Last week’s heat wave led to this most-asked question: “Do you have air conditioning?”
In the house, with no air conditioner
I ‘fessed up to people, this year, that I did not grow up with air conditioning. I did not get one until years after I owned a house. I was in my forties when I decided that I really wanted one. A lot of the tips that were in these helpful articles (Avail and Readers Digest) were things that I was familiar with. Of them, these are the ones that were most effective in my house of origin.
- Use shades, curtains, and blinds: We would close the blinds on the sunny side of the house when it was most sunny. Windows closed. Then we’d open the blinds and the windows when the sun moved to the other side. Here’s some more on shades and blinds and why they are so great.
- Blow in the night air: We had a high-powered attic fan that sucked all the hot air out of the house. It was very noisy. We ran it when the sun went down; it cooled the whole house. When we opened the downstairs windows, the attic fan would draw in the cooler night air and blow out the hot day air that had collected upstairs. On the hottest days, the fan was on all night.
- Seek shade: I had a favorite tree that gave full shade. I spent a lot of the summer under its shade.
- Stay wet: As a child, I remember being wet all summer. Either I was swimming, sitting in the bathing suit that was still wet, playing with a hose or sprinkler, or showered and ready for bed.
- Go someplace air conditioned: When all else failed, we’d end up at the movies or someplace else air conditioned.
After reading through this material, I have another confession:
It took until 2021 for me to check which way my ceiling fans were turning! It is recommended that, in summer, they go counterclockwise. All of mine went clockwise and I changes them about an hour before I wrote this. Buyer broker, heal thyself!
In the house, with air conditioning
Save on your energy bills. Heating and cooling accounts for 56% of home energy usage. The sun’s heat works against your desire to keep your house cool. Shade your air conditioner condenser (but leave circulation space), and insulate your attic, especially if your AC blower is up there.
Use fans, both to move air in your rooms and to exhaust hot air from your attic, whether you have AC or not.
Municipal planning and cooler towns and cities
Urban design can help reduce the heat that builds up in a city. These changes need to happen on a government level, through zoning, to make a difference. Even then, existing buildings will be slow to change.
In this interview, climate researcher Vivek Shandas explained that the temperature of a building’s exterior can vary 40 degrees because of the materials and color of those exteriors. You are not imagining things when you feel hotter walking by one building than you did a minute ago. Air temperatures vary up to 15-20 degrees in cities. With that kind of variation, the weather reports we depend on are just an estimate. Temperature varies throughout an urban landscape.
What helps cool a city?
- Trees: Shading helps. However, a city needs to plan on the expense of planting the tree and maintaining it.
- White roof surfaces: White reflects heat. Vivek Shandas says that there are issues with how people think this looks that create social and political resistance.
- Green walls: He mentions planting ivy on walls. This might work for heat, but I know that every home inspector recommends to remove any ivy. Plants on buildings damage mortar, wood, and other surfaces. Ivy attracts bugs, too.
- Green roofs: These are roof surfaces that have growing plants on them. Again there is a cost for watering and maintaining green roofs. Green roofs are very effective for cooling a building, but there is no proof they affect the rest of the neighborhood.
Join a Smart Saver program through your utility company?
Because heating and cooling use more than half the energy that houses use, utility companies prepare for the high-demand electricity peaks that come with sustained hot weather. (Heating puts demand on electricity, but also on natural gas and oil supply).
One of the ways that utility companies cope with high demand is to give discounts to consumers who agree to use less power during high demand times. The customers are given a Nest or similar smart thermostat to conserve and save on their bills. When they sign up for the Texas Smart Saver Program they agree to having their heating and cooling modified up to four degrees during peak times. When there was high demand during the recent heat wave, customers’ air conditioning was lowered by the utility company. Some customers claim it was more than four degrees and it was more than a two-hour test.
Use a smart thermostat
Outside of a program like the one in Texas, Nest and similar smart thermostats are becoming more common. They do what older-style programmable thermostats do, plus, they learn your heating patterns and automatically change the settings to match what you do, habitually. You also can control them from your smart phone.
Many people have some bumps along the road when the Nest is first getting to know them. It works best for people who have regular schedules. Assumptions that inactivity might mean no one is home causes heat to go down, if the person in the house doesn’t have their cell programmed to Nest. (The thermostat can locate your cell phone in the house, then not turn down the heat.) It’s smart, but not infallible.