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Ten ways to stay cool while saving energy on hot summer days

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/29/16 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Home

Summer heat can be serious. In 1995, a heat wave in Chicago claimed 514 lives. Mortality increases 20% on days when temperatures go above 90 degrees, researchers have found. Heat waves are especially deadly for elderly, lower-income residents of buildings that lack air conditioning and shade trees.

Heat waves also strain the power grid as more air conditioners are turned on. This increases carbon pollution and climate change – and creates even more warming in the long run.

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Thankfully, there are many, practical ways to stay cool while reducing energy bills in the summer.

Here are ten low-cost cooling strategies to try at home.

  1. Shutting out the sun: Close the blinds, drapes and windows on south and west sides of your house during daytime hours. Open them up in the evening to let cooler air in. Simple acts of shading will keep temperatures lower (40% of heat in the summer comes through windows).
  2. Shade plants: They may take a few years to mature, but deciduous trees can provide a real service in shading in your home (while adding curb appeal). Even tall perennials like sunflowers and native grasses can help beautify and provide relief from the beating sun. Check out the Cleveland Museum of Natural History "Native Landscaping in the Cleveland Region" for ideas.
  3. Turn off heat: Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms and limit the use of electronics. Incandescent light bulbs radiate 90% of their energy as heat (compact fluorescent lights emit 75% less heat). Computers, TVs and other devices also can emit a lot of heat, even in stand-by mode.
  4. Cool cooking: Avoid a hot oven. Cook meals outside, on a grill, or eat foods that don’t require cooking heat.
  5. Water cooling: Water helps the body shed heat. Shower and dry off in front of a fan. Tie a cool, damp cloth around your neck. Drink cold liquids to cool your body from the inside, while replenishing water lost by sweating.
  6. Moving the air: Attic vents, whole house fans, even solar attic fans are good options for exhausting hot air from your house. So is a box fan facing out of a window. Ceiling fans are most effective in the summer when set to rotate counter-clockwise to blow air down and maximize the wind-chill effect. An “old school” trick that works is setting ice (in a pan) in front of a fan. Fans use a lot less energy than air conditioners.
  7. Acclimating to save: Raise the thermostat a few degrees if you run an air conditioner. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, for each degree you raise your thermostat, you’ll save 3 to 5 percent in cooling costs. It will also make it easier for your body to adjust when you need to go outdoors into the heat.
  8. Sleeping cool: Sleep outdoors (but protect yourself from mosquitos) or on the cooler ground floor or basement of your house. Change around your schedule to take a siesta during the middle of the day and work, run errands, go outside in the evening, as they do in warm weather countries like Spain. In the Far East, people sleep cool on bamboo mats that increase ventilation under the body.
  9. Stay safe: Limit outdoor activity, especially midday when the sun is hottest. Wear loose-fitting and light-colored clothing for maximum air ventilation and reflectivity.
  10. Reflective colors: Just as light-colored clothing can help your body stay cool, light-color paint and roof materials can keep your house cooler by reflecting sunlight.

For those in need of relief, there are local services available to help keep cool, including:

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