We’re in the middle of a heat wave here in many parts of the country, but cooling your home during the dog days of summer doesn’t need to mean switching on expensive air conditioning, worrying about energy bills, or stressing about the potential impact of your carbon footprint. Dependent on your climate, as much as 20-50 percent of your annual energy use can go to cooling your house. This can account for as much as 5-15 percent of your household carbon footprint.
Thankfully, it’s easier than you might think to cool your home in an earth-friendly way. Common-sense tips, such as ventilating your home adequately when the temperature drops in the evening, can go a long way to ensuring your house is a comfortable environment in which to live. Making a few changes, and working with what you already have in your home, can help in terms of saving energy, money, and most importantly, the environment.
The Effects of Air Conditioning on the Environment and Human Health
Air conditioning may seem like the most convenient way to cool your house down; however, the sheer amount of electricity generated to power AC units carries both personal health and global consequences. According to The Guardian, in 2011, worldwide sales of air conditioners were up 13 percent from 2010, with that number expected to increase significantly over future decades. What’s more, AC use in the U.S. creates an annual average of around 100 million tons of CO2 power plant emissions.
AC units contain harmful refrigerants, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), that harm the ozone layer. Some units work with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These are not as ozone-depleting as CFCs, however they still damage the atmosphere as they contain hundreds to thousands of times the greenhouse gas potency of carbon dioxide. Considering this, and the fact that without correct and regular maintenance household air conditioners can be a health hazard, traditional AC units are the least eco-friendly way to cool your home. Not to mention, unclean filters can harbor pollutants, such as pesticides and allergens, and can trigger a host of health issues.
Personal Cooling Tips
Keeping your body as cool as possible is the first goal in terms of home cooling. Bringing down your body temperature is relatively easy, and doesn’t necessarily require cooling the entire home.
- Always dress for the weather. It may sound obvious, but when it’s hot, wear light cotton clothing and breathable footwear.
- Keep your skin cool. Keep a wet washcloth in the freezer of fridge, and run this over your skin when you’re too hot.
- Eat cold foods. Ice cream, smoothies, cold juices, water, salads, and fruits all help cool your body down.
- Use peppermint essential oil. A little of the oil mixed with distilled water can be spritzed onto the skin, and will keep you feeling cool, even in very hot weather.
- Take a cool shower. Whenever you feel you are overheating, a cool shower will work wonders.
- Use a buckwheat pillow. These are naturally cooler than cotton pillows, and will help you get a better night’s sleep when the weather is oppressively hot.
- Run cold water over your wrists. Running cold tap water over your wrists for a five second burst every few hours helps cool the blood.
- Eat spicy foods. Spicy dishes enhance circulation, stimulate heat receptors in the mouth, and cause your body to sweat, which in turn, cools you down.
Home Cooling Tips
Once you’ve applied the above personal cooling tips, it’s time to focus on keeping your house cool with these home cooling tips.
- Install ceiling fans. Using a ceiling fan will help keep you cool. Remember to maintain your fan, to dust it regularly, and to set it to circulate counter-clockwise in the summer months as this will effectively cool the air.
- Provide shade. Shading east- and west-facing windows will protect your home from the effects of the sun as it rises in the east and sets in the west.
- Keep windows closed during the day. Opening windows during daylight hours lets in unwanted humidity and heat. Ventilate your home either at night or with fans instead.
- Plant your garden strategically. Plant shade-giving trees around your home. Don’t plant trees on the south if you want to reap the benefits of passive solar heating during the winter months.
- High-efficiency air conditioning unit. If you must use AC, replace an older unit with a modern high-efficiency model.
- Do not use a dehumidifier alongside an AC unit. Dehumidifiers increase the cooling load, thus making the AC work harder.
- Install mini-blinds or white window shades. Mini-blinds can considerably reduce heat gain from the sun.
- Apply reflective film to your windows. Applying reflective or sun-control film to south-facing windows will effectively reduce solar heat build-up as well as helping to filter the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
- Consider installing awnings on south-facing windows. This will provide some much-appreciated shade where there is no sufficient roof overhang to provide shade.
- Insulate your attic. Insuring the floor of your attic is adequately insulated will stop hot air from transferring into the interior of your home.
- Close your curtains. Keep the curtains and windows closed in any room that gets direct sunlight.
- Install an evaporative cooler. Evaporative or swamp coolers are either built-in or free-standing units that incorporate a fan that pulls air over cold-water soaked pads. These systems use as much as 75 percent less energy than central air conditioners and can lower the temperature by as much as 30 degrees.
- Cool down the kitchen. Leave dishwashing till later in the evening, and choose no-cook or crockpot meals on very hot days. Outdoor solar ovens are a good hot-weather alternative to conventional ones.
- Paint your roof. Using light colors to paint your roof will help deflect sunlight, keeping your house cooler.
- Diffuse cold water. If your home is particularly humid, use cold water and a few drops of essential oil in an aromatherapy diffuser. This will cool you down and purify the air.
Cooling down your home — and yourself in the summer months — doesn’t need to mean turning on the air conditioning. These 23 techniques are quick, simple, and completely effective. They will also save you money and help to protect the environment.
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