5 Ways to Keep Your House Cool During High Heat Index

With temperatures and the possibility of a heat stroke rising across the county, it seems like a pretty good time to write about keeping cool and cooling your home. These aren’t rocket science solutions, but these five things are very practical and should work for most people:

1)  Have trees around your house – My friend’s neighbor hates trees.  He came over last year and said “Those trees in front of your house are going to fall down and cost you a lot of money. I hate trees. I don’t want them anywhere near my house.” This is pretty obvious to anyone who sees his house. It’s a big white house with a huge lawn and no trees. When it’s sunny and hot out, it looks like a rectangular egg baking in the sun. It just looks so hot and a recipe for a heat stroke.

My friend’s house, on the other hand, has two large trees directly in front, a few on the side, and two large trees directly behind. When temperatures are more moderate (in the low 80s), he doesn’t even have to turn his air conditioning on. The trees provide such lovely shade that his house feels cool most of the summer. His first summer here, he only ran his air about one week out of the entire summer.

In fact, besides for the low mortgage rates and home prices at the time when he bought his house, the yard with all the trees was the reason he decided to buy it.

I realize that this isn’t something that can be done immediately. But by planting nice shade trees today (maple is a good one), in five years or so, you’ll be enjoying some welcome shade when the sun comes beating down in the height of a heat index.

2)  Keep those shades closed on sun-facing windows – Captain Obvious here, reporting for duty, sir. Perhaps it’s obvious that you should keep shades closed on windows facing direct sun, but are you really doing it? I’ve been over to people’s homes and the sun is beating down through the window like a Saharan high noon. This can make a huge difference (almost as much as running whole house fans), especially when you are not at home, in keeping your place cooler and your energy bills lower. It’s estimated that white blinds can reduce solar heat gain by 40-50 percent and lower the need for non-stop central air conditioning.

3)  Keep your air conditioner clean – This is extremely important. Yesterday, I heard an air conditioning expert on the radio talking about how so many outdoor central air units have been clogged with weed pollen and other materials from the wet spring here. He advised spraying down the entire unit to make sure all plant debris is removed from the unit. This is the #1 thing his crews have been doing this year, and it’s a lot cheaper to run your hose yourself than having a guy charge you $75 (or more) per hour to do it. For window units, make sure the air conditioning filter is cleaned monthly.

4)  Chill in the basement – Yes, it’s obvious again. For those of you lucky enough to have them, the basement is cool and you should be down there when there’s a good chance of a heat stroke or even when it’s just plain hot out. If your basement isn’t too pleasant for hanging out, consider making that your next project. In countries with hot summers and not enough central air conditioning, the basement is, oftentimes, the eating and socializing place of choice.  And, in lots of households, the basement is only used as storage and for utilities, with small areas for recreation. When the heat index is high, the basement may very well be the nicest and most comfortable part of the house, where you can escape the heat wave.

5)  Run dehumidifiers and fans – Some people like to use a triple combination of (a) air conditioning with the thermostat set pretty high (high 70s), (b) fans in various rooms of the house to move the air around (or have attic fans that they run when they don’t have central air on), and (c) a dehumidifier to keep that humidity at an acceptable level, especially when the heat index is so high.

Here are some bonus tips: Never run appliances during the day. Run your clothes and dishwashers at night. This is good for your home heat levels and it’s also good for your local electrical grid, which is usually maxed out during daylight hours when the heat index is at its highest. Also, you can do some of your cooking outdoors to keep your kitchen cool.

(written by Clayton Closson)


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