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Keep Cool and Trim Costs This Summer

Ways to keep comfortable without air conditioning

Dear James: I want to try to use less energy this summer. I know I will have to use my air conditioner less, but I like it comfortably cool in my house. What things can I do to make me feel cooler with less air conditioning?  —Linda L.

Dear Linda: Using a central air conditioner or heat pump during summer can significantly increase your utility bills. In today’s economic climate, everyone is trying to reduce their housing budget in every way possible. Using less air conditioning, especially during the hottest summer weekday afternoons, can save you money on electric bills while helping your electric cooperative reduce peak demand. This helps hold down future rate increases because less investment will be needed for additional electric generating plants.

It is not too difficult or uncomfortable to get by with much less summer air conditioning. After all, up until just a couple of generations ago residential air conditioning did not even exist—and we have all survived. I recall when I was a child, we had a window fan and a floor fan for a family of four. It got a little warm and we perspired, but we just accepted that in the summer, one perspires.

But summers don’t have to be all about perspiration these days. There are four good methods to keep comfortable without air conditioning:
1.    bringing in cooler outdoor air when possible;
2.    increasing the air velocity inside your house;
3.    minimizing the indoor humidity level;
4.    and blocking heat transmission into your house.

Using all of these methods or a combination of a few can make a significant improvement.

Installing a whole-house fan accomplishes two of these methods.

At night, it typically brings in cooler air and exhausts the hot air from your house. A large whole-house fan can also create quite a pleasant breeze throughout your home. A typical unit uses just a small fraction of the electricity a central air conditioner does.

Increasing the velocity of the indoor air can make a room feel 5 to 10 degrees cooler than still air at the same temperature. This is the theory behind using ceiling fans. They use very little electricity and they can create a comforting effect.

During summer, set the ceiling fan blade rotation so it blows the air downward (turning counter- clockwise as you look up) and run it on medium or high speed for the most comfort. During winter, reverse the blade rotation so the air blows upward (turning clockwise as you look up) and run it on low speed. This will gently move the warm air at the ceiling out to the walls and down. Since it is on low speed, it will not create a draft which could feel chilly during winter.

If you plan to rely on natural ventilation through windows to use no electricity, hopefully you have casement windows. When the sash projects out from the house, it tends to catch and direct the natural breezes into your house more than vertical or horizontal slider windows.

If you do have sliders, all is not lost. Fully open the windows on the downwind side of your house. There usually is a slight lower pressure on this side so some air will be drawn from your house. Open the windows just a bit less on the windward side. This creates a faster air flow in through these partially open windows, making you more comfortable if you sit near them.

James Dulley writes a regular column about energy efficiency.