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Keeping your cool the old-fashioned way

Shannon Lee

When summer starts to bear down, our electricity bills start to go up. In some cases, way up. A 2011 article from USAToday found that electric bills have gone up substantially over the last five years, and now cost an average of $1.50 per every $100 of household income. Though appliances -- including air conditioners -- are more energy-efficient, homes are larger than ever before, and that can negate the energy-saving power of most units.

8 tips to keep your cool

What if you want to keep cool and save money at the same time? Keep your house comfortable with these tips:

  1. Make good use of ceiling fans and stand-alone fans. The movement of air over your body creates a cooling sensation. But since these fans don't actually cool the room, turn them off when you leave to save on electricity.
  2. Switch to CFL or LED lighting. Incandescent lights can get very hot, and that can add to the uncomfortable temperature of the room. Compact fluorescent or LED lights produce 75 percent less heat.
  3. Insulate the attic. A good layer of insulation can keep the cool air inside, where it belongs. If you live in a two-story house, consider insulating the walls too.
  4. Install awnings or shutters. Both are a great way to dress up the look of your house while blocking direct rays from the sun. Shutters look great on an older home, while awnings might look nice on a newer one.
  5. Create a natural wind tunnel. If you have an older home, you might have the advantage of natural cooling built right in. Old-house, green renovation guru, Matt Grocoff, suggests opening a single window in the top uppermost conditioned space in your house, adding a window fan that is pointed outward, and then opening one window at the farthest corner of the basement or north side of the lowest floor. It should create natural ventilation.
  6. Form a window plan. Pay attention to how the sun hits your house. In the cool of the morning, leave the windows open wide but close them as soon as the sun begins to approach them. The goal is to prevent the direct rays of the sun from coming through the windows and heating up your house.
  7. Ventilate well at night. When the sun goes down, let the cool air in. Cross-ventilate with two or more windows. Help it along with fans placed in the windows to pull air through.
  8. Plant shade trees. It is always cooler in the shade, so create some. It will take a few years for those trees to grow, but it will be worth the wait when those towering trees protect your home with their leaves.

Can't take the heat?

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, an air conditioner is needed. If you choose a window unit, make sure the EER (energy efficient ratio) is 10 or above. For central air conditioners, the SEER (seasonal energy efficient ratio) should be 13 or above. The air conditioner should battle high humidity, too. Seal the ducts for your central air unit and close off vents to any unused rooms. If you have a window unit, close the doors to any unused rooms and use small fans to help circulate the air to hard-to-reach places.

If you're not sure what your home needs to be cool and efficient, speak to a local contractor. Look for a pre-screened, certified professional who can answer your questions about everything from window air conditioning to geothermal units. They can help you figure out what best fits your lifestyle and budget.

About the Author
Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist who has spent over twenty years writing about home improvement, education, relationships and medical and health topics.

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