Air conditioning vs. fresh air: 10 ways to “keep our cool”

therm risingAt the start of every summer, as the temperature rises, my husband and I seem to have the same discussion… when to turn on the air conditioning!

This is never an easy discussion (okay! read: argument!) as this is the man who wears shorts and t-shirts around the house when it’s 19 degrees outside in the dead of winter.

I prefer the open windows and doors, and want to breathe the fresh air.  To this my husband responds “Babe, it ceases to be fresh as soon as it’s 85 degrees with 70% humidity!”  Well, it’s still fresh but I guess it does cease to be RE-freshing!

Just like heating your house in the winter and whether you do or don’t choose to crank the AC, there are ways to keep your house cooler, stop some of the cool air loss and use less energy in the process:

  • Close blinds or curtains in various windows throughout the day to prevent the sun shining in.  If it’s coming in, so is the heat.
  • Use ceiling fans. They circulate the cool air and don’t use a lot of energy.
  • Program your thermostat.  No need to keep it blasting in the evening or when you aren’t even home.
  • When it’s cool outside at night, shut off the air, open the windows and take advantage.
  • 74 degrees is all you need.  This is a bearable temperature, and if you can tolerate it higher, do it!  Each degree saves 3-4% on your cooling/energy expenses.
  • Don’t worry about unused rooms.  Close the windows, doors and vents in these rooms, and block the bottom of the door if they aren’t frequently occupied.ceil fan
  • Run appliances at night.  This includes dryers & dishwashers that give off heat. Avoid using your oven… give it a rest and grill instead!  And if you do use the stovetop, be sure to use the exhaust fan to take away the heat.
  • Turn off unneeded lights, TVs, computers, etc. when you aren’t using them.  They all generate heat too.
  • Keep heat generating appliances away from the thermostat (TVs, lamps, etc.).  They’ll make the thermostat think it’s hotter than it really is.
  • Don’t chop down trees that shade your house.  They simply keep a house cooler.  And even plant strategically.  Shaded AC units run more efficiently, but just be sure not to block the airflow.

I do try to take my own advice.  It’s not always easy (living with my husband who compensates by turning up the ceiling fans to “jet speed”) but it’s a compromise we always seem to manage when it all “boils down”!

MGG’s energy efficient investment: new windows!

So, we did it!  We made our first major energy efficiency investment by purchasing new windows for our home… and despite having spent some cash, I’m actually very excited.

ht escapeHome heating can account for approximately 27% of our carbon footprint and 25% of a  home’s heat escapes through windows… pretty significant, I’d say.  Our installation technician told us that he’s had customers that literally saved half on their home heating bill after installing new windows.  Sure, the windows that had to be replaced were probably a disaster(!) but I’m excited to see what kind of savings are in store for us.  It’s hard to forget that heating bill of $533 not so long

We always put the most productive heating and cooling tips in place, (for my best home cooling tips click here or my best home heating tips click here) but I believe this is the final significant step of putting it all into place. The windows are Energy Star, Argon-filled, Double Glazed Low E glass and although those are a lot of fancy-schmancy terms, their combined definition is “efficiency!”

tx creditWith the tax credit we’ll receive and projected annual heating and cooling savings, I’ve figured that the windows should pay for themselves in about five years.   In addition, we purchased from a local owned and operated manufacturer so a minimal footprint was created to get those windows as well. I’m feeling mighty green today!

So, have you ever made a major replacement to “conserve”? What was the result? I’d love to know!

Simple refrigerator tip: Energy efficiency 1, 2, 3…

refrig opnWhile my family and I have been enjoying the weekly produce from our CSA, I have also made my fair share of refrigerator snafus over the weeks.  (Note to self: an overloaded fridge will freeze mustard greens and kaboko cabbage faster than you can SAY mustard greens and kaboko cabbage!)

Besides keeping the door closed as much as possible (unlike this photo!), here are three simple ways to keep it as energy efficient as possible:

  1. Keep it filled up but NOT overcrowded (yea, that freezing issue!) – if it starts to look a little empty, a few covered pitchers of water will do wonders.
  2. Cover EVERYTHING – anything that is uncovered will release moisture and make the refrigerator work overtime to keep the contents cold.
  3. “Give it some space” – while you might be tempted to buy the largest fridge on the planet, it truly needs about 2 inches of space on all sides for proper air circulation and you especially don’t want anything that “heats” (dishwasher, stove, oven, etc.) nearby because it again makes it work harder than it needs to.

There you have it… 1, 2, 3… may your refrigerator runneth over with healthy (unfrozen) produce!

One simple trick of home cooling efficiency…

air rtrnThis weekend’s weather in Cleveland was sweltering… fortunately we didn’t reach the magnitude of the forecast a few months ago but 89 degrees and tropical levels of humidity do not make for a comfortable home.

It became obvious that it was going to be a central air conditioning day (we were having family over and it wasn’t feeling very pleasant).  Well, as the story often goes… were we getting cold air? Oh, of course we weren’t.

We suffered through for a bit, and my husband even installed a new thermostat, but it was the wisdom of my father-in-law that taught us quite a lesson, and the answer came from this one simple question:

“Have you changed your filter lately?”

I’m embarrassed to say that we hadn’t… since “I don’t know when!”… so when we took a look, it was like something out of a horror film.  I can’t even imagine that air could have filtered through that thing, so it’s no wonder our house never cooled down… until we replaced it, and then we were cool and comfortable.air fltrs

The reason for the story?  Because one seemingly small oversight has caused us to be horribly energy INefficient.  That dirty filter slowed the flow of air and made the system work incredibly hard and, in turn, wasted energy. I’m sure it was doing the same thing to our furnace just a few months ago too.

The rule of thumb: replace it at least every three months, or more frequently in heavy usage months.

So there’s my confession, but the calendar is marked and I can now guarantee that Mom Goes Green will NOT miss the next replacement.

Prep your home for “away” before vacation “play”!

lampSometimes it’s easy to get so consumed with planning and preparing for a vacation that we forget about the home we’re leaving behind.

Before you leave, your house needs some special attention so it doesn’t continue to over-consume in your absence.  When you think about everything that’s drawing energy on a daily basis (and the things that an empty house doesn’t need), it’s time for a checklist.

Here are a few simple (and possibly overlooked) ideas to keep your home green while you vacation:

  • Turn off your air conditioning or, in the winter months, turn the heat to 55 degrees.
  • Make sure ceiling fans are turned off.fridge
  • Unplug nearly everything… computers, TVs, appliances, microwaves, lamps, coffee makers, all of it!  Look at every outlet in your house and most things can be unplugged in your absence.
  • Install timers on a few lights so your home still appears lived-in but they won’t glow 24 hours a day.
  • Dial down the temperature or switch off the breaker on your water heater.
  • Clear out as much food as possible in your refrigerator and freezer.  Less content means less to cool.

That’s all it takes.  A checklist and a little extra time and you can keep it green while you play away!