Keep your spring cool with energy-efficiency

By: Shannon Dauphin Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses

When spring arrives, I tend to forget about energy efficiency. My windows are thrown wide to let in the warm breezes, the temperatures are perfect even in the evening, and cold winter nights quickly become a distant memory. My utility bills plummet and my house feels perfectly comfortable. The dog days of summer seem very far away.

Though it feels like the perfect time to be lazy and simply enjoy the spring air, it is actually the perfect time to start thinking about the summer. The hottest days always seem to creep up on me, and then I find myself in sweltering heat, wondering why in the world I didn't bother to put in that insulation or invest in those nice shades when it was cool enough to install them without the risk of heatstroke.

Springtime changes for a cool summer

When the temperatures are perfect, it's time to work on how you are going to keep them that way. Cooling things down in an old house can be a challenge, but if you prepare for summer energy-savings early, you just might find that the dog days of summer aren't as bad as they could be.

Start out with the things you already have -- the systems that you already rely on to keep things cool. Inspect your central air unit closely. Replace or clean the filters, check exposed ducts for poor seals and replace or condition fan belts that appear to be worn. Go outside and check the condenser; if brush or small shrubs are growing up around it, make sure they are trimmed to at least three feet back.

If you live in a very old house, central air might not be an option. In that case, choose window air units that are as energy-efficient as possible. Make certain they are installed correctly, with no drafts around the casing.

Speaking of drafts, that's the easiest way to lose the cool air you want to keep inside. Just as weatherstripping is important during the winter, it is just as vital during the summer. Take some time now to wander about your house and find the drafts. You can do this by holding a candle or a stick of incense as you walk; if the flame flickers wildly or the smoke blows around instead of rising in a lazy straight line, you know there is a draft at work.

Seal up everything you can, and be aware of some of the stranger places from which drafts can originate, such as the electrical outlets, recessed lights or registers in the floor or ceiling. Also keep in mind that many drafts come from an exterior that hasn't been fully sealed. Step outside and look at your foundation, go upstairs and look at the attic, and close up anything that appears to be allowing air through.

Finally, though home improvement stores push insulation in the winter, any time of year is a great time to insulate your old house. Adequate attic insulation can lower your energy bills dramatically, but don't forget about crawlspaces and basements. Insulating those can make a marked difference in the comfort of your old house.

The good news is that these improvements during the spring are usually quite affordable and don't take up much of your time. Get started on them now, before the dog days of summer bear down and turn your home from sweet to sweltering.