My home is interesting (special?) in that we have central air conditioning on the first floor and window AC units in the upstairs bedrooms. What this means, practically speaking, is that we lose a lot of our cool first floor air up the stairs, where it is immediately swallowed up by a hallway that becomes stifling in June and stays stifling through September.
Even when we run the bedroom AC units—only at night or if we’re specifically using one of the rooms—we keep the doors closed to maximise their output. In other words, we’re constantly trying to balance our comfort with the incredible amount of energy we use/waste to cool our home.
This summer, we are making it a priority to try to keep the house cooled more naturally and efficiently before we run straight to the beloved thermostat. I have found there are a few strategies we can all implement to lower the amount of AC-crankage we’ll need to do.
Close the shades
This one is tough for me. I don’t just like natural light, I feel like my mental well-being is somewhat dependent upon loads of it. At the same time, I’m aware that all that lovely natural light comes from the sun, which is brightening my spirits and heating up my home.
If no one is home during most of the day, close all of your window’s blinds and curtains—or go all-out and throw up a bunch of room darkening shades—to keep the temperature from climbing while you’re at work. If, say, you work from home and can’t stand to completely darken your world, try closing the shades to the windows facing the sun or in rooms or floors you’re not using. I spend most of my day working in my second-floor office, so I’ve committed to keeping the shades on the first floor closed during the day (except when I eat lunch because I’m not gonna eat a nice summer salad in a cave, dammit).
Another option is solar window film, which will block some of the rays and reduce glare.
Get strategic with your fans
I lived in Arizona for almost a decade and there was a phrase I heard there often: Fans don’t cool rooms; fans cool people. In other words, the reason a room with a fan feels cooler is not because the air movement is reducing the temperature (it’s not). It’s because the air is passing over your skin and reducing your perspiration. But you can also use them to suck the hot air out of a room. Writer Dan Seitz explains how in this Popular Science article:
To start, place electric fans in your windows (if they open). Try to set the blowers as high up as possible, ideally in the top sash. They should face outward to suck out hot air out of the room. If you have a two story house, concentrate your fans in the upper story’s windows (or at least lower those windows’ top sashes), where they can help convection pull hot air up and away.
Ceiling fans can also help. If you have them, then look up and ensure they’re turning counterclockwise. That way, they pull hot air up and away from you.
Seitz also suggests using fans to create a cross breeze in which one fan cools you from one side while a window fan on the other side pulls warm air out of the house.
As in, plants. Houseplants absorb warm air and release oxygen and cool moisture into the air, which helps lower the temperature of the space around it.
Aloe vera and succulents are a good place to start, as well as any other greenery that doesn’t require frequent watering, because they drink in their water from the humid air around them. Other good choices are snake plants, palms, ficus benjamina and rubber plants. Place them in a sunny window for the added bonus of blocking some of the light from entering your home.
Don’t add to the heat
It might be common sense, but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that on particularly spicy days, one of the best things you can do is reduce your use of “hot” appliances. In particular, ovens and dishwashers run at high temperatures, so on those days, hand wash your dishes and stick to simple uncooked meals or meals that can be heated at a lower temperature, such as with a microwave or slow cooker.
One thing you should be running? The dehumidifier. Pulling all that moisture out of the air will make things more bearable.
If you’ve done all of this and you still can’t cool off? It’s ok, go ahead and turn the AC on for a bit. Your efforts have lowered the amount of power you’ll need to get your home back down to a comfortable temperature.