Keeping cool indoors when it’s hot outdoors is a problem… especially in Arizona summers! The sun beating down on our homes causes indoor temperatures to rise to uncomfortable levels. Air conditioning provides some relief, but the initial costs of installing a new air conditioner and the electricity costs to run it can be high. In addition, conventional air conditioners use refrigerants made of chlorine compounds, suspected contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. But there are alternatives to just air conditioning alone. This information provides some common sense suggestions and low-cost retrofit options to help you “keep your cool”- and save on electricity.
Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to shade your home and block the sun. A well-placed tree, bush, or vine can deliver effective shade and add to the aesthetic value of your property. When designing your landscaping, use plants native to your area that survive with minimal care. Trees that lose their leaves in the fall (i.e., deciduous) help cut cooling energy costs the most. When selectively placed around a house, they provide excellent protection from the summer sun and permit winter sunlight to reach and warm your house. The height, growth rate, branch spread, and shape are all factors to consider in choosing a tree. Vines are a quick way to provide shading and cooling. Grown on trellises, vines can shade windows or the whole side of a house. Ask your local nursery which vine is best suited to your climate and needs.
Besides providing shade, trees and vines create a cool microclimate that dramatically reduces the temperature (by as much as (9°F [5°C]) in the surrounding area. During photosynthesis, large amounts of water vapor escape through the leaves, cooling the passing air. and the generally dark and coarse leaves absorb solar radiation. You might also consider low ground cover such as grass, small plants, and bushes. A grass-covered lawn is usually 10°F (6°C) cooler than bare ground in the summer. If you are in an arid or semiarid climate, consider native ground covers that require little water.
PLANNING YOUR PLANTING
Placement of vegetation is important when landscaping your home. The following are suggestions to help you gain the most from vegetation.
- Plant trees on the northeast-southeast and the northwest-southwest sides of your house. Unless you live in a climate where it is hot year round, do not plant trees directly to the south. Even the bare branches of mature deciduous trees can significantly reduce the amount of sun reaching your house in the winter.
- Plant trees and shrubs so they can direct breezes. Do not place a dense line of evergreen trees where they will block the flow of cool air around or through them.
- Set trellises away from your house to allow air to circulate and keep the vines from attaching to your house’s facade and damaging its exterior. Placing vegetation too close to your house can trap heat and make the air around your house even warmer.
- Do not plant trees or large bushes where their roots can damage septic tanks, sewer lines, underground wires, or your house’s foundation.
- Make sure the plants you choose can withstand local weather extremes.
Both exterior and interior shades control heat gain. Exterior shades are generally more effective than interior shades because they block sunlight before it enters windows. When deciding which devices to use and where to use them, consider whether you are willing to open and close them daily or just put them up for the hottest season. You also want to know how they will affect ventilation.
Exterior shading devices include awnings, lovers, shutters, rolling shutters and shades, and solar screens. Awnings are very effective because the block direct sunlight. They are usually made of fabric or metal and are attached above the window and extend down and out. A properly installed awning can reduce heat gain up to 65% on southern windows and 77% on eastern windows. A light colored awning does double duty by also reflecting sunlight.
Maintaining a gap between the top of the awning and the side of the house helps vent accumulated heat from under a solid- surface awning. If you live in a climate with cold winters, you will want to remove awnings for winter storage, or by retractable ones, to take advantage of winter heat gain.
The amount of drop (how far down the awing comes) depends on which side of your house the window is on. An east or west window needs a drop of 65% to 75% of the window height. A south-facing window only needs a drop of 45% to 60% for the same amount of shade. A pleasing angle to the eye for mounting and awning is 45°. Make sure the awning does not project into the path of foot traffic unless it is at least 6 feet 8 inches (2 meters) from the ground.
One disadvantage of awnings is that they can block views, particularly on the east and west sides. However, slatted awnings do allow limited viewing through the top parts of windows.
Louvers are attractive because their adjustable slats control the level of sunlight slats control the level of sunlight entering your home and, depending on the design, can be adjusted from inside or outside your house. The slats can be vertical or horizontal. Louvers remain fixed and are attached to the exteriors of window frames.
Shutters are movable wooden or metal covering that, when closed, keep sunlight out. Shutters are either solid or slatted with fixed or adjustable slats. Besides reducing heat gain, they can provide privacy and security. Some shutters help insulate windows when it is cold outside.
Rolling shutters have a series of horizontal slats that run down along a track. Rolling shades use a fabric. These are the most expensive shading options, but the work well and can provide security. Many exterior rolling shutters or shades can be conveniently controlled from the inside. One disadvantage is that when fully extended, the block all light.
Solar screens resemble standard window screens except they keep direct sunlight from entering the window, cut glare, and block light without blocking the view or elimination air flow. They also provide privacy by restricting the view of the interior from outside your house. Solar screens come in a variety of colors and screening materials to compliment any home. Although do-it-yourself kits are available, these screens will not last as long as professionally built screens.
Although interior shading is not as effective as exterior shading, it is worthwhile if none of the previously mentioned techniques are possible. There are several ways to block the sun’s heat from inside your house.
Draperies and curtains made of tightly woven, light-colored, opaque fabrics reflect more of the sun’s rays than they let through. The tighter the curtain is against the wall around the window, the better it will prevent heat gain. Two layers of draperies improve the effectiveness of the draperies’ insulation when it is either hot or cold outside.
Venetian blinds, although not as effective as draperies, can be adjusted to let in some light and air while reflecting the sun’s heat. Some newer blinds are coated with reflective finishes. To be effective, the reflective surfaces must face the outdoors. Some interior cellular (honeycombed) shades also come with reflective mylar coatings. But they block natural light and restrict air flow.
Opaque roller shades are effective when fully drawn but also block light and restrict air flow.
REMOVING BUILT-UP HEAT
Nothing feels better on a hot day than a cool breeze. Encouraging cool air to enter your house forces warm air out, keeping your house comfortably cool. However, this strategy only works when the inside temperature is higher than the outside temperature.
Natural ventilation maintains indoor temperatures close to outdoor temperatures close to outdoor temperatures and helps remove heat from your home. But only ventilated during the coolest parts of the day or night, and seal off your house from the hot sun and air during the hottest parts of the day. The climate you live in determines the best ventilation strategy. In areas with cool nights and very hot days, let the night air in to cool your house. By the time the interior heats up, and the outside air should be cooler and can be allowed indoors.
In climates with daytime breezes, open windows on the side from where the breeze is coming and on the opposite side of the house. Keep interior doors open to encourage whole house ventilation. If your location lacks consistent breezes, create them by opening the windows at the lowest and highest points in your house. This natural “thermo siphoning,” or “chimney,” effect can be taken a step further by adding a clerestory or a vented skylight.
In hot, humid climates where temperature swings between day and night are mall, ventilate when humidity is not excessive. Ventilating your attic greatly reduces the amount of accumulated heat, which eventually works its way into the main part of your house. Ventilated attics are about 30°F (16°C) cooler than unventilated attics. Properly sized and placed louvers and roof vents help prevent moisture buildup and overheating in your attic.
REDUCING HEAT-GENERATING SOURCES
Often overlooked sources of interior heat gain are lights and household appliances, such as ovens, dishwashers, and dryers. Because most of the energy that incandescent lamps use is given off as heat, use them only when necessary. Take advantage of daylight to illuminate your house, and consider switching to compact fluorescent lamps. These use about 75% less energy than incandescent lamps, and emit 90% less heat for the same amount of light.
New, energy efficient appliances generate less heat and use less energy.
Many household appliances generate a lot of heat. When possible, use them in the morning or late evening when you can better tolerate the extra heat. Consider cooking on an outside barbecue grill or use a microwave oven, which does not generate as much heat and uses less energy than a gas or electric range.
Washers, dryers, dishwashers, and water heaters also generate large amounts of heat and humidity. To gain the most benefit, seal off your laundry room and water heater from the rest of the house.
New, energy efficient appliances generate less heat and use less energy. When it is time to purchase new appliances, make sure the are energy efficient. All refrigerators, dishwashers, and dryers display an energy guide label indicating the annual estimated cost for operating the appliance or a standardized energy efficiency ratio. Compare appliances and buy the most efficient models for your needs.
Using any or all of these strategies will help keep you cool. Even if you use air conditioning, many of these strategies, may not be enough. Sometimes you need to supplement natural cooling with mechanical devices. Fans and evaporative coolers can supplement your cooling strategies and cost less to install and run than air conditioners.
Ceiling fans make you feel cooler. Their effect is equivalent to lowering the air temperature by about 4°F (2°C). Evaporative coolers use about one-fourth the energy of conventional air conditioners.
Many utility companies offer rebates and other cost incentives when you purchase or install energy-saving products, such as insulation and energy efficient lighting and appliances. Contact your local utility company to see what it offers in the way of incentives.
COOLING STRATEGIES CHECKLIST
Cooling strategies to consider:
- lighten roof and exterior wall color
- replace/coat roof with bright white or shiny material
- install a radiant barrier
- add reflective coatings to windows
- insulate attic and walls
- caulk and weather strip to seal air leaks
- add shade trees, bushes, or vines
- add exterior awnings and shades
- add interior drapes and shades
- ventilate attic
- increase natural ventilation
- isolate heat-generating appliances
- replace heat-generating appliances
- replace light bulbs with energy-efficient fluorescents