4 Eco-Cool ways to keep your homes from melting this summer - and two other suggestions.
Some of these suggestions will seem face-palm worthy and obvious, but there are details to be mindful of that could make any good idea better and keep you a little more comfortable.
If you live in the south, air conditioning is something you expect to have and it's almost considered a human right. The further north you go, the more this right becomes a luxury. In the northwest, air conditioning rarely comes standard in homes or apartments. For those places, the obvious and easy fix would to just add air conditioning either through a swamp cooler, heat pump, portable A/C, or a window unit.
These all take a significant amount of energy and you want to stay cool and reduce your carbon footprint, so what are the options? There are a few. Oh quick side note - I'm not a climate scientist, architect, or thermodynamic specialist and am basing these suggestions on my experiences and what I've studied over the years.
Let's talk science.
Without delving too far into physics - something I'm not qualified to do, what do we know about heat?
Things get hotter in direct sunlight (radiation).
Objects hold and transfer temperature (conduction).
Hot air rises because it's less dense than cold air (convection).
So we need to come up with solutions for each way to combat the heat.
The southern side of my house, the largest most unobstructed part of my home (other than the roof) gets blasted by the suns rays, cooking that side of the house all day long - radiation and conduction being an immediate problem. Not a great design. Unfortunately I'm not in the position to build or design a home from the ground up or add expensive but eco friendly cooling options like geothermal.
I moved into this two-story rental home a couple years ago and since I don't make much money as a full-time student (and still don't because I'm still a full-time student) we had to come up with free or cheap options. We didn't have the luxury of air conditioning, so we put a lot of thought into how to stay cool. Here's what we did.
1. Cool morning air. Early, every morning before the sun would rise (or get too high) we'd open all of the windows in the house let the cool morning air come in - even if it was chilly - and just let the house soak in the cold. When the temperature began to rise, we'd button everything back up, close the blinds and drapes, and then try to keep everything shut for the rest of the day. Easier said than done when you have kids and pets.
2. Circulation. Differences in temperature will naturally create air movement. Not a lot of it but it will move. Opening windows on the north/northeast side of the home (the cool side) and then opening windows or vents on the hottest side if it's shaded is best. This way there's maximum cross-flow. If that doesn't work quite as well as you need, then keep the air in the house moving as much as possible by placing fans in strategic parts of the home - not just pointed at yourself. In our home, we'd set up our fans so that one fan would push air to another room, and that fan would push it to the next, and so on and so forth and in a circular pattern. Also, the upstairs bedrooms all have ceiling fans so we also keep all of the doors open and fans set to pull air (rather than push).
3. Weatherize. Yep, just like in winter. It's just as important during the summer months to make sure you don't have leaky door and window seals or any other sort of gap where outside air might push in like around window treatments - I noticed that during a windstorm a year or two ago. Because once you get it cool in your home, you want to keep it there. So grab your caulking gun and get to work!
4. Shade. The southern side of our house is the largest part of the house and the most unobstructed from the hot sun (other than the roof). This is the hardest thing we've had to deal with. On hot summer days, you can feel the heat radiating from the interior walls. We haven't yet done this but plan to build a large net that goes from the ground up to the roof awning, and then plant viney leafy plants at the bottom to grow up and provide natural shade to to that side of the home. AND if you plant viney fruits or vegetables, it will provide food! WIN!
Here's a sketch of what I'm talking about.
Here are TWO not quite as a eco friendly options that you can use - and ways to make their use most efficient.
1. Swamp Cooler. These are like air conditioners in the sense that they use a heat exchanger to cool the air but use water instead of freon. You can build makeshift ones relatively easily. Something as simple as bowl of ice or wet towel in front of a fan does work too. They add humidity to the air so be mindful of that if you live in a humid area. These are best used in dry climates but can help in pinch. The other options is make a closed-loop system like I did once - years ago...
It was fun to make but didn't quite as well as I'd had hoped. Definitely needed a better heat transfer inside of the tote -- and make it insulated. Ideally, an old cooler would have worked better and use of dry ice too. One thing to note, is that while these don't use harsh chemicals or gasses like A/C, they do use a lot of energy, so be mindful of that.
6. Air Conditioning
The last choice is good old fashioned air conditioning. BUT do so sparingly. One decent air conditioner placed in the hottest spot in the home (top floor on the south side, generally) and strategically placed fans like I had outlined before can keep things pretty comfortable.
For us, last summer was incredibly hot and dry in the Pacific Northwest. We had so many wildfires and it was a generally uncomfortable few months. We ended up breaking down an buying a portable A/C unit because we were miserable. We chose not to go with a standard window unit for a couple reasons. One, it looked bad and two, with sideways opening windows it was more difficult to properly block off, seal, and secure the space in the window above the unit.
Anyways, we placed it in our bedroom because it was by far the hottest room in the house for obvious reasons (because it was upstairs and faced southwest), not because I slept there. Although, that may have factored into it... 🤔. The jury is still out on that one.
Jokes aside, we still did ALL of the same things throughout the day to keep the temperature down just like I had mentioned previously. This way we'd lessen the load, but now we had a way to help maintain that temperature. Needless to say, we all slept better from that point forward.
Do you have any tips or suggestions to help keep your house cool? Tell us in the comments below!