With temperatures rising across the county, this seemed like a pretty good time to write about keeping cool. These aren’t rocket science solutions but these five things have worked for me in the past, and hopefully they’ll work for you.
1) Have trees around your house – My neighbor hates trees. He’s this old Italian guy and he came over last year and said to me “Clayton, those trees in front of your house are going to fall down and cost you a lot of money. I hate trees. I don’t want them anywhere near my house.” This is pretty obvious to anyone who sees his house. It’s a big white house with a huge lawn and no trees. When it’s sunny and hot out, it looks like a rectangular egg baking in the sun. It just looks so hot.
My house, on the other hand, has two large trees directly in front, a few on the side, and two large trees directly behind. When temperatures are more moderate (in the low 80s), I don’t even have to turn my air conditioning on. The trees provide such lovely shade that my house feels cool most of the summer. My first summer here, I only ran my air about one week out of the entire summer.
In fact, besides for the incredible low mortgage rates and home prices at the time I bought my house, the yard with all the trees was the reason I decided to buy it.
I realize that this isn’t something that can be done immediately. But by planting nice shade trees today (maple is my favorite), in five years or so, you’ll be enjoying some welcome shade when the sun comes beating down in the height of a heat wave.
2) Keep those shades closed on sun-facing windows – Captain Obvious here, reporting for duty, sir. Perhaps it’s obvious that you should keep shades closed on windows facing direct sun, but are you really doing it? I’ve been over to people’s homes and the sun is beating down through the window like a Saharan high noon and I’m usually like, “Fool, close the damn shade. It’s hot up in here.” Unless the person is a lot bigger than me and I don’t know him/her very well. But seriously, this can make a huge difference, especially when you aren’t home, in keeping your place cooler and your energy bills lower. It’s estimated that white blinds can reduce solar heat gain by 40-50 percent.
3) Keep your air conditioner clean – This is extremely important. Yesterday I heard an air conditioning expert on the radio talking about how so many outdoor central air units have been clogged with weed pollen and other materials from the wet spring here. He advised spraying down the entire unit to make sure all plant debris is removed from the unit. This is the #1 thing his crews have been doing this year, and it’s a lot cheaper to run your hose yourself than having a guy charge you $75 (or more) per hour to do it. For window units, make sure the filter is cleaned monthly. My mother’s house doesn’t have central air, and growing up there, I’m very familiar with cleaning the filters of window air units.
4) Chill in the basement – Yes, it’s obvious again. For those of us lucky enough to have them, the basement is cool and you should be down there when there’s a heat wave or even when it’s just plain hot out. If your basement isn’t too pleasant for hanging out, consider making that your next project. Alex, a friend and coworker of mine from a few years back, told me that the basement was the focal point of his culture (Syrian). Makes sense. I have a feeling it’s pretty hot in Syria in the summer, and families have made the basement their eating and socializing place of choice. He told me that even in America, they keep that tradition, and usually the basement is the nicest and most comfortable part of the house. Interesting. We always used our basement as storage and for utilities, with small areas for recreation. I think I’ll go down and clean mine and start taking Alex’s advice.
5) Run dehumidifiers and fans – I like to use a combination of air conditioning set with the thermostat set pretty high (high 70s), fans in various rooms of the house to move the air around (I also have an attic fan that I run when I don’t have the air on – it’s usually enough to keep the house cool and I recommend one to everyone if you don’t have one), and a dehumidifier to keep that darn humidity to an acceptable level.
Here’s one bonus tip: Never run appliances during the day. Run your clothes and dishwashers at night. This is good for your home heat levels and it’s also good for your local electrical grid, which is usually maxed out during daylight hours during heat waves. Also, do your cooking outdoors. I just grilled some ribs and loved them. They were a little overcooked, but whatever. My kitchen stayed cool and that’s cool with me.
If you’ve got some crazy-good ideas for keeping cool, please share them here. Or consider sharing them on twitter and you can even enter to win our contest– $500 for the best idea to keep cool this summer!