Cooling the home come summer is important, but it can be costly, not to mention the environmental impact. Here’s how to keep your house cool in summer while keeping your carbon footprint as minimal as possible.
Does it feel like sometimes the winter will never end? Of course, it does, but after the novelty of the holidays wears off, every cold day tends to feel a little longer until we greet those warm sunny rays. One sure sign that summer is finally approaching is kicking on those fans and A/C units that have been off duty for several months, but is that all we should be doing? Every year the average regional temperatures indeed increase, and that’s all the more reason why we should focus on finding more sustainable and eco-friendly ways to beat the heat. Here’s how to keep your house cool in summer and without A/C.
Keeping cool is about more than comfort. Overheating can be extremely dangerous for young children and the elderly, and it can negatively affect even the healthiest adult. Raised temperatures contribute to a decline in work productivity and sleep quality. It can lead to dehydration, especially in dryer climates. Poor air circulation and high temperatures in high humidity can even lead to harmful mold and bacteria growth.
Simply flipping on the air conditioning can be costly, harmful to the environment, and still not enough. Take a look at this guide to find out what more you can do to keep you and your home cool this summer.
How to keep your house cool in summer
There are a lot of permanent and semi-permanent solutions that you can apply to your house that will keep it cool in the long run, instead of relying on the quick fix of your A/C or the fan by your bed. Some are obvious, but quite a few are things you may not think will matter that can make a world of difference.
Take it from the Top
We all learned in science class that heat rises, so it makes sense, in this case, to start at the top and work your way down to eliminate the causes of heat and cool down at the source.
What’s in Your Attic?
I haven’t been in mine, well, ever, but that’s about to change now that it’s so apparent that it could be directing a lot of heat into the house. An easy thing to do to get the heat out is to attach a fan to your existing vents — no need to install a whole new system. If you can do a little more work, prevention is key. Insulating your attic ceiling and walls decreases the space’s temperature, but the key factor is that it prevents that heat from spreading to the rest of your house. This is why it’s also essential to weatherstrip your attic hatch, as that’s the most direct path the heat can take into your home. Insulating your attic will also help you out by keeping the heat in during the wintertime.
Colors on the Roof
It’s the hottest day of the year, what are you wearing? Dark colors or the lightest you can find? Its primary color theory, black attracts heat and white reflects, a very cool (see what I did there) trick you can use to hack the heat on your roof. Painting it white will drastically reduce the amount of heat drawn to your home, and you can also buy white roof panels to install for less commitment and mess.
More than a Ceiling Fan
If you’re in the market for a house or can do renovations, investing in the right ceiling fan can effectively cool the space. There are a few options you can choose from, and they can be different depending on your needs.
A small fan in a large room won’t serve as much more than decoration, so keep the size of the room in mind. They make fans with 3-5 blades, and in this case, less is more. It might make sense that more blades equal more airflow, but those extra one or two blades only add aesthetic appeal. A five-blade fan moves just as much air as a three-blade, and fewer blades are more energy efficient with less load on the motor. If you’re looking to fine-tune a fan for more air movement, focus on the pitch or angle of the blades. Tilting 15 degrees will circulate the air in the room much more than a flat blade.
For the fans you already have, focus on optimization. All ceiling fans have a switch near the base that dictates whether the fan will spin clockwise or counterclockwise. The first option sucks air up and is used to circulate warm air in the wintertime. Counterclockwise pushes air down to cool the home in the summertime.
You can apply the following tips to all fans in your home, not just ceiling fans. Keeping the blades clean and free from dust looks better, prevents motor issues, and helps decrease any allergies that might be irritated by dust. You can go one step further by polishing the blades to prevent dust from collecting, tightening screws, so the fan doesn’t wobble, and oiling the bearing that spins to keep the motor running smoothly.
Placement can make a difference when using floor fans and non-ceiling fans. A fan’s primary function is to move air. It doesn’t contain any cooling elements. Placing your fan in a window or hallway will draw cooler air in from outside.
The Little Things Add Up
Very few people realize some of these more minor fixes can contribute to a comfortable temperature in the home when done — or not done — together.
Help the Heat Out
In your main living and social areas with windows, having blinds or thick curtains installed to block out direct sunlight will block heat from the room and significantly alleviate the temperature. You can also consider working with the outside space and adding awnings to the east-facing windows that will always get light or even plant trees to block the light. They’ll be getting the benefits of the sun while you benefit from the shade.
Batteries Not Included
Don’t underestimate how much heat your larger home appliances are giving off. The stove and oven are obvious ones, and it will undoubtedly be uncomfortable to use them at full blast during the daylight hours, so consider planning meals the night before once it gets dark or in the morning when it is still cool. It can also be fun and delicious to try heatless menus such as pasta salads, lettuce wraps, sub sandwiches, and other picnic items. This chilled fresh food will also play a role in keeping you cool before bed.
The not-so-obvious machines giving off heat in your house are the washer and dryer, dishwasher, computers, and large televisions. Waiting to wash at night will help but so will unplugging the devices not in use, collectively cooling off your space and saving you money on your electric bill. On the other hand, a couple of things are worth running. If you have a bathroom fan, flipping it on during the hottest part of the day will help improve air circulation. The same goes for your kitchen exhaust fan, especially if you can’t avoid cooking midday.
For those who love to do it yourself, this next one’s for you. Starting small, the next time you’re looking to buy replacement light bulbs, opt for LED. These use half as much energy as conventional incandescent bulbs and produce less heat. If you’ve already made the switch, then you should consider color-selecting your home.
We already mentioned painting your roof white to deflect heat, but why stop there? If sunlight shines through your window and hits a dark-colored couch, that piece of furniture will become a radiant heat source before long. You don’t have to buy a new sofa, simply purchase a lighter-colored couch cover, which will also protect your furniture and keep it clean. Use this logic to apply to the color of your pillows, sheets on the beds, wall hangings, and elements outside of your home like patio chair cushions.
Was the science fair your thing as a kid? Even if it wasn’t, building a DIY air conditioner can still be a fun project for you. It’s easier than it looks. The major components are a water pump and two types of tubing — copper and plastic. You attach the copper tubing to the front of a floor or box fan, and the water pump sends cold water through. When the air blows past the cold copper, the temperature immediately drops, and the breeze feels refreshingly cold.
Instead of working against the planet, work with it. Using plants is a beautiful, sustainable, and eco-friendly way to keep the heat down inside your home.
Help Plants Help You
These natural beauties have so many benefits. Not a single shrub or leaf serves only one purpose. As an alternative to blasting your air conditioning, thoughtful placement of plants can serve a similar purpose to some of the earlier tips. Vines grow quickly and provide pretty shade, much like an awning, and reduce temperatures by absorbing and dispersing heat instead of letting it reach your exterior walls. Some plants have additional healing powers or bug repelling properties. You’ll want to choose a plant that suits the climate you live in, how much you can attend to them, and even pay attention to allergies for yourself or pets in the home. Below are some excellent starters to consider if you feel like trying out that green thumb.
Owning a live plant may seem daunting, but not all are. One of these is the Areca Palm, known for its ability to grow anywhere indoors. If you live in an area that stays above 50 degrees year-round, you can even plant these outdoors, where they grow up to 35 feet and provide fantastic shade and privacy. These trimmable shrubs are safe for kids and pets, increase space humidity, and only need regular watering when placed in direct sunlight.
Aloe Vera, Spider plants, and Rubber plants are three incredibly low maintenance house plants best suited for indoors. They all tolerate multiple kinds of lighting except direct sunlight and benefit from watering heavily every two weeks and allowing the topsoil to dry out. All of the plants mentioned in this section have excellent air-purifying qualities. The aloe vera has soothing topical medicinal properties when the leaf is cut to scoop out the gel. Fair warning, while the spider plant is non-toxic, aloe vera leaves can cause stomach upset to pets if consumed, and the rubber plant is best to keep out of reach of animals and children. Why get a rubber plant, then? It has some of the best air-purifying capabilities and is almost impossible to kill.
Once again, all of the plants in this section have incredible air-purifying capabilities and absorb heat from your home. They’re not hard to take care of either — they are just a little pickier than the beginner-level plants. The Bamboo palm and the Boston fern come in various sizes, can’t handle direct sunlight, and need constant moisture. Otherwise, you can manage multiple of these elegant florae anywhere in your home, as they are entirely human and animal-safe.
The Ficus or “Weeping fig” and Peace lily are mildly irritating to humans and pets, so keep that in mind. Peace lilies are susceptible to root rot, so they need more attention when watering — the leaves will even “tell” you when they need water by drooping. The amount can vary depending on the amount of sunlight exposure and humidity. The Ficus is a little more fickle — the “Goldilocks of plants.” Not too dry, not too wet — it needs to be just right to thrive. It doesn’t mind variant light conditions, though.
Window to the Wall
Windows are the most direct way for heat to enter and leave your home, so you should not neglect them. Once you address them, there are just a few remaining tips to go over so you can fit in heat reduction methods wherever possible. Combining these methods will carry you very far and successfully cool your home without relying on your A/C unit.
Where There’s a Window, There’s a Way
From simple hacks to minor renovations, there’s a lot you can do here to beat the heat.
Does the way you open your windows matter? Actually, yes, and it’s back to basic science. Opening the top section of your windows on the downwind side of your house and the bottom section on the upwind side will create a cross breeze in your home and force cool air in and hot air out. Placing a box fan in your window facing out on warmer days will vent warm air outside. Don’t forget to add a screen to your window to keep bugs out.
Blackout curtains aren’t just for the bedroom. Having these in the common areas block the sun as it streams through the windows is a worthy non-permanent solution. You can open and close them and add your own decorative flair.
These next few might need a professional handyperson, but they are quick fixes. Installing double-paned glass in your windows helps to keep your home cool for longer in the summer and warmer in the winter, so it’s a year-round improvement. It’s also worth considering adding weather stripping to windows and doors so hot air can’t leak in and cool air can’t leak out. While you’re there, you can install insulated window film yourself, bought at any home improvement store, to deflect heat, lower your energy bill, and increase privacy.
Wall to Wall Improvement
There are a few things you can be doing while you’re home and within yourself to keep the space cool.
In the House
It can be as simple as keeping your interior doors and windows open at night, encouraging air circulation. On rainy days, having the windows cracked will cool down your house relatively quickly, and the humidity will come as a relief after subjecting yourself to drying fans for weeks. If it doesn’t rain where you live, placing cold water or frozen water bottles in front of your fans will produce cooler or more humid air. For ceiling fans, make sure you set the switch to push the air down during the summer by spinning counterclockwise.
Up to You
An intriguing concept called the Egyptian Method involves placing towels or sheets soaked in cold water and rung out throughout the home and even on top of your bed blanket with a fan blowing on them to cool the area. Ancient Egyptians used to employ these methods to manage dry 100-degree weather. Additionally, you can purchase a bamboo mat to sleep on that is known to lower your body temperature when sleeping or buy sheets, pillows, and blankets made out of cooling materials like gel foam.
If you can’t employ some of these tips and can’t afford to run the A/C full time, focus on keeping yourself cool. Your body can regulate its comfort temperature, but needing to work full time will harm your motivation, metabolism, and quality of sleep. The human body needs regular breaks to function healthily. In the heat of the moment, don’t shy away from consuming cold food and beverages, finding shade, applying a cool cloth or other objects to your pulse points — you can even freeze sheets or articles of clothing before putting them on.
The Sum of All Parts
Even if you’ve never considered yourself particularly eco-conscious, this summer is an excellent time to look at how your use of resources is affecting the planet because it doesn’t stop there. Conventional cooling methods contribute to the yearly increase of the electricity tariff due to growing populations. Everyone will pay the price if we can’t reduce the energy strain on the grid. Long-term sustainable solutions may be costly upfront but will save you hundreds of dollars in the future. These solutions can work in your favor year-round versus the energy-sucking A/C unit you use five months out of the year.
No one person has to do these things perfectly — it takes all of us doing a couple of things imperfectly. When we all work together, we’ll see a positive impact on our health, the planet, and even our wallets.