Cool Your Home Naturally
We're all trying to live greener lives, but some steps, like giving up air conditioning, can seem daunting. If you break a sweat just thinking about turning off your AC, take heart: We've found some surprisingly simple all–natural methods to cool your home. You can remove heat buildup in your home and prevent hot air from entering in the first place with our money–saving quick fixes and home improvement projects. Plus you'll do your part to fight climate change (each AC unit can release more than 2,200 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air every year). And you can improve the efficiency of your AC—if you have to run it on a particularly sweltering day.
Examine your windows
Check for leaks. Fill any gaps around window moldings with nontoxic caulking like Safecoat Caulking Compound ($9; dwellsmart.com).
Choose light–colored window treatments. Covering your windows can block as much as 40 percent of summer heat, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Pale–hued curtains or blinds can help reflect sunlight away from the house, says Katie Ackerly, coauthor of The Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings (New Society Publishers, 2007).
Use heat deflectors. Consider installing awnings, shutters, or reflective window film on sunny windows to further deflect heat, suggests Paul Scheckel, an energy analyst and author of The Home Energy Diet
Upgrade your windows. If you need to replace windows, choose Energy Star–certified ones—the DOE estimates that they can save you up to $465 a year. "But the payback period can be long, since the initial investment in new windows is pricey," says Scheckel.
Turn off indoor sources of heat
Replace lightbulbs. Swap out your incandescent lightbulbs for compact fluorescents (incandescents release 90 percent of their energy as heat).
Give appliances a rest. Turn your dishwasher's dry cycle to air dry, avoid using the oven, and be sure to unplug electronics you're not using (even on standby, they generate heat).
Increase your breeze. Open downstairs windows on the side where a breeze is coming in and upstairs windows on the opposite side to create an effect called "thermosiphoning." "Your house naturally acts like a chimney—cooler air comes in at the bottom and warm air leaves at the top," says Scheckel. If there's no breeze, create one with window fans.
Use a ceiling fan. Because it circulates air over warm skin, a ceiling fan can extend your comfort range by up to 10 degrees. Run the fan counterclockwise so it blows air down. "But turn it off when you leave the room—ceiling fans cool people, not rooms," Ackerly advises.
Landscape around the house
Grow climbing vines. Deciduous vines such as Boston ivy or grapevines can cut cooling needs by a fourth. Plant them on the sunny sides of your house, says Ackerly. Grow vines on a trellis so they don’t block cooling air from moving around the house or cause moisture problems, Scheckel says.
Shade with shrubs. Fast–growing hedges and bushes can help shade patios and driveways, reducing the amount of heat that radiates through these surfaces. Greenery creates a cool microclimate that can reduce the temperature in your home by as much as 20 degrees, according to the DOE.
Plant trees in the yard. Shade the roof by planting tall spreading deciduous trees (ones that grow 25 feet or higher) to the south of your home. Plant shorter trees (6 to 8 feet) to the west, where the sun hits at a lower angle on summer afternoons. The USDA reports that one shade tree can equal the cooling effect of five air conditioners.