, wide eaves

Southern home trees porch

Shade is one of the key ways to avoid using the air conditioning, as many homes in the southern U.S. can attest. Anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, you are likely to find homes with wide, deep porches, sometimes with ceiling fans rotating gently underneath them.

These areas are crucial to provide the deep, dark shade that blocks the sun — a must in the deep south, but still a nice advantage for any home, anywhere. Wide eaves prevent the sun from hitting the side of your house, which helps keep the temperature down. Just press your hand to a piece of siding or brick that has been in the sun all day and you will quickly see just how wonderful those eaves can be.

Great airflow

The more windows you have, the more opportunities there are to catch a good breeze. Anyone who has luxuriated in the cool breeze blowing through a house in the dead of summer knows the value of a well-placed window! Be ready to open and close windows with the whims of the wind — literally.

Study the trees and shrubs outside to see which way the wind is blowing, and open windows that will let the air in, as well as those on the opposite side of the house. The two windows soon act like a funnel of sorts, pulling the air through the house and cooling things down.

The right kind of windows

Since we’re on the subject of windows, how can you make yours more summer-friendly? Insulated and reflective panels can work wonders to keep direct sunlight out of your home. Mesh screens can diffuse the radiant heat and keep things cooler, and it allows you to open those windows without worry about bugs crawling in.

High-reflectivity films might be a good option for windows that face east or west. And don’t forget shutters you can close, awnings that will provide the shade you need and UV blockers that can keep the sun from fading your furniture.

Natural light

Direct natural light can heat up your home very quickly, but indirect natural light can be the perfect way to keep your house bright without turning on a lamp. If you still use those old incandescents, you are probably well aware of how hot they can get. Even today’s more modern light bulbs can emit some heat, and when it’s the worst of the summer, every degree counts.

Trees galore

The importance of natural shade cannot be stressed enough. Trees that shelter your home can provide ample shade. A tree or high shrub near the air conditioning unit can help it run much more efficiently. Any windows that is shaded is a window that can let cool air in, instead of the unrelenting heat of the sun. Trees also hold in moisture, helping to keep things cooler than they might be in an open field.

Other supplementary ideas

If these methods aren’t enough, there are other options. Invest in a few very nice fans, and use them to help the breeze along on the hottest days. Ceiling fans can also help move the air. If you do break down and use the HVAC or air conditioning unit, make sure that you have chosen the highest-efficiency model you can reasonably afford, and only run it when absolutely necessary.

Our summer is off to a great start, and we haven’t yet used the fans we invested in last month — but the dog days of summer are still yet to come. I’ll keep you posted on how we fare without air conditioning this season!

 

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.