Baby, it’s hot outside – and central air conditioning is one of the largest guzzlers of energy during the summer months. It’s also generally the most expensive option for cooling off; air conditioning energy usage can account for 60 to 70 percent of a summer electric bill in warmer regions, according to Texas utility company Austin Energy. Here are seven environmentally conscious ways to help cool your home – and save money in the process.
1) Install an evaporative cooler
You may be able to cool your home and save energy with an evaporative cooler, sometimes known as a swamp cooler. An evaporative cooler is a free-standing or built-in unit with a fan that pulls air over pads soaked in cold water; some systems can lower temperatures by up to 30 degrees. “The systems use up to 75 percent less energy than central air conditioners,” says Tom Henley, spokesman for Xcel Energy. “If you live in a low-humidity area, an evaporative cooler can be a great alternative to central air conditioning.” Some energy companies, including Xcel Energy, offer rebates toward the purchase of a cooler; check with your local utility company for details.
2) Plant trees and shrubs
While it’s not a quick fix, planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of your home will keep it cooler in the summer. Because the trees lose their leaves in the autumn, they won’t impede the sunlight that warms your house in the winter. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that just three trees, properly placed around a house, can save the average household between $100 and $250 annually in cooling and heating costs. Check with your county extension office for the best varieties of trees that will thrive in your particular area.
3) Insulate your attic
In the past, adding extra roof venting was recommended as the best way to keep hot attic air from transferring to your home’s interior, but the latest findings suggest that insulating the attic floor does a significantly better job. Researchers in a University of Illinois study on attic venting and heat transfer concluded that “the addition of 2-inch-thick insulation is considerably more effective in reducing ceiling heat gains than the maximum ventilation rate. When 3-5/8 inches is added, the effect of ventilation is almost insignificant.” One more thought about reducing attic heat: If a new roof is in your future, choosing a lighter-colored shingle will help reflect the sunlight and lower the amount of heat the roof absorbs.
4) Apply window film
Sun-control or other reflective films applied on south-facing windows can reduce up to 99 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays and up to 79 percent of the solar heat coming through a window. The films may also help reduce fading of interior furnishings from exposure to sunlight. Some types of window film can be applied by do-it-yourselfers, while others require professional application. The product may also qualify for a tax credit; the Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides federal tax breaks for homeowners who make certain energy-efficient improvements, including some window film applications.
5) Hang shades and blinds
Direct sunlight can raise the temperature of a room by 10 to 20 degrees. Install white or light-colored window shades, drapes or blinds to shade rooms from the sun and reflect heat away from the windows. Close curtains on south- and west-facing windows during the day to keep the house cooler.
6) Install awnings on windows
While awnings or shade sails are often seen on the exterior of homes in Europe, they haven’t caught on in a big way yet in the United States. According to a study conducted by the Center for Sustainable Building Research at the University of Minnesota, awnings can provide significant savings on cooling costs by reducing solar gain through home windows. The awnings provide the most significant savings on east-, south- and west-facing windows.
7) Cool off your kitchen
“I like no-cook meals on really hot days, like chilled gazpacho, cold meat salads and sandwiches,” says Denver cooking instructor Catherine Cavoto. “Another option is to prepare a recipe early in the morning for the slow cooker. When we come home at the end of the day, it’s so nice because dinner is ready to serve and the kitchen stays nice and cool.” Scorching summer days also provide the perfect opportunity to try those miscellaneous small appliances hidden away in your pantry – panini grills, rice steamers and quesadilla makers – that typically run cooler and use less energy than the stove. If you must cook, try preparing a meal with your microwave oven, which generally uses less energy and produces less heat than a conventional gas or electric range.