Use Trees and Plants to Cool Down Your Home
Trees and plans offer strategic value for protecting homes from the intense solar heat of summertime. Not only do trees and shrubs help to block the rays of the sun, for example, but they also cool the atmosphere around themselves. The leaves of trees absorb light energy, and that reduces the amount of reflected light and heat. They also constantly wick water up from the ground through their roots and then release it through their leaves. This process, known as "evapotranspiration," is similar to the system we humans use to regulate our body temperatures in summer by drinking water and then perspiring.
The presence of trees can, in fact, reduce ambient temperatures in their immediate vicinity by nearly 10 degree Fahrenheit, while cooling the area directly beneath their leaf canopy by as much as 25 degrees. So planting trees around your home can help to keep its surfaces cooler, thereby reducing the need for air conditioning. Shade trees also dramatically cut down on the impact of thermal heat in urban areas - including your own driveway or condo parking lot -where solar energy is absorbed by asphalt and reflected by metal cars and buildings. According to a report published by the Nebraska Forest Service, for example, strategically placed trees can reduce the solar heat absorbed by buildings and reduce cooling costs by up to 30 percent. That means that you are able to spend about 30 percent less trying to combat summer heat.
If your air conditioning system unit sits outside in the blazing sun, it too can benefit from a little natural shade. Planting a small tree or large shrubbery near the unit to help keep it cool can actually improve its efficiency. But be sure to keep leaves and twigs off of the unit, because those have the opposite effect and make the unit work harder.You can also create seasonal summer shade outside the windows of your home - or around Fido's doghouse - by simply erecting attractive trellises and growing climbing plants. You'll cut down on the intensity of summer sunshine while also adding beauty. If you plant roses you'll have a source of cut flowers, for instance, and if you plant tomatoes or summer squash you'll have homegrown vegetables to grill on the back deck.
Avoid Overheating Your Summertime Utility Budget
Summertime can tax household budgets, because as the temperatures rise so do the monthly utility bills. But there are some rather simple steps that you can take to reduce unnecessary energy consumption and related costs.
- You can dramatically boost the efficiency of a central air conditioning system by making sure the filters are clean and replacing them whenever they get dirty. Once they are filled with dust the system has to work harder and it will cost more to run but will still do a poor job of cooling. But the filters only cost a few dollars apiece and new ones are easy to install as a do-it-yourself task.
- Another major culprit is the air conditioning thermostat. If you have an older model it should be replaced with a more accurate programmable thermostat. These are rather inexpensive to buy and have installed and they often pay for themselves in one or two months by lowering your utility bills.
- You can also save energy by not allowing cool air to escape. If you have pull-down stairs that lead into an attic space, for example, check to make sure that they close tightly so that you don't inadvertently air condition your attic through the gaps around those stairs. Caulking and weather stripping around windows and exterior doors also helps to seal cool air inside and block solar heat from the outdoors.
- Another way to reduce energy bills this summer is to try to eliminate reliance on electric-powered air conditioners. A natural gas heat pump doesn't use ozone-depleting refrigerants like electrical units do, and it can both heat and cool your home. So one unit provides both features in a cost effective and energy efficient technology.
- Natural gas is also great for outdoor summer grilling, of course, so to save energy and headaches many homeowners connect a permanent gas line directly to their grill. Professional installation is simple and inexpensive and totally eliminates trips to the store to refill propane tanks. Meanwhile it guarantees you'll never suffer the aggravation of running out of fuel in the middle of your summer BBQ party.
Put these ideas to work for you and your home will have a smaller carbon footprint, which is pretty cool. But you'll also be able to chill out from the summer heat without worrying about feverishly steep utility bills.
Gear Your Appliances for Energy Efficiency
Now that the summer heat is setting in, turn your thoughts to making your house more energy-efficient. Chances are there are many machines in your house humming away in the heat and the better job you do keeping them as efficient as they can be, the lower your electricity and gas bills will be and the smaller your dwelling's carbon footprint. Try these simple tips and maintenance techniques to help energy hogs like the fridge and stove run more efficiently.Fridge/freezer:
- Make sure the door seal on your fridge is clean and in good condition, as a leak around the edges of the door is an obvious waste.
- Clean the fridge's condenser coils with a brush or vacuum (after unplugging) to maximize efficiency.
- Maintain a full freezer, as having a lot in there increases its efficiency, but make sure not to block the circulation fan.
- Keep your fridge tuned to 36º-38° F for the most efficient cooling, and maintain your freezer at 0º-5° F.
- Keep the oven door closed when you're baking or broiling, as up to 25 percent of the heat escapes every time you take a peek.
- Cover pots and pans with properly fitting lids and use the right size burner to promote the most efficient heat use.
- Use the oven to full effect by cooking several dishes at once and freezing what you don't need immediately for later reheating by microwave.
- Thaw frozen foods in the fridge for a while before cooking, as the partial defrosting can save cooking time.
- Start with hot tap water when boiling water, which will reduce the energy it takes to heat to a boil.
- If buying a new stove, consider one with a pilotless ignition, as such stoves use 30 percent less gas than continuously burning pilots.
If you want to get technical about the project, or are just wondering how much energy your appliances are using, use this formula to calculate your usage:
Wattage × Hours Used Per Day ÷ 1000 = Daily Kilowatt-hour (kWh) consumption (1 kilowatt (kW) = 1,000 Watts)
To find out your appliance's annual energy consumption, multiply by the number of days you use the appliance throughout the year. If you want to know the annual cost of running the appliance, multiply the kWh per year by your local utility's rate per kWh consumed.