Last week's Two For Tuesdays: The Food-Poisoned Wife Edition was about how to save money by buying local and by buying an Entertainment book (by the way, the wife is doing well and I suffered no ill effects from the dropped steak sandwich. I guess the five-second rule applies). This week, we talk about how to save money by preparing our homes for the summer.
Where I live, in Northern California, the weather is pretty moderate most of the year. There are a few weeks of the year where it's unbelievably hot (over 110 degrees Farenheit) and cooling the house becomes almost impossible. No matter what you do, the A/C alone cannot cool the house down to less than about 20 degrees less than the outside air temp, so the trick is to help the A/C by keeping the house as cool as possible in the first place.
The first trick is to get the heat out of your attic by installing an attic, or whole house, fan. Doing so will work wonders for keeping your house cool and keeping down your energy bills. Your A/C will thank you, too, in terms of running more efficiently (a unit that runs all the time doesn't work very well) and lasting longer.
According to Popular Mechanics,
These inexpensive fans are thermostatically controlled so they run only when they're needed. When you consider that attics can reach 150 degrees F, and that attic heat accounts for 20 percent of the average cooling bill, these fans are a good investment. Most can be installed for around $100.Sure, you have to spend a little to save a lot. Home Depot and Lowes sell a few varieties of these types of fans. The most interesting one is the solar-powered fan. They're more expensive but they use 0 electricity; all the power the unit uses comes from the solar-collector panel that comes with the unit. A good hybrid is a unit that uses both the sun's energy and your home's energy: In the evening the fan will work too. Oftentimes, in my house as an example, the heat inside the house and the attic rises as the outside temp falls. Think of your house as a sponge: It takes a while for the sun's energy to sink into your house.
So while the temp is falling outside, the temp is rising in your house, but the sun has set already (thus not producing any power for your attic fan). So, if your attic fan runs on both solar and electricity, you get the best of both worlds. One day, when all homes are solar-powered (or at least solar-enhanced), this hybrid solution will be rendered moot (in a truly solar-powered house, batteries are used to store the excess power that the solar panels take in).
Windows are a huge heat-exchanger, but not in a good way. First of all, if you're running an A/C, you'll most definitely want to close all of your windows; no need trying to cool down the entire neighborhood. But south- and west-facing windows let in a huge amount of heat. It may be too late now to plant some trees, but you can try to keep the heat out in other ways. Various physical barriers are the way to go.
First off, install some UV film on your offending windows. This will trap a little heat. Install awnings, too. This is one of the most effective ways of keeping south- and west-facing rooms cool. My bathroom window allows a ton of heat to come into the house. Last year, I "installed" a towel over the window (I tacked it up on the outside of the house) and it helped a great deal in keeping the bathroom, as well as the rest of the house, cool.
This year, I'm installing an attic fan, UV film on the windows, and awnings on my west-facing windows. I hope that it helps us keep our electricity bills within reason. But my greater aim is that it keeps the house cool. We have two small boys who tend to run hot anyway. Doing what we can to keep them cool will keep us all more comfortable.
That concludes this week's edition of Two For Tuesdays.