Keeping our houses cool with air conditioners costs Americans about $11 billion a year. And those air conditioners release about 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air annually -- two tons for each home that has one.
With the demand for home air-conditioning systems in the U.S. at an all-time high, summer’s toll on the environment is probably going to get worse.
The good news is that by following some green tips at home this summer, you can cool off, save money, and make a sizable dent in your carbon footprint. “If we can reduce carbon emissions from homes just 5%, it’s like taking three-quarters of the cars off the road,” says Trey Muffett, building science director for Sustainable Spaces, a home performance retrofitter in San Francisco.
Your eco-cooling steps can be as big as installing insulation in your house or as little as changing some of your everyday habits. “I always encourage people to go for the low-tech solutions first because you can do those starting tomorrow,” says Aaron Pope, manager of sustainability programs for the California Academy of Sciences.
5 Tips to Reduce Body Heat
The lowest-tech ways to keep cool this summer start with your own body.
Wear clothes in natural fabrics. “Fabrics such as cotton, hemp, and linen ‘breathe’ better than synthetic fibers and naturally wick moisture away from the body,” says Kimberly Rider, author of The Healthy Home Workbook.
Eat cool. Dine on salads and sandwiches instead of large, protein-rich meals when the weather is hot, as these can warm your body up. Oven- or stove-top cooking heats up your house as well.
Stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the heat, as these can promote dehydration. Drink more water than usual or consider an electrolyte replacement drink if you’re sweating a lot.
Cool off with water. Soak your feet in a tub of cold water, put on a wet bandana, or take a cool shower. Keep a spray bottle of water in the refrigerator and spritz yourself regularly throughout the day.
Head down and out. When your home is at its hottest, remember that the basement is the coolest place in the house. Or plan outings to air-conditioned buildings -- such as the library or a movie theater – during peak hot hours.
5 Green Tips for Inside Your Home
Try some of these low-tech practices around the house.
Use windows and window coverings to your advantage. If you’re not home during the day, close all windows, curtains, and blinds to keep your house cool for as long as possible. If you’re home during the day and don’t want all the windows covered, cover them when needed. Remember that south-facing windows get a lot of sun. East-facing windows get sun in the morning and west-facing ones get the hotter and stronger sun in the afternoon and evening. Dark-colored curtains, roman shades, and even dime-store roller shades can be very effective. “Roller shades can block up to 80% of solar heat,” Muffett says. If the air cools down enough in the evening, open the windows to promote as much air circulation as possible.
Don’t add to the heat inside. Use appliances such as irons, washers, and dryers at night or early morning -- or eliminate the dryer altogether and use a clothesline instead. (Not running your appliances between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. also helps avoid brownouts.“A big source of heat is your stove,” Pope says. “So if you can, cook outdoors or microwave meals.” Microwaves use two-thirds less energy than stoves. Another option is using a toaster oven for baking. Because toaster ovens are so much smaller, they don’t warm up a kitchen like a conventional oven. And, depending on the model, you’ll be cutting your energy use in half. Turn off computers and other appliances when not in use. Left running, these can also generate unnecessary heat. You can also unplug these appliances when not in use to ensure you reduce your electric bill as well, because the small amount of power these pull while plugged in can add up on your bill over time.
Consider changing your bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs are heat generators, so many experts suggest switching them for energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs or halogen infrareds. Fluorescent “corkscrew” bulbs contain mercury, so consider the safety risks before putting them in children’s bedrooms, playrooms, or other places where they may be likely to break.
Use fans. When it cools down outside, place inexpensive portable fans in front of open windows to bring the cool air inside. And consider installing a ceiling fan if you don’t already have one. Attic fans also circulate cool air from outside through the house. Use ceiling or room fans even if you have an air conditioner. You can then set your thermostat higher because the air movement from the fan will help the room feel cooler.
Keep your refrigerator well stocked. Refrigerators that are full of food don’t warm up as quickly when the door is opened, so they require less energy to stay cool.