Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Keepin' It Cool in the Summer Time

What do you remember about last summer? I recall brutal heat and high humidity. In fact, Science Daily reported in September that the summer of 2010 was the fourth warmest in the U.S. according to records that date back to 1895. 

My husband and I have never been good at keeping our house cool in the hot summer months. This hasn't been too much of a problem because we usually have one or two heat waves that seem to break at the point when we feel like we can't take it anymore. The nights typically cool down enough for us to disperse some of the interior heat and get comfortable. Last year, the nights didn't cool down below the upper 70's and the heat wave lasted for what seemed like an eternity. This left us with an unbearably hot house for weeks on end.

This year, instead of hoping for a cool summer, I'm going to work hard at keeping our house cool through the worst of the summer heat. For the record, we don't have air conditioning. We do have a window air conditioner for one of the bedrooms that we installed out of desperation last year. But, I think we can do better at cooling the house without turning to air conditioning.

One of the biggest obstacles we have to maintaining a cool interior temperature in the summer is the large picture window on the front of our house. This type of window was quite popular in the 1960's, when our house was built. Unfortunately, our east-facing window pumps the morning sun directly into our living space.

Our home is also at the end of a street, which compounds the problem. This is the view from our picture window:

What this means is there is no shade softening the effects of the sun as it beats down on our house in the morning hours. There's also no chance of us planting shade trees, unless we planted them in the street. As much as I would like to, I don't think our town would appreciate that.

The living room is virtually uninhabitable by mid-morning in the summer months. And, the heat slowly spreads throughout the rest of the house as the day goes on. Armed with Google access, I've done some research. Here's my plan of attack for keeping a cool summer-time house.

1. Hang insulated, black-out curtains on all east and south facing windows.  There's no doubt that heat gets in through windows, whether they are open or closed. Ideally, the sun would be blocked before it gets inside. Barring that, insulated curtains keep the heat from further penetrating the house.

2. Buy and install a screen door for our back door. Our back door opens off our kitchen. There are many times when we've opened it in the summer so we can get a cross draft moving through the house, only to invite creatures inside. Typically, it's just flies. But, we've had a chipmunk come in and a close call with a snake. Needless to say, this door isn't open very often! We need a screen door so we can have the cool evening air without the critters.

3. Keep interior air moving. We have a lot of fans. And, they do help. This year, I'm going to place them a bit more strategically. I'll keep our ceiling fan going. And, I'm going to try to put a fan near the bottom of the stairs in our cool basement. Maybe I can blow some of the cool air upstairs.

4. Keep the house closed except for one or two windows on the north, shady side of the house during the day. Closed windows will keep the heat out.

5. Open the windows as soon as the outdoor temperature is cooler than the indoor temperature. Use window fans to further draw in cooler air. To help move the air, create a cross breeze where one fan pulls in cooler outside air and another fan blows hot air out of the house.

6. Avoid using any appliance that radiates heat. This includes the oven, the stovetop, the drier, light bulbs, the TV and pretty much anything else that uses electricity. Even cutting back in small ways can have a big impact throughout the course of the day. The article, Clues for Okie Coolness, recommends creating an outdoor, "summer kitchen" for all summertime cooking. This can consist of a grill or camp stove.

I'm hoping I can have a cooler house this summer. What about you? Do you have air conditioning? How do you keep a cool summer house if you don't have air conditioning? How do you minimize cooling costs if you do have air conditioning?


  1. Sounds like a good plan, Barb. Do you have a cool basement to use in the summer? Can you install a window unit for the basement?

    We have air conditioning here in Florida. It's one more thing to break in the house, but it is almost a necessity here when the temperatures are 90 and above. Our energy efficient windows we installed two years ago help with the electrical bill for the air conditioner.

    Wish we had a basement here like other parts of the country have, but then it might just collect clutter!

  2. We do have a cool basement, thankfully. But, in last summer's endless heat wave, it got hot, too.

    In Florida, you really don't have a choice about air. That's like us needing heat in the winter. :)

  3. We do have a cool basement, thankfully. But, in last summer's endless heat wave, it got hot, too.