Reducing Your Need for Air Conditioning
If you make some (or all!) of the following changes, you may not even need to turn on your air conditioner more than a few days a year.
First, make sure you have tightened up your house so warm air doesn't leak in from the outside. (Take a look at the older sections for tips on insulating your house.) Then check out the tips in our sections on fans and windows. The correct use of fans can make your home much more comfortable for a fraction of the cost of running air conditioning. Shutting the shades on east- and west-facing windows will block some of the radiant heat from the sunbeams pouring in those windows. That radiant heat will raise the temperature inside an average house up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit on a hot summer day if the windows are unshaded.
Keep the house shut up during the day to keep out both heat and humidity. Then open windows and vents to let in cool air at night.
Trees can be effective at lowering the temperature inside houses by blocking the direct sunlight in the summer. But if you are counting on the warm sun in the winter months, don't plant shade trees on the south side of your house. The most effective way I can think of to split the difference and get the benefit of sun in the winter and shade in the summer is to plant deciduous trees around your home. (For those of you who slept through 7th grade science, those are the trees that drop their leaves in the winter.) Remember, tree trunks and branches will still block some sun during the winter, so don't plant them close to your home if you live where you need cooling for only a short time during the year and spend most of your money on heating in the winter.
Prune the lower branches of your tall shade trees so you allow summer breezes to blow through. I've even heard of hedges and fences placed to channel breezes through a house.
For hotter climes, think about putting in horizontal trellises or awnings above the windows on the east and west sides of your home to block that sun. You want awnings that are wider than the windows since the sunbeams don't always come in at a direct 90 degree angle.
Most energy used by your appliances ends up heating your home. So, on hot days, do chores like washing dishes or running the clothes dryer in the evenings. If you have a stand alone freezer, move it to the basement or garage where it won't heat up the rooms you're in.
Turn off unnecessary lights, especially those halogen torchieres. Halogen bulbs and even incandescent bulbs actually give off a great deal of heat. Your standard incandescent bulb emits 90% of its energy as heat. The light it sheds is really just a by-product.
Finally, think about cooking: do you really want a hot meal when it is 105 degrees Fahrenheit outside? Go for cool salads and fruits, bread and cheese. If you must, fire up the bar-be-que outside and keep the heat where it belongs.