Keeping cool indoors when it is hot outdoors is a problem. The sun beating down on our homes causes indoor temperatures to rise to uncomfortable levels. Air conditioning provides some relief. But the initial costs of installing an air conditioner and the electricity costs to run it can be high. In addition, conventional air conditioners use refrigerants made of chlorine compounds, suspected contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming.
But there are alternatives to air conditioning. This publication provides some common sense suggestions and low-cost retrofit options to help you "keep your cool" and save electricity.
An alternative way to maintain a cool house or reduce air-conditioning use is natural (or passive) cooling. Passive cooling uses nonmechanical methods to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.
The most effective method to cool your home is to keep the heat from building up in the first place. The primary source of heat buildup (i.e., heat gain) is sunlight absorbed by your house through the roof, walls, and windows. Secondary sources are heat-generating appliances in the home and air leakage.
Specific methods to prevent heat gain include reflecting heat (i.e., sunlight) away from your house, blocking the heat, removing built-up heat, and reducing or eliminating heat-generating sources in your home.
Using any or all of these strategies will help keep you cool. Even if you use air conditioning, many of these strategies, particularly reflecting heat and shading, will help reduce the energy costs of running an air conditioner.
However, adopting all of these strategies may not be enough. Sometimes you need to supplement natural cooling with mechanical devices. Fans and evaporative coolers can supplement your cooling strategies and cost less to install and run than air conditioners.
Ceiling fans make you feel cooler. Their effect is equivalent to lowering the air temperature by about 4F (2C). Evaporative coolers use about one-fourth the energy of conventional air conditioners but are effective only in dry climates.
Many utility companies offer rebates and other cost incentives when you purchase or install energy-saving products, such as insulation and energy-efficient lighting and appliances. Contact your local utility company to see what it offers in the way of incentives.