Summer brings with it so many great things. It’s the perfect time to take the kids to the lake or go on a long road trip. But it’s also hot in a lot of the country, and that means it’s expensive to stay comfortable in your home. Even if you can’t replace your air conditioner this year, there are plenty of small changes you can make around the house right now to reduce your summer cooling bills.
Where Does Interior Heat Come From?
It’s easy to flip a switch or press a button on an app and have cold air come rushing into your home. But finding a way to prevent that heat from entering in the first place takes a bit more effort. First, you need to understand where the heat in your home is coming from, which can be a lot trickier than it sounds.
“Increased indoor heat is usually the result of three core areas of your home: your attic, overall home insulation and your windows,” says Michael Jestadt, owner at Smart Heating and Air Conditioning in Concord, California. “If the majority of your windows are south or west facing you will see an even higher increase in indoor heat. Windows are one of the largest contributors to your home’s indoor temperatures. Older windows or large windows allow more heat through and can make your home feel more like a greenhouse. As your roof sees the sun the most, it also draws in a large portion of heat.”
What happens once heat’s inside your home? It goes upward and warms up the attic. If you don’t have good insulation, it will also spread into your living areas. Properly installed insulation can help prevent this.
“Heat rises and will wind up in the attic, but you don’t want it to come back down into the house,” says Tony Abate, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at AtmosAir Solutions in Fairfield, Connecticut. “This is where a good layer of attic insulation is important, an R32 layer will provide good insulation. Insulate the attic floor where the underside of the ceiling below is, but don’t insulate the underside of the roof. Ultimately that can damage the roof and may work against you as it won’t allow the heat to escape out of the house.”
Keeping the Hot Out
The best offense is a good defense, as they say, and it goes doubly for keeping your summer heating bills low. The less heat you let in will be less heat you have to air condition away.
“You should consider using curtains or blinds, energy-efficient appliances and proper ventilation,” says Tim David, CEO at Airlucent in Huntsville, Alabama. “This will help reduce indoor heat and improve comfort levels during the summer months. I always recommend using blackout or thermal curtains with reflective backing as the best options for reducing heat as they effectively block sunlight and insulate against outdoor temperatures.”
Additionally, you can supercharge your attic space with both radiant barriers to prevent heat coming in through the roof, and powered attic fans that actually remove heat from the space, according to David.
Additionally, adding large landscaping now will shade your home in a few years. Not all tall plants and trees are created equal, however.
“Strategic and aesthetically pleasing landscaping can help keep sunlight out, but in areas where you have a winter season, remember you’ll want that sunlight to help warm the inside,” says Abate. “Choose trees that leaf in the summer, blocking out sunlight, but that are bare in the winter, letting in sunlight.”
Should You Consider Window Films?
Window films are a popular DIY solution to older windows. They’re not terribly difficult to install and are a lot cheaper than putting in new windows, but can they actually make a difference?
“Window films help keep heat out during the summer by reflecting solar radiation and reducing the amount of sunlight that enters the home,” says David. “They can also decrease heat transfer through windows by adding insulation. These films are typically made with polyester, metal, or ceramic, and their effectiveness is measured by the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) – lower SHGC values indicate better heat-blocking performance.”
Even though window films can be a great addition to your arsenal of tools helping to keep your home cooler this summer, they’re not the perfect solution for every homeowner. You’ll need to consider your local climate before making that decision. “Window films can help in that some have heat reflecting capability to keep sunlight out,” says Abate. “My feelings are mixed with these in colder climates as you would want to also be able to let sunlight in (during the winter).”
Ceiling Fans Can Cut Air Conditioning Use
Using ceiling fans is highly encouraged by both HVAC specialists and environmentalists, for their ability to help you use less electricity when cooling your home. It doesn’t actually make your home cooler, but you’ll feel more comfortable.
“Although ceiling fans use electricity, when paired with your home cooling system it actually helps use less electricity overall,” says Jestadt. “Running the fan helps circulate the cooled air in your home more effectively, creating the feeling that your home is actually cooler. This usually means you can set your air conditioner a few degrees higher without noticing a difference in temperature. This, over the course of a summer heat wave, can help reduce your cooling bills.”
Along with ceiling fans, Jestadt recommends looking into a dehumidifier, explaining that “dry air feels much cooler than moist air because it helps wick away the sweat from your skin. When a home is very humid, it can make you feel hotter even if it is the same temperature inside.”
Keeping your home cool this summer for less can be achieved, even if you don’t have the budget for a higher efficiency air conditioner. Turning the fans on and setting the thermostat a bit higher, adding window films in warm climates, using curtains strategically, and even planting some trees and tall bushes to help beat the heat are just a few things that can make a huge difference for your energy bills and the environment.