Friday, June 30, 2017

How to turn off the air-conditioning this summer by Christina O'Brien, AIA

I understand that we can get some 90+ degree days (with high humidity) during the summer months, which is why air-conditioning is extremely tempting. Its cooling effects in the mid-summer heat are felt instantly. But before air-conditioning, architects and builders paid attention to the location of a building on a site. They shaded the southern side of the building with vegetation, designed plenty of windows to create cross-breezes and built deep, covered porches for shade and sipping lemonade.

But now houses are built to face a street, ignoring the direction of the sun and prevailing winds. And
lake cottages and vacation homes, which are so prevalent here in New England, are strictly built to face the view of the water or mountains, regardless of the direction they face.

Due to the growing costs of air-conditioning, not to mention the increased use of precious energy, many of us would prefer a more natural way to cool our homes this summer. So what can be done for the existing homes and vacation cottages that need extra cooling?

Here are a few budget friendly ideas:
Know When to Open Windows
When the temperature is comfortable and there are pleasant breezes outside, open your windows! There is no easier way to bring summertime into your home than to open a window, feel the fresh air and to hear the chirping birds; especially after being cooped up inside for a long, stuffy winter. But as the summer progresses and the heat intensifies, it is best to open your windows in the evening and overnight to help flush out any heat that has accumulated throughout the day. Close them in the morning and draw the blinds during the day (especially at the southern facing windows) and you'll be surprised to find that your home feels much cooler than the outside temperature. At first, I didn't like the idea of closing windows during the day and losing sunshine, but it does work, and is a much easier and less expensive alternative to air-conditioning. And if you're interested in investing some money into the idea, look at installing insulated blinds. They'll help keep the heat out during hot summer days and will help keep the heat in during cold winter nights.

Minor Renovations Make a Major Difference
Add a window or two. As an example, if you only have one window in a bedroom and don't get nice cross breezes during the cooler summer nights, you might consider adding a window to the space. It'll add more natural light to the room as well, which can also help lower your electric bill.

Screen-in a covered porch. I never knew about Black Fly Season until I moved to New Hampshire, but I now have some sympathy. If you have a covered porch or a deck that you don't use because the bugs carry you away, build a roof over your deck and screen it in! There are plenty of lovely summer evenings to enjoy outside rather than sitting in an air-conditioned house.

Plant some trees. Deciduous trees on the south side of a home will shade the southern windows in the summer, when the sun is most intense. Then the bare winter trees will also allow light and heat to come through those same windows when you need it the most. Understandably, this is more of a long term improvement, but you'll be amazed at how quickly those trees will grow.

Not only is turning off the air-conditioning better for the environment, but it's better for our families.
So let's be mindful that there are many days when an open window (and maybe a small fan) will keep us comfortable and keep us connected to the outdoors. We only get a few precious weeks of summer here in New England . . . it's important for us all to savor every last minute of it

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