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Green Tips for a Cool Summer

A green guide for keeping your home cool this summer, from simple steps to bigger projects.

Keeping a Cool House From the Outside In

Shading from the inside with curtains and blinds is a good first step, but shading from the outside can be even better.

One of the least expensive ways to do this is by installing awnings. The Department of Energy estimates that awnings can reduce solar heat gain – the amount the temperature rises – in your house by as much as 77%. Patio covers can also shade from the outside.

Other more costly exterior shade options include woven mesh solar screens that hang outside, solar control windows, and reflective film on windows. Window film, which is actually a microscopic layer of metal that repels solar radiation, can block anywhere from 50% to 70% of solar heat.

Regional Solutions for Keeping Your House Cool

Depending on where you live, two other cost-effective solutions can be a big help.

  • Dehumidifiers. In regions such as the Southeast, humidity makes hot air feel hotter than it actually is. “If you take the humidity out of the air, the temperature feels much cooler,” Pope says. “Dehumidifiers are not too expensive and they’re much more energy-efficient than a whole air conditioning system.”
  • Swamp coolers. In desert climates, people used to sleep in screened-in porches, sometimes hanging wet blankets or sheets inside the screen and using a fan to help draw the air through the moist fabric. Evaporative coolers, also known as swamp coolers, operate on the same principle. They draw in fresh air from the outside, pulling it in through moist pads and circulating it with a big fan.

Swamp coolers can be costly -- from $200 to $700, plus installation. But they can lower the temperature of outside air as much 30 degrees and use up to 75% less energy than air conditioners.

Despite their name, swamp coolers are only effective in dry climates.

5 Green Tips for Your Air Conditioner

Try some of these strategies for cutting costs and energy consumption with your air conditioning system.

  1. Keep the filter clean. Dirty filters limit airflow and make the unit run longer. Clean or replace the filter every month or so during the summer.
  2. Make sure your air conditioner is in good working order. Air conditioners require professional maintenance to keep them working effectively. “Every couple of years, you want to have someone come in and do a tune-up,” Pope says.
  3. Set your thermostat higher. Try it at 78 degrees when you’re home and 85 degrees when you’re out.
  4. Install a programmable thermostat. “If you set it to kick in an hour or half-hour before you get home, you won’t even notice, and you’ll be saving a lot of energy,” Pope says.
  5. Shade your air conditioner. Don’t locate central air conditioners in direct sunlight. Place window units on the north side of your house, which remains more shaded. A shaded air conditioner uses up to 10% less energy to operate.
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