Keeping the temperature in your house at a comfortable low without paying sky-high utility bills isn’t impossible. In fact, it’s not even all that hard.
Don’t be fooled—this isn’t your standard list of generic tips suggesting that you sit in front of a fan. From simple preventative measures to no- and low-cost tricks, here are some lesser-known and creative ways to stay cool once the heat hits:
Start by Keeping Hot Air Out
When you’re trying to cool your home on a budget, the less hot air that enters your home, the better. Surprisingly, there are a few more tricks than just drawing the shades.
1. Block Out the Sun
You thought the first tip was going to be about closing your blinds, didn’t you? We’re going a step further to suggest that the best way to keep heat out of your house is to stop the sun from hitting windows in the first place.
Because windows are so darn great at letting in light, they’re also downright awful at keeping out the heat that comes with it.
Even worse, in warmer weather, windows aren’t just letting in heat from outside—they actually generate heat from the sunlight that hits them. Which they then radiate back into your home, of course.
How does this even happen? Glass not only conducts heat from outside into your home, but it also retains it. Meaning that, once those panes have been heated up by the morning sun, they basically become mini-radiators that make cooling your home even more of a pain.
Oh, and windows also magnify the sun's rays and focus heat-beams straight into your home, much like you might have done in a childhood experiment.
Before you decide to board up your windows for good, know that a few preventative measures can limit the light that reaches window panes in the first place.
Ideally, limiting light is done through the use of exterior shading, which can come in the form of retractable or removable blinds. These can block the sun’s rays in the summer, without limiting the sweet, life-giving rays of sunshine that keep you from freezing come winter.
Another option is to carefully choose deciduous plants and trees to plant outside of your east and west-facing windows since these get hottest in the summer. Deciduous plants are the kind that shed their leaves in the winter, allowing that previously-mentioned light to warm you home when needed, and keeping it out when it’s not.
What if you can’t employ the use of shades or shade-giving plants due to space constraints or rental agreements?
The next best thing is to grab some reflective material and place said material on the inside of your window, directly against the glass. There’s even reflective film made just for this purpose.
If you need a quick fix, consider placing a windshield heat reflector against your window. This option works well during the day. However, do make sure to take them down at night. The insulating materials can hold in heat, which we’re avoiding whenever possible.
2. Use Your Windows Strategically
One of the easiest ways to keeping hot air out is the simplest: Close windows, shades, and drapes before temperatures start to rise. Bonus points if your window coverings are white since lighter colors have a higher albedo—which is a fancy way of saying that they reflect more heat-giving light than darker shades.
Once the sun starts to set, open your windows to invite in the cool evening air—but only do so once it’s cooler outside than in.
But, here’s the trick: Instead of throwing your windows all the way open, take advantage of the fact that hot air rises by opening downstairs windows on the shady side of the house, and upstairs windows on the hot side of the house.
Getting it right takes a little experimenting. And, although doing so seems contrary to common sense, often you’ll create the best airflow by opening downstairs windows by only a few inches. Just remember, you’re trying to bring in as much of the shade-cooled air as possible using the vacuum created by hot air’s inclination to rise.
3. Kill a Watt (or Several Thousand) by Choosing Fans
Your standard ceiling fan uses 100 watts of electricity for every 3000+ used by central air conditioning. Plus, when placed strategically, fans can not only create a wind chill that makes your body feel cooler, they can encourage that previously-mentioned evening air to circulate through your home.
Remember when we mentioned opening your downstairs windows just a tad? That’s not where the fan goes. Instead, place a portable fan facing outwards upstairs, to help encourage all that hot air to exit your home.
It’s no surprise that moving air evaporates moisture off of your skin, taking the heat with it. However, renters can make the most out of portable fans during the daytime by placing a bowl of ice water directly in front of the airflow—it’s like your own cool ocean breeze.
If you do own your home, there’s nothing better than a whole-house exhaust fan to cool things down. If you’ve never heard one, they sound brutally loud. However, turning one on will exchange all the air in your home in just a few minutes.
Staying Cool Tips Just For Renters
Much of the advice about beating the heat is geared towards those who can invest in their home. What’s a renter to do? Follow these tips to stay cool when it’s sweltering outside:
Get plants. Lots and lots of plants. Have you ever noticed that the shade of a tree is far cooler than the shade of a building? That’s because plants absorb energy function, taking heat from the air. Plus, plants rely on photosynthesis. Consuming all that water and sunlight to create their own food means that plants need even more energy (heat) in order to survive.
Only run your appliances at night. Barbeque outside instead of cooking in your oven. Use the microwave in lieu of the stovetop. Let your dishes air dry. And, should you have an in-apartment dryer, skip using it for the summer and line-dry your clothes instead.
Make a swamp cooler. Before you start humming that song from “Deliverance,” know that evaporative coolers can do wonders for making your home feel more comfortable! Check out this option, which the article claims can be created for a mere $30.
Replace your old school light bulbs. Incandescent bulbs don’t just use more energy, they create heat. While initially pricier, compact fluorescent bulbs won’t just save you money in the long run, they’ll keep you more comfortable.
How Homeowners Can Keep Even Cooler
Unlike renters, there are a few additional steps that you can take to beat the heat come summer:
Inspect your home for air leaks. Get into your attic, look at the seals on the outside of windows, minding the gap where doors should meet the wall. Whether through caulking, weatherstripping, insulation, or patchwork, ensure your home is tightly sealed against outside air.
Replace the air filters in your HVAC system. When they’re properly cleaned, filters do what their name implies—filter stuff out. However, a dirty filter impedes the flow of air into your system, which can, in turn, affect its performance and may shorten its overall life. While you’re thinking of your HVAC system, consider scheduling a professional to perform routine maintenance to help it perform at maximum efficiency.
Apply for energy incentive programs. Reimbursement programs vary by state. However, Energy.gov has compiled a list of links for each, thereby removing your last excuse for not taking advantage of the extra cash to go green.
The Bottom Line
The average household's utility bill is nearly $2,000 every year.
And, thanks to an increasing reliance on electricity, those bills are expected to rise. Learning to pull the plug on your AC usage will only prove to serve you better over time.
If you do need to use your air conditioner, try to rethink how cool is cool enough. Turning up the thermostat just a few degrees can save significant energy and money. Want to be a super saver? Use fans to keep the air moving in occupied rooms, and you can nudge the thermostat up another degree or two.
Also, it’s time to bust the old myth that keeping your AC on all day costs less than cooling once you’re home. Not only do air conditioners run more efficiently when dropping temperatures all at once, putting it on full blast for a short period is better for dehumidifying your home.