Friday, July 11, 2008

Minimizing Heat Production in the House During Summer

In the summer heat, there are many ways a house conspires to make itself even hotter. Here are some ways to cut back on the house's heat production and reduce the need for the A/C. Most of these are minor, but their effect can add up, and they include savings of their own. I claim no expertise, only some experience and a willingness to experiment.

  • Lower the temperature of your water heater to a temperature that, when you turn on the hot water for a shower, there isn't any need to dilute it with water from the cold tap. This simplifies showering as well as reduces the work your water heater needs to do.
  • Turn off the heating element in your refrigerator that heats the door (supposedly to reduce condensation on the door). If your frig has one, the button should be inside near the back, where the light bulb is.
  • Use as low-wattage a light bulb in the frig as you can. Our older frig had an incandescent bulb inside that gets searing hot during prolonged open door meditations on what to eat. This is a perfect spot for a LED light, which would not emit much heat, but they aren't available as far as I can tell.
  • Minimize the use of incandescent and halogen light bulbs, which get very hot. Many of these can be replaced with fluorescents without sacrificing the quality of light.
  • When boiling water for tea, boil only as much water as you need, so that less heating is needed and unused hot water doesn't sit on the stove, heating the room. Or heat the water in a microwave with the bag inside.
  • We usually associate attic insulation with keeping heat in during the winter, but attics can turn into cauldrons in the summer, and abundant insulation helps keep that heat from seeping into living spaces.
  • Humidity in the house can be affected by the yard's topography. If the ground is sloping towards your house, rain is more likely to seep in next to your foundation and add humidity. Within four to six feet of the foundation, the ground should slope away. My house inspector told me it's okay to pile dirt against bricks, but not against wood siding.
  • Whole house fans: Very helpful, but ours is overpowered, which means it overwhelms the vents in the attic. The resultant high pressure actually pushes attic air down into 2nd story rooms. Not good, so having attic ventilation and fan power balanced is important. One thing that has worked well is to have a window fan that runs overnight, progressively cooling the house. Closing up in the morning as the day starts to heat up keeps the cool air inside.
  • I can't explain why, but we wash our dishes by hand. Maybe a bit of hand labor is relaxing; maybe the older dishwasher's noise and slowness is bothersome; maybe it's stubborn habit. It's been reported that handwashing can be more wasteful than using a newer model dishwasher, but so much depends on style. My wife uses the Niagra Falls method, in which hot water streams out of the faucet constantly until she's done. I use cold water in bursts, making sure the dishes are wet first to soften the dirt and minimize the work. We don't use a tub, but instead put dish soap directly on the sponge. No outbreaks of the plague have been reported due to my cold water method, and in summer the cool water is a welcome feeling. Even if a little more water is used in handwashing, bypassing a dishwasher saves a lot of energy and heat production.
  • Air dry clothes.