COMMENTARY: Cool Your Home Without Warming the Planet

7 Easy Ways to Beat the Heat This Summer

Window treatments like curtains and blinds can help reduce heat gain.
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According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling account for 56% of energy use in an average American household. This summer, turn off the air conditioner to save energy and money. Central air conditioning is expensive, noisy, and inefficient. Below is a list of seven easy, more inexpensive ways to cool your house this summer without the cost and waste of air conditioning.

1. Close your drapes on windows that receive direct sunlight during the day to reduce indoor heat gain. Depending on fabric weight and color, window treatments can help to keep your house comfortably cool during the hottest summer days. Drapes with white plastic lining are the most effective in keeping hot air out. Awnings, blinds, shades and other window treatments can also be manipulated to reduce heat gain.

2. Open your windows, especially at night, to capture cool evening breezes. During the day, use natural ventilation to your advantage by opening your lower level windows on one side of your house, and the upper level windows on the opposing side of the house. This strategy creates a "thermal chimney." While cool air enters from the basement, hot air leaves through upstairs windows. If your home has skylights, keep them open during the day, too, so hot air can escape through the roof.

3. Plant more trees! Strategically placed trees can shade your house, keeping cool air in, and solar heat out. For maximum shading during hot months, plant deciduous trees, with large sun-blocking branches, along the southern-facing side of your home. The extra shade produced by the trees may well allow you to forego the AC. Just a few trees can help cut down on energy use and cost! Vines, shrubs, and bushes also help in maintaining a cool indoor environment. If you do use central air conditioning, plant trees or shrubs to shade the AC unit. An air conditioning unit installed in the shade uses up to 10% less energy than a unit installed in constant sunlight.

4. Install an evaporative "swamp" cooler which uses only water to generate cool air, rather than a refrigerant. This option is pricier than our other solutions, but still costs far less than installing central air conditioning. Ideal for low-humidity areas, evaporative coolers cool outdoor air by blowing the air over wet pads. The water then quickly evaporates into the air and the cooler blows the fresh, chill air into your home, and forces warm air to escape through open windows. Swamp coolers add humidity into the air, so they are only recommended for dry climates. Though evaporative coolers require more frequent maintenance than traditional AC units, they use only a quarter of the energy.

By using a ceiling fan, you can raise your thermostat 4 degrees without a noticeable difference in temperature.
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5. Use ceiling fans as an energy-efficient and effective alternative to air conditioning. Ceiling fans circulate the air around a room and create a cool draft. If you are thinking about installing a new ceiling fan, consider buying ENERGY STAR° rated models which are 20% more efficient than regular models on average. If you already use an air conditioner, use a ceiling fan too, and you can set the thermostat 4 degrees F higher with no change in temperature. Ceiling fans are not only a great investment for the summer—many new models also help keep your house warm in the winter, with a reverse rotation mode that circulates warm air down from the ceiling.

6. Switch your light bulbs. 95% of the energy produced through an incandescent light bulb is heat; only 5% is actually light energy! Make the switch from incandescents to compact flourescent lights (CFLs) to save energy, money and help cool your house. Also be careful not to place lamps, televisions, or other electronic devices near the thermostat. A thermostat senses room temperature to cool your house, and if it senses heat radiating from nearby electronics, your air conditioner will use even more energy to stabilize the air temperature.

7. Program your thermostat. If you must use air conditioning, use a programmable thermostat to manage when and how long the AC stays on. When you're out for the day, don't leave the AC on—program it to come on just before you do.

CONTACTS: Eartheasy; U.S. Department of Energy; ENERGY STAR°.

KRISTEN O"NEILL is an editorial intern at E.