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28+ Home Cooling Tips and
Energy-Efficient Alternatives

28+ Home Cooling Tips & Alternatives

Home cooling does not have to mean switching on the air conditioning and watching our energy bill skyrocket or cringing over our carbon footprint.

Depending on your climate, between 20-50% of your annual energy consumption goes to cooling your house and accounts for 5-15% of your carbon footprint.

Now is the time to make some adjustments to cut back on your AC usage, saving you money and decreasing your carbon output, even before you think you need it. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it. - Russel Baker

Personal Cooling Alternatives:

Keeping ourselves cool is the obvious first goal in home cooling. But what may not be obvious is that cooling our bodies is relatively easy and doesn't usually require cooling the entire space around you.

  • Install ceiling fans.
    Or if you already have them, dust those blades and check they are set to circulate in the right direction to cool the air (counter-clockwise in the summer). It's a widely known fact that using a ceiling fan can help you feel up to 5 degrees cooler. If you have a room that can't seem to stay cool, an investment in a small box or oscillating fan may be a worthwhile addition to personal cooling.
  • Dress for the weather.
    Less clothing, lightweight fabrics, sandals, etc all make more sense than turning your AC unit low enough to need a sweater.
  • Cool your skin.
    Keep a wet washcloth in the fridge or freezer for use around your neck, forehead or feet for personal cooling when coming in from the heat to avoid turning down the AC in a moment of desperation.
  • Take cool showers.
    Rather than showering in the morning, shower in the late afternoon or evening before going to bed to cool your body down when it needs it most. But remember the ways to save water and don't take too frequent showers just to cool down.
  • Use peppermint essential oil.
    Peppermint oil mixed in distilled water can be spritzed on the skin for a very effective cooling affect! In some cases you may even be able to apply to directly to the skin, although I recommend avoiding the eyes.
  • Eat colder foods.
    Things like smoothies, salads, fruit from the fridge, etc all help to keep your internal temperature on the lower side. Yes, ice cream counts. Just make sure it's organic, and you can still call it healthy, right?

ceiling fan blade

Indoor Home Cooling Tips:

Much of indoor home cooling consists of keeping the cool air in and the hot sun out. Some ideas may require an initial investment but often pay for themselves quickly. Be sure when considering any purchases to search out environmentally-friendly options.

  • Check for drafts.
    For a small price, you can apply weather-stripping, foam sealant, or silicone caulking to all windows and doors to help seal the cold air in. Don't forget to check the doggy door, as well as insulate any electric outlets or switches, crawl spaces or attic doors. (For a cheaper temporary solution, you can also keep a rolled towel at the bottom of the door, but the weather stripping is truly worth the investment.)
  • Install a solar attic fan.
    A solar attic fan decreases the hot air trapped in the space, making the home easier to cool and can decrease your home cooling bill by up to 10% a year.
  • Increase insulation.
    Double-paned windows, well-insulated walls and increasing the insulation in your attic all help to save energy by keeping the cool air indoors. Consider recycled blue jean or paper insulation.
  • Close the curtains.
    Closing curtains helps deflect sunlight. If a darkened room depresses you, only open windows in rooms being used.
  • Find alternative cooking methods.
    Avoid using the oven or stove in the afternoon or evening, which can greatly increase the heat in the home. Cook things like pasta and potato salad in the morning which can be served chilled in the evening. Or use a crock pot or toaster oven inside (the toaster oven can even be taken outdoors to decrease heat in the kitchen), a grill outside or best yet, invest in an easy-to-make (or just purchase it) solar oven for outdoors.

Outdoor Home Cooling Tips:

The way we landscape or decorate the exterior of our home can decrease our indoor cooling energy consumption and save us money. Looking to nature for ideas will take you far in your home cooling efforts.

trees for shade

  • Plant wisely.
    Planting crawling vines along the south and west sides of your home or on trellises in front of windows can help insulate the house as well. You can do this with edible vines such as grapevines, for added utility.
  • Plant native, deciduous trees.
    They will also help shade your home from the hot summer sun. And when they drop their leaves in the winter, they will assist in passive solar heating.
  • Consider awnings.
    Used on the south or west facing windows, they will block the angle of the sun coming through the window during he summer while allowing the lower angled winter sun to come in and warm the home.
  • Invest in solar screens
    Solar screens on the outside of windows make a huge difference and are worth the investment. They can be removed during the winter.
  • Need to paint?
    If your house is in need of a paint job, consider lighter colors which deflect rather than absorb the light.
  • Redoing the roof?
    Light-colored roof shingles also help decrease any heat absorption by deflecting sunlight.
  • Paint your roof!
    You don't need to redo your roof to benefit from lighter colors. Collecting used paint from around town or cast-off paint from a local hardware store in light shades will give you the same effect for much less.

For a short, concise example of just how effective a white roof can be, watch this short video from the U.S. Deptartment of Energy.

Energy-Efficient Air Conditioner Tips:

There will be times (or climates) where eliminating the air conditioning unit may be impossible. Knowing how to use your air conditioner wisely is important to get the most of your home cooling efforts.

  • First things first.
    Wait until the last possible moment to even turn on the air conditioner, because once it's on, there's hardly any going back.
  • Consider a small evaporative (swamp) cooler.
    This uses water blown through wet pads to cool the air. Our family has used an evaporative cooler in extreme summer temps over 100 degrees to cool our entire house. By placing it upstairs with one window cracked behind it and another window cracked downstairs (or on opposite sides of the home), we effectively draw the air through the house. The drawback is they work best up to about 105 degrees and in low humidity areas. As the temps render the unit useless during the intense heat of the day, we can still use it at night.
  • Regular maintenance.
    When was the last time you had maintenance done on your air conditioning unit? Annual maintenance is important to energy-efficiency.
  • Is it time to replace?
    If you're unit is really old (more than 10 years) a newer, more efficient model will cut your consumption in half.
  • Maintain outdoor cleanliness.
    Clear away any debris from the outside compressor unit and keep the area clean for increased air circulation and more efficient home cooling.
  • Shade your unit.
    If your unit is outside, you can shade it to increase efficiency, but be sure not to impede air circulation.
  • Check air ducts.
    Climbing up into crawl spaces or attics to check for any drafts coming from the air ducts and insulating them will increase efficiency and decrease cool air loss.
  • Install programmable thermostats.
    Replace your old thermostats with newer models that include timers. The investment is well worth it, giving you the ability to set the temp higher shortly after you're asleep or while you're away and have it begin to cool just before you come home.
  • Don't turn it off or too high.
    Turning a home cooling unit off or more than 6-8 degrees higher at night or when you're gone for the day can cause the unit to work harder to cool the space when turned back on. Long holidays would be the exception to this rule.
  • Close off unused rooms.
    Consider closing air conditioning vents in rooms not often used, especially those in bathrooms or laundry rooms. Do not close any vents near thermostats, as this can cause an inaccurate reading and unnecessary running.
  • Close doors.
    Not just doors to the outside, also try closing bedroom doors to keep the cool air in, especially if you have high or vaulted ceilings or a two-story home. Consider the placement of your thermostats however, to avoid inaccurate temperature gauging.
  • Ease yourself to higher temps.
    Many power companies suggest setting the thermostat to 78 in the summer. This has always been too low in our home. With the use of ceiling fans, weather stripping, solar screens, curtains, a swamp cooler and acclamation on our part, we can set our thermometer to 84-86 degrees. This is in 110 to 115 degree temperatures! To acclimate to higher temps, start by setting your AC to 79 degrees, and at the beginning of every summer month, turn it one degree higher. The following summer, start at 81 degrees and continue the trend until you reach your max.

Add your own home cooling tips to the comments below!

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