The advent of summer brings many concerns that are associated with heat—stinging sunburn, hot commutes, and soaring electricity bills! You’ll often find that much of the latter can be attributed to the excessive use of air conditioners. Sure, your fridge and freezer may be working overtime too, but isn’t it that these few months between March and June that have you reaching for the air con dial or remote control more often than you usually do during the rest of the year? Yes, we’ll admit to being guilty of this too.

Although it’s unreasonable to think that you should cut down on AC usage completely, there are ways to reduce your reliance on it while still keeping your house or apartment cool for the summer. Here are a few:


tipid_tips_energy_saving_home_cooling_fan.jpgUSE A FAN

This should be obvious, but it isn’t always, and what with El Niño holding us in its hot and humid grip, you may feel that a fan is not enough to keep you cool during the summer. In her article on the Families Online Magazine, Ann Safford recommends filling a bowl with ice and setting it in front of the fan or simply filling a spray bottle with cool water. On a related note, simply soaking your feet in cool water will help cool you down significantly.


CROSS VENTILATE

“The wind will naturally ventilate your home by entering or leaving windows, depending on their orientation to the wind,” says the US Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website. This means that if your house or apartment is situated in a particularly breezy area (and don’t discount the presence of buildings as a reason for lack of wind, since areas with many tall buildings may have small pockets of wind tunnels where the breeze may be significant), you may want to try a little natural ventilation. Here’s how it works: open the windows on the windward and leeward sides of your home—that is, the side facing the wind and the side directly opposite. This will ensure that you take advantage of as much of the breeze blowing by your house as much as possible. Note, though, that if you want to leave the windows open, you should have screens on them or make especially sure to close them during the hours of dusk and dawn to keep mosquitoes out.


DRAW THE CURTAINS AND LOWER THE BLINDS

While you may enjoy the light that filters in through your windows, with it comes the savage summer heat, so you may want to draw your curtains and pull your blinds down this summer—even if it’s only partially. If you are unaccustomed to the darkness this causes, you can of course turn on the lights; it’s best to use energy-saving bulbs and to avoid halogen lights in particular to keep the heat down—but either way, this will cost less than air conditioning will.


PAINT YOUR HOUSE A LIGHT COLOR

It’s something you learn back in elementary school science class: light colors reflect light and heat, while dark colors absorb them. The same thing should be applied to the exterior of your house. If you’re thinking to paint your house’s outer walls, try to pick light colors like white or cream so the heat from the summer sun will be reflected away rather than absorbed into your house.


CLOSE WINDOWS NEAR ASPHALT ROADS

If the road near your house is topped with asphalt, you should shut windows that look over this since asphalt absorbs and retains heat. Open windows over asphalt streets may simply bring in more hot air that passes over the street into your house.


tipid_tips_energy_saving_home_cooling_plant.jpgPLANT A TREE

According to the website for Earth Day, you can reduce your annual cooling costs by up to 40 percent if you plant a large tree that creates shade. If your house and lot is something you hope your children will want to live in when they’re grown, this will may also serve as a source of good memories, so be sure you get the whole family in on the tree planting. Just remember not to plant the tree too close to your house so it has room to grow.


TURN OFF THE TV OR COMPUTER

Televisions and computers generate heat, so it’s a good idea to be especially conscientious about shutting these off if you are not going to use them. If you use your TV for white noise or so you can listen to the news or to music while working or doing other things at home, try switching to the radio instead—these generally use up less energy. As a general guideline, it’s a good idea to turn off your monitor if you won’t be using your computer for a quarter hour or more; turn off your computer if it’s going to be idle for two or more hours. You can also set your PC to automatically go into sleep or hibernate mode when not in use, or to shut down after a particular task has completed. In fact, you should turn off the TV or computer every chance you get and enjoy the outdoors—anyway, once the rainy season kicks in, you’ll be spending lots of time at home with the comp and tube!


COOK DURING THE COOL HOURS


If you need to slave over a hot stove during the summer, you may well find the heat completely stifling—and the kitchen a very unpleasant place to be. So it might be best to cook breakfast before the sun has a chance to truly hit the high point in the sky and to move dinner a little later so you can start cooking after sundown. For lunch, consider cool dishes like sandwiches or salads or items that can be easily heated in the microwave; you may also want to keep it light due to the appetite-sapping midday heat. It’s also a good idea to serve cooling beverages and food (even if it’s just dessert) at some point during each meal.


CHECK YOUR AC’S HORSEPOWER

You may think that by getting a one-half horsepower (HP) air conditioner rather than a one-HP or two-HP unit will help you save on the electricity bill. This is not necessarily true; you need to factor in the size of the room you’re putting the AC into and how many people (and even computers or other frequently used heat-generating equipment) are likely to use it regularly. The more heat-generating items you have in the room and the bigger the room is, the bigger the HP of your air con should be. Otherwise, you’ll be overworking your air conditioner, which will make your electricity bill skyrocket and which frankly isn’t very good for the environment, either. This Wiki entry on Answers.com helps you calculate the factors you should consider when purchasing an air conditioner.


DON’T CROWD

You may want to save those house parties for the cooler hours and spread your family out across more rooms in your house (if you have any to spare, or if anyone’s willing to take the living room couch for a couple of nights a week or so if your rooms are small). The average human emits about the same amount of heat energy as a 100-watt light bulb does—this is more than just a random fact. This means that the more people are in a room, the hotter it will be due to the heat their bodies are emitting; this is why movie theaters have to keep the air conditioning so frigid—if you’ve ever been in a full theater when the AC is off, you’ll know that it gets steamy pretty quickly, and not in a good way. So spread people out as much as you can.


(Photo source: sxc.hu—fan, plant)

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