I have never had air conditioning in any of my homes. I have lived in the eastern US, where a sheet was too hot for sleeping at night, and the air was thick, still, and filled with moisture before a big thunderstorm.
Now I’m in the high desert of the southwest where the nights are so cool, you can sleep with the windows open and your winter covers on! I love it, but I clearly remember those muggy nights back east.
To beat the heat without air conditioning is to save money, resources and emissions. Save AC for emergencies, those unbearable days or nights. Try these ideas first.
Moving air is cool air
No matter how hot the air is, if it is moving slightly, it can cool your skin by as much as four degrees. A breezy day feels cooler than a still day, right? Imitate that in your house.
When I built a house in New Hampshire, I placed casement windows to catch summer’s prevailing breeze when open. With two stories and third floor loft, I’d open the uppermost windows to keep hot air moving up and out.
In a different house now out west, I have a ceiling fan. In winter, it turns clockwise to bring hot air down from the ceiling. In a heat wave, I change the direction of the fan to bring in cool air at night. The windows and doors stay open, and the fan runs on the slowest speed. Cool air is drawn in, and the house cools down. I close the house up in the morning.
Another option is to install a whole-house fan in the attic. With all the interior doors, downstairs windows and the basement door open, the fan pulls cool, nighttime air from the lowest part of the house. It displaces the hot air, which is pulled out the attic vents. This only works well if your attic is ventilated!
Keeping the heat out
The easiest way to do this is open your windows at night, and close them in the morning. It’s important to weatherize your home by caulking and weatherstripping all doors and windows. This keeps heat in during the winter, too, reducing your utility bills year round.
The curtains on my sunniest windows stay closed in mid-summer. Light color fabric or blinds reflect the heat. Overhangs and awnings also shade windows.
Low-e windows are made for certain window orientations. I have a sliding glass door that lets in the morning sun, but keeps out the heat. This has made a huge difference in the indoor temperature.
If you are building new or remodeling, a light colored roof reflects heat. Beneath that roof, your attic should have lots of insulation. This has the winter benefit of keeping heat in, and the summer benefit of keeping heat out.
Consider installing thermal mass, which absorbs heat from the environment. In winter, it radiates it back into the room for a slow, gentle heat. In summer, it absorbs it and does not let it go. This has to do with temperature differences and air movement (thermo-dynamics), so I won’t get into it here.
Plant shade trees on the west side of the house. This takes some planning, but if you intend to stay in your house, it is worth the investment.
Tips on how to eliminate heat in the summer
- Do not use bricks, rocks, or gravel in your landscaping on the south and west sides of your house. These absorb afternoon heat that finds its way indoors.
- Turn off gadgets and appliances – computer, monitor, tv, pilot lights and lights. Cook in a microwave instead of using the stove. I have done this for a few years now, and it does make a difference.
- Replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs, which are cooler. They last longer, too, so they are a good investment.
Living With the Planet
When you adjust your home to stay cool, you become aware of how the sun and wind affect your house. You are living with the planet when you put some effort into staying cool without air conditioning.
Some locations are unbearably hot, and air conditioning is a necessity. A window unit in one room used in conjunction with a fan for circulation is more efficient than a whole-house system. Less electricity is used, meaning you save resources and money, and keep your carbon footprint small. But, remember, not using AC at all is even more eco-friendly.