For the average household, summertime leads to higher energy bills as people crank up the air conditioning in their homes in order to combat rising temperatures outdoors. Unfortunately, families with a tight budget may find themselves forced to choose between in-home comfort or having to make sacrifices in other financial areas. Also, with the modern emphasis on green living and conservation, more and more individuals are likely to say “no” to AC and bear the heat in order to reduce their footprint.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were other options? What if we could cool our homes without spending a fortune on the electric bill or damaging our environment?
Actually, we can. Here are the top 10 most effective ways to cool your home without air conditioning.
1. Ceiling Fans
Probably the most common alternative to central air conditioning is the use of ceiling fans. If you don’t already have them installed in your home, you may want to consider putting a ceiling fan in every room – or at least all of the rooms that see frequent use. Of course, you want to make sure to get a fan that is big enough to cool the space where you plan to install it. Measure your room or rooms before you go shopping as most ceiling fans will have maximum room dimensions listed on the outside of the packaging. Finally, be certain that your fans are spinning in the correct direction. (Most fans have a directional switch.) Remember that hot air accumulates in high places. During cooler months, you want your ceiling fan to push hot air down and away from the ceiling in order to help heat your living space. In summer, the fan blades should pull air toward the ceiling so as to circulate, but avoid pushing more hot air down into a room.
2. Upgrade Your Window Treatments
While the initial investment for outfitting your home with energy-efficient window treatments is fairly lofty, you can expect to see a huge difference in temperature immediately upon installing them. The best choices for reflecting the sun’s heat are cloth roller, accordion, or Roman shades. For those with an eye for the all-natural, look for organic cotton or wool (which is flame-resistant) curtains or shades. Another option is woven bamboo, a wonderful renewable resource that makes for beautiful Roman or roller shades. Choose coverings equipped with a white outer lining for maximum heat-deflection.
Even if you find that you can’t afford to cover all of the windows in your home, just do one room or even one or two windows at a time. Start with the hottest room (usually the ones with west-facing windows or those that get the most afternoon sun) and work your way to rooms that are naturally cooler due to vegetation or orientation.
3. Plant Some Trees
This solution won’t offer immediate results, but over time can have a dramatic cooling effect. Plant trees around your house to shade walls from the suns heat. Choose trees that grow around 1 – 2 feet per year and make sure to feed and water your saplings appropriately so they can reach their maximum potential. Just remember not to plant new trees too close to your home as spreading roots can damage foundations. Expect the roots of your tree to reach to the same diameter as the upper growth (usually listed on the label) and plan ahead to allow enough room. If you aren’t sure how to pick a tree or if you’re concerned that you may have a ‘brown thumb’, most home improvement stores and nurseries have experts on staff who can take you through the process step-by-step.
Alternately, you can grow potted trees or other plants indoors for a less dramatic but more immediate cooling effect. The micro-climate formed by a roomful of potted plants actually lowers air temperature as it improves air quality. Position ‘part-sun’ potted plants in front of windows to trap more heat and help shade a room.
4. Grow Some Vines
For those who lack the time, patience, or funding to plant shade trees, the plant kingdom offers another option – climbing vines. Fast-growing, hardy, and sporting thousands of tiny solar panels (aka leaves), a mature climber can lower the temperature of an outer wall by as much as 50%. The best part? These plants require almost no maintenance. Read more about selecting and growing vines in this article from the Clemson Extension.
If you’re adverse to the idea of a plant growing up the side of your house, you could alternately put up a high trellis and train your climbing vine to grow up this structure instead.
5. Put Up Awnings
A great alternative to indoor window treatments or planting trees are awnings. These handy outdoor shades come in a variety of styles, seemingly endless patterns and colors, and can even be made retractable. For more information on choosing the right awning, read this helpful guide by Better Homes and Gardens.
6. Window Film
Another cost-efficient way to beat the heat is to cover your windows with heat-deflecting window film. These coverings are far less expensive that cloth or woven shades and while they can be difficult to install on your own, two people working together can get the job done fairly easily.
7. Seal Up Air Leaks
Doors and windows with old or damaged seals can be the source of a lot of discomfort in the summertime (as well as in the colder months!) You can usually feel the leaks in doors and windows even if you can’t see them – you walk by and a hot draft of air hits you out of nowhere. Don’t put off closing up these leaks! Grab a caulk gun and a tube or two of sealant, make sure the seam is clean, then go to work. For help in choosing the appropriate caulk for the job, read this guide. To fix air leaks under doors and windows where sealant isn’t an option, first check the weatherstripping – another easy do-it-yourself fix. For larger gaps, you can also purchase or make your own draft dodger.
8. Let in Cool Air
If you know the outdoor temperature is going to drop once the sun goes down, open up a window or two in every room. If your windows are the kind that open from the top down as well as from the bottom up, try opening both ends. As cool air flows in through the bottom crack, heat that has accumulated around the ceiling will be pushed out the top. Also, leave as many interior doors open as you can. This will promote better air circulation throughout your home and help to cool down overheated humans and pets as the breeze flows through the house. Just remember to close all open windows before the temperature climbs again the next day!
9. Mind Your Heat Sources
Try to minimize use of your stove or oven. Make certain that your dryer is properly connected to the output vent and run the machine on low heat whenever possible. Alternately, try installing a clothes line and dry your laundry outdoors to conserve even more on energy and bring down your utility bills. Also, if you haven’t already switched all of your old incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents or light-emitting diodes, summer is the time to do it. Incandescent light bulbs give off a tremendous amount of heat while CFL’s and LED’s are cooler, last longer, and use a lot less energy.
10. Portable Cooling Device
At some point in your life, you’ve probably seen people walking around out in the summer heat with a tiny battery-operated fan attached to a spray bottle full of water. You can make something similar in your home that does the same trick without the constant need to spritz water on your face. Just fill up two bottles with water, pop them in the freezer, and wait. Once they’re frozen, set one of the bottles between yourself and the business end of a small fan and let the cold air soothe away the summer heat. When the first bottle thaws, swap it out for the spare. Want to cool the air in your whole house this way? No problem! All you need is one fan and two bottles per room.