Summers in the Northeast can be brutal with temps in the 80s to 90s and high humidity.
Since I'm not working and am home for large portions of the day, keeping my home cool during these warm weather months has been front and center in my mind lately.
I live in a two-story Connecticut home with no central air conditioning. For 15 years, I've gotten by with just one small in-window air conditioner that goes in an upstairs bedroom. Still, the thing is incredibly heavy and a real pain to drag down from the attic. For that reason, I only use it when the heat makes sleeping impossible; it's also noisy and the way it cycles on and off is disruptive to sleep, anyway. Plus, with two cats who like to come and go as they please, it's difficult to keep the door closed, so all that cold air often ends up drifting out into the hallway.
Here are 10 low-tech ways I keep my home cool without noisy, electricity-gobbling air conditioners:
1. Use a sunblock. I'm a big advocate of using sun-blocking drapes and curtains. As soon as I get up in the morning, which these days is around 6 a.m., I lower the blinds and close the curtains on my east- and south-facing windows. Around noon, I'll close the south-facing windows as well. Sometime in mid-afternoon, I'll open curtains on those east-facing windows which will then be in shade. By 5 p.m., I'll fling open all the windows and curtains so I don't feel like I'm living in a cave.
2. Blow, baby, blow. Next in my arsenal of home-cooling techniques are my assortment of fans. On hot days like this, my three ceiling fans are whirring round and round, two box fans are blasting and a small tabletop fan is doing its part, too. Warm, humid air feels much more bearable on the skin when it's moving.
3. The evening cool-down. Once outdoor night-time temperatures have dropped below indoor temperatures, it's time to encourage the exchange of warm air for cool. (There are parts of the country where this never really happens, and if you live in one of these areas, you have my sympathy.) However, if you live in a two-story house or condo, you can accelerate the air exchange by strategically using box fans. You'll need at least two. Put one box fan on the lower level blowing into the room, as you normally would. Put the other box fan in a upstairs window blowing out. (If you have more box fans, by all means, put additional units on both levels in the same manner as the first two were placed. If you have an accessible attic and can leave the attic door open, place a box fan in an attic window.) The inward and outward-facing fans will create an invisible air flow that will rid your home of warm air more quickly than you would by simply blowing all that hot air around inside.
4. Just chillin'. I have heard it suggested that you can speed up the cooling process by placing a large pot of ice cubes in front of a blowing fan. I have not tried this enough to form an opinion about it, though I do know my cats appreciate the extra water bowl.
5. Think shade trees. While this may not help much this year, think about planting some shade trees as a long-term investment you'll come to appreciate in future years. Remember, plant deciduous trees (those that shed their leaves in fall) on the south and west sides of your home so they block the sun in summer but not in winter. While you're at it, plant evergreens on the north side of the house to block the harshest winter winds.
If you don't have room for trees, or a green thumb, you might want to consider a retractable awning installed on the windows of those rooms that receive the most sun.
6. Take a cold shower. If, like me, you have trouble sleeping on extremely warm summer nights, I find that taking a cold shower right before bedtime helps considerably.
7. Don't forget your pet's comfort. A handful of ice cubes in the water bowl will be much appreciated. And while you could always give your doggie a cool water bath, your cats won't likely appreciate that. I've been steadily clipping the long hair of my Maine Coon, another thing he also doesn't appreciate it, but it is something he'll tolerate if I clip his fur while he eats his favorite food. He is looking quite bedraggled, bit hopefully a bit cooler. I'm saving his fur and would like to donate it to the Gulf cleanup efforts. Be careful with the scissors, though!
8. Keep cooking to a minimum. Being a household of one, I rarely use the big oven anymore, but on hot days like this, I don't even like to use my little convection toaster/oven. It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating, any hot air generated by kitchen appliances has to go somewhere, so don't release it into the house.
9. Tread gently on the earth. This is the time of year when I really appreciate my bamboo floor mats. I replaced many of my rugs years ago because I found my cats had little interest in scratching bamboo rugs. I have bamboo rugs in various shapes and sizes in my bathroom, office, spare bedroom, sun room and dining room. There's just one room now that has wall-to-wall carpeting. The bamboo rugs feel cool underfoot and vacuuming then is not nearly as labor-intensive as it is with conventional rugs.
10. Last winter, I got in the habit of entering and exiting my home through a garage and basement door rather than the front door. This prevented a lot of warm air from escaping the house. I even asked visitors (family and friends) to enter through the garage.
Now that it's so warm out, I plan to do the same thing, but this time, I hope to keep the cooler air in the home inside. When you open my east-facing front door in morning, you can immediately feel the blast of hot air, so it would seem a good idea to just not open that door. Sometimes, it's the simplest ideas that work the best.
11. Go down below. When all else fails, head for the basement, where it will be noticeably cooler. Hey, you might use your basement as an emergency shelter during a hurricane or tornado. Maybe you already have it stocked with water and food reserves, or if you're really lucky, you've got a finished basement that is already quite comfy. Or maybe, like me, you've got to find your way through spiderwebs and dust. No matter. Think of it as a camping trip, sans campfire. Hang out down below during the worst of the summer's heat waves.
What tips can you share for low-tech ways to keep your home cool this summer?
Viewing the 'Home & Hearth' Category
When your income is erratic (or even if it isn't), every household expense is subject to scrutiny, most particularly those recurring expenses that are too easily left on auto-pilot but really add up over time. Energy prices have been especially volatile during the past two heating seasons and for the majority of homeowners living in the Northeast, heating oil ranks among the top five expenses.
There's a great deal you can do to minimize your heating oil bill, from bulking up on insulation, winterizing around doors and windows and adapting to a cooler indoor environment.
Still, unless you're Paul Bunyan and rely solely on a fireplace or stove for heat, you're going to have to bite the bullet at some point to schedule a home oil delivery.
But before you dial 1-800-OIL-NOWW, there are still ways to economize. You can save a few bucks simply by shopping around each time you order fuel. Over the years, I've narrowed possible suppliers down to the three I know consistently offer the lowest prices. (If you've signed onto a contract that locks you into a set price for the entire winter season, that's another way to go, but it's also speculative and can backfire like it did last year when customers who signed fixed rate contracts last summer of over $4.50 a gallon got burned when prices began to slide in the fall. I stopped purchasing fuel in advance after the oil company I paid for an entire winter's worth of oil went out of business, but that's another story.)
When you shop around, be sure to ask the supplier if they offer a discount for paying in cash. (In my area, you can shave off another .06 per gallon by doing this.) I also make a point to fill up my tank in the peak of summer, when prices tend to be lower. This doesn't always guarantee a lower price, but with the exception of the 2008-2009 heating season, it usually works. And finally, when I have no choice but to order oil in the dead of winter, I try to wait for a relatively mild day to do so. The delivery man who came to my home today confirmed that doing so made sense and that prices do indeed dip with even a modest rise in temperatures. Most suppliers will honor the price they quoted you, even if prices are higher on the day when delivery takes place
During the past five winter seasons, I've tracked oil prices and usage in my own home. I've certainly noticed the ups and downs in prices. Looking at the five-year period from 2005-2006 to 2009-2010, my cheapest price paid for oil was in 2006-2007, when I averaged $2.14 a gallon. That must've been a relatively mild winter as well, because I used less fuel that year, 315 gallons, than any other year since then.
Average price paid: $2.19 a gallon
Total gallons used: 391
Average price paid: $2.14 a gallon
Total gallons used: 315
Average price paid: $2.74 a gallon
Total gallons used: 339
Average price paid: $2.78 a gallon
Total gallons used: 506
Average price paid so far: $2.36 a gallon
Total gallons purchased: 116 as of 12/16/09
The last two heating seasons took the biggest chunk out of my wallet. I paid an average of $2.74 and $2.78 per gallon, respectively. Last week's national average residential heating oil price was $2.76 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
And while my total usage remained relatively constant in every other year, when I consumed in the 300-400 gallon range, I burned 506 gallons last winter. I can't remember, but it must've been a cold one. (The Residential Energy Consumption Survey reported in 1997 that households consumed an average of 730 gallons of heating oil each season. Hopefully, we have closed that gap since then, thanks to improved home energy efficiency.)
Averages, of course, don't tell the whole story. Checking back on a post I wrote last spring, I see that the lowest oil prices I paid in the past five years was $1.99 a gallon April 2008 (ah, those were the days) and the highest was $4.24 a gallon in June of 2008. Who would have guessed there'd be such a dramatic spike in just three months?
All things considered, I didn't feel too bad paying $2.36 a gallon today.
How do your heat bills compare?