Even though we all love that icy blast that emits from the air conditioner vents, the key to keeping those cooling costs down is to remember one thing — do all you can to seal cool air inside and prevent the heat from creeping in though the windows, roof and walls of your home.
While we’d all love a house shaded by fully-grown trees, and pricey upgrades like triple-pane windows and wall insulation, there are a few low-cost ways to shore up your summertime heat barrier and maximize your comfort.
Energy efficiency: Before you do anything else, give your house a quick energy checkup. Poke your head up into the crawl space and look at the insulation. Is it time to add a new layer? If so, attic insulation is an inexpensive barrier between your roof and your house. Then, have your air conditioner serviced and its filter replaced so it can run at top efficiency. Finally, check your windows and doors for air leaks, replacing caulk and weather-stripping as needed.
Window protection: What are windows really good at in the summer? They can concentrate the hot rays of the sun and add several degrees of heat to your space. If you already have them, close your blinds or drapes before you leave for the day. For extra protection, get draperies for your sunniest windows. Studies suggest draperies with white plastic backings can reduce heat gain by as much as 33 percent.
Install a ceiling fan: We all know that raising your thermostat by 4 degrees can stretch your energy dollars. Installing a ceiling fan will make that temperature much easier to live with. Just remember to switch them off when you leave the house. Fans don’t actually cool the air, but the breeze they make helps the body cool itself.
Rearrange: Sometimes, having the right items in the right places makes all the difference in how a room feels. The first thing you might want to do is rearrange your furniture so that people are seated away from direct sunlight. (Fabrics and cushions can also hold heat for a long time). Then turn to your floors and walls. Tall, heavy furniture such as bookcases and china cabinets can be placed along outside walls to make a thicker barrier. Finally, wall-to-wall carpeting or even an area rug can also add another layer to retain the cool air.
Set up your patio: Why do you think barbecue is practically the official cooking method of Texas? Summer heat could have something to do with that. Why make your house hotter when you can cook outside? You don’t need to become a brisket master, but you can up your grilling repertoire and carve out a little outdoor space for summer cooking. Check discount stores for summer sales on barbecue grills and outdoor dining sets. Fill out the space with a large planter or two, a patio umbrella, and crates to keep supplies handy and organized.
Cut the appliances: In the heat of summer, reduce your use of other appliances to keep the heat from building up indoors. Install an outdoor clothesline to cut your dryer use. Later, you’ll enjoy that fresh outdoor scent that no one can replicate in a bottle. As for the dishwasher, adjust your settings for heat-free drying or allow your dishes to air dry.
Plant power: Plants are wonderful tools when it comes to cooling things off, both indoors and out. Plant some mid-height ornamental trees in front of western windows to block the late-day sun. Vines and arbors can also help you shade hot walls and windows. Finally, for a ground-level patio or window, you can shade your space from the sun with large potted plants that create a shade screen.
Keeping things cool and comfy in the summer doesn’t have to break to bank. Adopt the cool-in, heat-out mindset and your summertime comfort level will be on par and on budget.