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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.

Eco-Home Cooling: Tax Incentives

If you’d like to take some bigger steps, consider this: The federal stimulus package signed into effect last year offers incentives to encourage energy efficiency. For example, homeowners who invest in new insulation, duct seals, or energy-efficient windows or cooling systems can receive a tax credit of up to $1,500 if the work is done in 2009. With the energy savings you’ll gain, you might recoup some of the costs over just a few years.

Before you invest in any equipment or improvements, get an assessment of your energy needs. Utility companies often provide them for free, and they’re also available from private companies. “The best thing is to gather information about your home so that you can make decisions based on real information and data instead of guessing,” Pope says.

For example, sealing ducts and building leaks, and improving insulation, can cut your energy usage up to 70% (for both heating and cooling), depending on where you live.

Here are some bigger projects you might consider.

  • Bulk up your insulation. If your home was built more than 20 or 30 years ago, you probably have very poor insulation, Pope says. Most experts consider this one of the best energy investments.
  • Install a whole-house fan. Whole-house fans installed in the attic draw cool air into your home through the windows and force hot air out through attic vents. They cost between $150 and $400. Installation costs depend on access to your attic. “Whole-house fans cost one to five cents an hour to run, compared to 20 cents an hour for air conditioning in a warm state such as Georgia,” Muffett says.
  • Seal your ducts. Leaky ducts account for 25% of cooling costs in an average home. If your leaky ducts are in the attic, for example, you can lose a lot of cool air there.
  • Invest in a new air conditioning unit. If yours is on the way out or more than 10 years old, replacing it with an Energy Star rated unit can save 20% to 40% on cooling costs.

Planning for the Future: Plant Some Trees

Before it gets too hot this summer, plant a few trees. Trees don’t just provide shade. Through a process called evapotranspiration, they also cool and moisten the air.

Pope advises buying trees that won’t need a lot of water or care, and planting them strategically. In temperate climates, for example, planting deciduous trees such as maple and ash west and southwest of your house will block sunlight in summer but let it in during the winter. Trees also add to the beauty of your home, boost property values, and provide a perch for a rope swing -- a great place to cool off on a summer evening.

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Reviewed on July 14, 2009
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