There is no groundhog to foretell what the summer will be like, but whether mild or extreme, there’s plenty for the home owner to do to help save the environment while saving dollars. In a typical home about 43% of the utility bill goes towards heating and cooling. Another 25% typically goes towards heating water. With the warmest season of the year in the Northern hemisphere upon us, there are some ways to help you keep your cool while saving some green.
1. Plant different bulbs….light bulbs.
A standard incandescent 60-watt light bulb produces about the same amount of light as a 15-watt compact fluorescent light bulb. Only 10%-15% of the electricity incandescent light bulbs consume ends up as light; the remainder is put out as heat. You really don’t need to add heat to your summer, and during the winter those bulbs are an inefficient way to heat things up. Switch to a compact fluorescent bulb and you will save 45-watts and end up producing a lot less heat. Remember also to keep your lamps away from thermostats or air conditioning units. The added heat in the area around them can cause false readings that will cause them to over-cool your space. You can go green, save green and stay cool with this one little change.
Another technology that is worth less available now but is worth watching is the LED light bulbs. These are super bright and super long lasting. Unlike the compact fluorescent bulbs of today, they do not contain any environmentally harmful materials. A few years ago, they were incredibly expensive when you could find them. While still more expensive and still difficult to find on supermarket shelves, they can pay for themselves over time. It can be worth going on line to get these if you are going to be replacing or installing lots of lights soon. You will need to check the bulbs you get to make sure they have the appropriate base for your use. Keep in mind that some of these bulbs are still rated for indoor use only. You will want to make sure the ones you get are appropriate to the space in which you wish to use them.
Of course, another lighting trick in the summer is to turn off bulbs entirely. With the longer daylight hours available, using natural light can be a huge help. How to get the best use of natural light in your house will depend largely on where you live and the design of your house. Some basic rules are that southern and northern facing windows are the best for getting daylight in without heating up the place. They also produce less glare than using east or west facing windows for light.
Because the light that does come in through east and west facing windows also tends to create more heat, it may even pay to pull the shades or cover the windows with drapes. Most hardware stores have a reflective film that you can put onto windows. Using this on east and west facing windows can reflect back some of the heat while still letting some diffused light in.
The Feng Shui folks also have it right. Strategically placed mirrors will also help with the energy flow and the light flow in your room. Setting a table lamp on a mirrored tray looks attractive and provides additional lighting. Sconces with mirrored backs reflect more light into a room. I like using reflective surfaces with convex or irregular shapes to help disperse the light in different directions rather than focusing the light back where it came from. When thinking about reflective surfaces, consider not only mirrors, but glossy-finish paints, metallic surfaces, quartz and crystal rocks.
One of my favorite energy savers is to use a book light when I sit and read. Sitting in a cool room with just a reading lamp next to me or even a book light book light shining directly on the material I’m perusing helps to focus all my attention on the material in front of me. When the room is dark except for the island of light where I am, I tend to focus on what’s on the island.
If for security reasons, you use automatic timers to turn on lights when you’re out, reset the lights for summer hours. Chances are that porch light that you want on when you come home from work in dead of winter doesn’t need to go on so early in June. Likewise, if you turn on inside lights automatically on a timer, you might want to rethink the timing scheme in the summer months. Consider also today’s solar powered outdoor lights. With each passing year the technology improves and these lights provide more light for longer periods. They come on automatically as the sun goes down and stay on til they have lost their juice. This means you do not have to worry about resetting timers on them.
Another tool to keep from having to reset timers are motion detectors. Having the lights turn off automatically when you leave the room is a great way to save energy. When I have guests stay over, I use motion-detecting nightlights in the bathroom to help them find their way.
2. Make sure the AC is in A-1 Shape
Have your air conditioning unit maintained. Most home maintenance experts suggest maintenance every six months. At the very least, before the summer heats up, make sure it’s working. (Likewise, during the summer months is a great time to have your furnace maintained.) It is much easier to find someone to maintain your air conditioning when it’s cool outside, than to find someone to repair it during a heatwave. Having to pay for weekend repairs or out of normal service times will cost you more money. A properly maintained unit will also use less electricity. Again, this is a case of going green and saving green.
If you have an indoor AC/window AC remember that its biggest enemy is dirt. Dirt will lower the efficiency of the evaporator coil. It will block the fan that blows out the cool air. Dirt will clog filters that help to keep the air clean. It will block drain ports. You can start your maintenance on window units by protecting them from the elements during the winter months when they are not being used. There are covers designed to go on the outside in the winter, or just use heavy duty plastic sheeting and duct tape to hold it in place.
When you are running the AC, make sure you clean or replace the filters about once a month. If you live in a dusty clime, consider replacing more often. Whenever you are vacuuming, make sure you give the coils a once over. Make sure anytime you’re working with your AC that you’ve got it unplugged and you’ve discharged the capacitors according to the manufacturers instructions. This will help prevent injury to both you and the unit.
Most repairs and maintenance done on even small AC units is not designed to be a “home job.” You can sometimes save money by taking your unit into a shop for maintenance rather than having someone out for a house call.
Of course, not having to turn on the AC is a better choice. In Southern California, our night-time temperatures can be 10-20 degrees lower than our daytime temperatures. Our cooler nights and gentle breezes make us a great location for using natural cooling. As the wind blows into the windows on one side, the air is forced out the windows on the leeward side of the house. Friends who make the best use of this kind of cooling have transoms or slatted windows that can be opened high up on the side from which the wind blows at their house. This allows them to make use of the natural breeze without having wind blowing directly on them. Energy saving using this method must be balanced against security issues. Leaving windows open may not be safe where you are.
Other friends use natural cooling by employing the “chimney effect” which utilizes convection. The “chimney effect” happens when cooler air enters a house on the lower floor. The cool air entering pushes the warmer air up. The heat exits out through skylights, and upstairs windows. As the warm air leaves, it draws in cooler air below. The “chimney effect” can be helped along by properly installed ceiling fans. Even in single story houses, getting the heat up to the ceiling, can make things more comfortable.
3. Time Shifting – It’s Not Just For Television Anymore.
Cooking in the oven can raise the temperature of a room by as much as 10 degrees. If you need to cook inside, try planning meals that can be cooked on the stove-top. If you’re dying for something that has to be done in the oven, consider roasting in the early morning or late evening hours and then serving cold (picnic-style) chicken or roast beef.
There are other functions that you can delay using built in timers, or by attaching timers to appliances. Get the laundry and the dishes ready to go and set a timer to delay their start. (Many machines already have this function built in.) Electricity is cheaper during off-peak hours. By running loads while you’re asleep, you will be buying cheaper electricity and won’t be heating the house up.
You can do the same with a clothes dryer, but remember that if you have a load of damp clothes ready to go, you’ll want to minimize the delay with them to minimize the possibility of mold or mildew. I try and make the night load in the dryer towels or underwear or something that I’m less concerned about wrinkling. In our house, I try to run the appliances sequentially. I will run the dryer first, then the dishwasher, then the clothes washer. I set the dishwasher to let the dishes air dry, and by the time I get up, they’re pretty close to dry. Running the clothes washer closer to 4 or 5 in the a.m. lets me pull those clothes when I get up and toss them in the dryer – before the heat of the day starts. By the time I’m ready to head to work, the clothes are usually ready to come out. I’ll lay them flat if I don’t have time to fold.
Of course, the frugal person in me goes back to what I did when living overseas. I have a clothesline. I love my clothesline. It saves money, the clothes come out without wrinkles. Best of all is they smell terrific.
While not related to heat, you can also save money by watering your lawn on a timer. If you water the hour before sun-up, the water will have time to get into the ground before it evaporates. You can use less water to more effectively green your garden. Save a little more water by using “gray water” for your houseplants. If you can use tap-water for your plants, consider putting a watering can in the shower with you. Use the water that would have gone down the drain to water your house plants.
4. Close off the house.
If you are not going to be using a room, why cool it? Close vents leading to unused portions of the house and close doors leading into them. Use towels or other draft eliminating devices to prevent hot air getting out or cool air getting in there. Many of us have rooms that don’t get regular use. Even if I’m closing off rooms, I find it helps to open the door in the evening when I’m not running the AC to air out the room. I’ll close it up again before I go to sleep.
In the rooms that you do utilize, use a fan. Why use a fan if you’ve got air conditioning? A fan can reduce the temperature of a room by an additional 3-5 degrees, and are especially effective used in conjunction with air conditioning. Also, if you are using a fan and the AC, keep the cool air in by closing doors. It’s easier to cool a smaller space.
Ceiling fans are my favorite cooling device, though oscillating table or floor fans work well, too. When sleeping, situate table or pole fans so they blow above or below you without blowing directly on you. Ceiling fans only work in rooms with ceilings at least 8 feet high. Fans are most efficient when the blades are between seven and nine feet above the floor, and about a foot below the ceiling. Fan blades should be a least eight inches from the ceiling and eighteen inches from walls.
One thing to keep in mind when purchasing ceiling fans is that larger fans cool much larger areas than smaller ones. The general break down for the area a ceiling fan will cool is:
64 sq. ft room needs 32″ diameter fan
144 sq. ft room needs a 42″ diameter fan
225 sq. ft room needs a 44″ diameter fan
400 sq. ft room needs a 52″ diameter fan
Another advantage to using a larger blade is that it can cool the same space more quickly while spinning at a slower speed. This might be a consideration in a home office or places where you don’t want to create enough breeze to blow papers off a table.
The fan sizes above really are for relatively square rooms. If you need to cool a long thin space like a hallway, a series of smaller ceiling fans will work more efficiently.
Many of the ceiling fans come with lights on them. Make sure you have a way to control the lights separately from the fans for best savings. And once again, to keep things cool, use compact fluorescent bulbs.
Because the temperature in rooms gets warmer towards the ceiling (hot air rises), it is also possible to use the same ceiling fans that cool a room in summer to help warm a room in winter. In fact, ceiling fans can lower energy consumption in cold months by as much as10%. A ceiling fan can help push the warmer air that is trapped near the ceiling back down into the room. The warm air you’ve paid for thus recirculates to the place it is most needed.
To get the most out of ceiling fans, remember that during the winter, fans should run in a clockwise direction. In the summer, fans should run in a counter-clockwise direction.
5. Get with the program!
Programmable thermostats can be a godsend. They’re easily installed and can help you maintain a livable temperature when you’re home. They’ll allow temperatures to have more range when you’re out.
While your turning down the thermostat, also turn down the water heater. Keeping the water heater at 120 degrees will save energy and prevent you from accidentally scalding yourself.
6. Lighten up!
If you use slip covers in your house, get a set of lighter ones for the summer. The lighter color reflects more light and holds less heat. Your furniture will be more comfortable.
7. Go Really Green!
If you have a green thumb, bring some of the outdoors indoors with plants. A NASA study found that common house plants improved air quality. Houseplants were able to remove up to 87 percent of air toxins in a single day. Just 15 to house plants in 6- to 8-inch diameter containers are sufficient for an 1,800 square-foot house. Plants also tend to stay cool because of their perspiration. They help to moderate the temperature of the area around them.
If you like to cook, consider houseplants with edible components. Consider herbs, decorative kale, and miniature fruit trees.
8. Call for help!
Many utility companies offer free or low cost energy assessment. Call your local utility to find out if they can offer suggestions on making your house more energy efficient.
Some states and local agencies offer rebates if you get energy efficient appliances. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water has energy efficient appliance rebates, but only a certain number available per year. Check with you local utilities to see if they have a similar program.
Going green is not about denying yourself. It’s about thinking and planning. It’s about making decisions and not merely letting things happen to you.