Be­yond air con­di­tion­ing: Savvy ways to keep your home cool this sum­mer

The Progress-Index - At Home - - KEEP COOL - By Kather­ine Roth

As sum­mer tem­per­a­tures — and util­ity bills — rise, there are some easy ways to keep cool that are cheaper and greener than air con­di­tion­ing.

A lit­tle savvy about when to open win­dows and when to keep them closed with cur­tains drawn goes a long way to­ward cool­ing a home, as does putting thought into what cool­ing ap­pli­ances to use and when, the ex­perts say.

Cool­ing cur­tains

Pull down the shades or draw the cur­tains on win­dows fac­ing south, east and west dur­ing the day, says Con Edi­son, which pro­vides power to New York City and sur­round­ing ar­eas. It says 40 per­cent of un­wanted heat comes in through the win­dows. Even if air con­di­tion­ing is needed later in the day, draw­ing the cur­tains ear­lier means you can use less of it.

"And it's bet­ter to shade the out­side of the win­dow than the in­side," said Abi­gail Daken, cool­ing prod­ucts man­ager for Washington, D.C.-based Energy Star, an En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency pro­gram that helps busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als save money and pro­tect the cli­mate through energy ef­fi­ciency. "Shut­ters and awnings are very ef­fec­tive," Daken said.

Get in the flow

When out­door tem­per­a­tures fall be­low 70 de­grees, the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil rec­om­mends turn­ing off the air con­di­tioner and open­ing the win­dows in­stead.

In cli­mates with low to mod­er­ate hu­mid­ity, where it's cold in the evening, a "whole-house" fan to help draw cool air in through win­dows and force hot air out through up­stairs vents is ex­tremely help­ful, Daken said. "A cheaper ver­sion is to open the win­dows and use the bath­room fan for ex­haust, es­pe­cially if there's no cross breeze," she said. "This helps cre­ate some flow."

Be a fan of fans

Ceil­ing fans are a great sub­sti­tute for air con­di­tion­ing when it's not overly hot or hu­mid, and they make you feel cooler by mov­ing air across your skin, says Meg Walt­ner, of the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil.

If you need to buy fans, look for Energy Star rat­ings and re­bate of­fers, she said.

Also, many ceil­ing fans fea­ture a light kit, so make sure each socket has an energy-sav­ing LED bulb in­side. LED bulbs use five times less energy than the old in­can­des­cents and don't give off as much heat, Walt­ner says.

Plant a tree

A tree is as so­phis­ti­cated as any elec­tronic de­vice around, con­ser­va­tion­ists say. It lets sun through in win­ter and grows sun-block­ing leaves in sum­mer.

Large de­cid­u­ous trees planted on the east, west and north­west sides of your home cre­ate shade from the hot sum­mer sun and can re­duce sum­mer air con­di­tion­ing costs by up to 35 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the Ar­bor Day Foun­da­tion, a non-profit Ne­brask­abased con­ser­va­tion group.

Avoid heat-pro­duc­ing ap­pli­ances

Con Edi­son rec­om­mends min­i­miz­ing the use of house­hold ap­pli­ances when tem­per­a­tures climb. Sum­mer is a great time to opt for out­door grilling and foods that don't re­quire cook­ing. Wash­ers, dry­ers and dish­wash­ers should be used at night, when tem­per­a­tures are cooler, the util­ity says.

When you do use air con­di­tion­ers...

... be sure they're Energy Star-cer­ti­fied, have pro­gram­mable ther­mostats, and are set no lower than 78 de­grees when you're around, 80 when you're away for part of the day, and "off "when you're on va­ca­tion, Walt­ner says. Pro­gram­mable ther­mostats can cut power use by 20 per­cent to 30 per­cent, she says. Many power com­pa­nies of­fer free pro­gram­mable ther­mostats to clients, and it's worth check­ing their web­sites for of­fers and re­bates.

"Rais­ing the tem­per­a­ture by 7 de­grees when no one is home, 4 de­grees at bed­time, along with proper pro­gram­ming dur­ing the win­ter, can save you more than $180 ev­ery year," ac­cord­ing to Daken, of Energy Star.

Make sure win­dows are well-sealed to keep cool air from leak­ing out.

And don't cool an empty room: Block vents in un­used rooms and turn the sys­tem off en­tirely while you're away.

Keep­ing cen­tral air con­di­tioner fil­ters clean adds to their ef­fi­ciency. Air con­di­tion­ers and cool­ing sys­tems should be in­spected and cleaned an­nu­ally, and kept clear of leaves and dirt, ex­perts say. "We rec­om­mend that fil­ters be checked ev­ery three months, or more of­ten for homes with pets," Daken said.

If your AC is more than 12 years old, re­plac­ing it with an Energy Star­qual­i­fied model could cut your an­nual cool­ing costs by 30 per­cent, Walt­ner says. Many lo­cal util­ity com­pa­nies of­fer re­bates for more ef­fi­cient new mod­els.

HAIER AMER­ICA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This photo pro­vided by Haier Amer­ica shows an Energy Star qual­i­fied room air con­di­tioner in an of­fice set­ting. A lit­tle savvy about when to open win­dows and when to keep them closed with cur­tains drawn goes a long way to­ward cool­ing a home, as does putting thought into what cool­ing ap­pli­ances to use and when, the ex­perts say. Make sure win­dows are well-sealed to keep cool air from leak­ing out.

JEFF KROEZE/BIG ASS FANS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This photo pro­vided by cour­tesy of Big Ass Fans shows the Haiku ceil­ing fan in a din­ing room. Energy Star rec­og­nizes it as the top-ranked fan in energy ef­fi­ciency.

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