In some ways, the pandemic has forced us to be less wasteful and more environmentally friendly. We’re driving less, we’re using less public transportation, we’re supporting more local business. But now that we’re in the heat of the summer, home all day in the most stifling of temps and still trying to look presentable for conference calls, our air conditioning usage probably isn’t doing the environment (or our bank accounts) any favors.
I’ve always found it challenging to cool my home in an efficient way, given that we have central air conditioning on the first floor and window AC units in the upstairs bedrooms. But this summer more than ever—with three of us home all day in different areas of the house—we are making it a priority to try to keep it cooled more naturally and efficiently before we run straight to the beloved thermostat.
For more on lowering energy usage, check out the video below:
I have found there are a few strategies we can all implement to lower the amount of AC-crankage we’ll need to survive the summer.
This one is tough for me. I don’t just like natural light, I feel like my mental well-being is somewhat dependent upon loads of it—especially right now. At the same time, I’m aware that all that lovely natural light comes from the sun, which is brightening my spirits and heating up my home.
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If no one is home during most of the day (haha), close all of your window’s blinds and curtains—or go all-out and throw up a bunch of room darkening shades—to keep the temperature from climbing while you’re gone. But if, like me, you are working from home and can’t stand to completely darken your world, try closing the shades to the windows facing the sun or in rooms or on floors you’re not using.
Another option is solar window film, which will block some of the rays and reduce glare.
I lived in Arizona for almost a decade and there was a phrase I heard there often: Fans don’t cool rooms; fans cool people. In other words, the reason a room with a fan feels cooler is not because the air movement is reducing the temperature (it’s not). It’s because the air is passing over your skin and reducing your perspiration. But you can also use fans to suck the hot air out of a room. Writer Dan Seitz explains how in this Popular Science article:
To start, place electric fans in your windows (if they open). Try to set the blowers as high up as possible, ideally in the top sash. They should face outward to suck out hot air out of the room. If you have a two story house, concentrate your fans in the upper story’s windows (or at least lower those windows’ top sashes), where they can help convection pull hot air up and away.
Ceiling fans can also help. If you have them, then look up and ensure they’re turning counterclockwise. That way, they pull hot air up and away from you.
Seitz also suggests using fans to create a cross breeze in which one fan cools you from one side while a window fan on the other side pulls warm air out of the house.
As in, plants. Houseplants absorb warm air and release oxygen and cool moisture into the air, which helps lower the temperature of the space around it.
Aloe vera and succulents are a good place to start, as well as any other greenery that doesn’t require frequent watering, as these plants drink in their water from the humid air around them. Other good choices are snake plants, palms, ficus benjamina and rubber plants. Place them in a sunny window for the added bonus of blocking some light from entering your home.
It might be common sense, but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that on particularly spicy days, one of the best things you can do is reduce your use of “hot” appliances. In particular, ovens and dishwashers run at high temperatures, so on those days, hand wash your dishes and stick to simple uncooked meals or meals that can be heated at a lower temperature, such as with a microwave or slow cooker.
One thing you should be running? The dehumidifier. Pulling all that moisture out of the air will make things more bearable.
If you’ve done all of this and you still can’t cool off? It’s okay, go ahead and turn the AC on for a bit. Your efforts have lowered the amount of power you’ll need to get your home back down to a comfortable temperature.
This article was originally published in May 2019 and was updated on June 29, 2020 by Meghan Moravcik Walbert.