Are you lounging around in your underwear to keep cool instead of turning on the air conditioning full-blast?

Well, you can pat yourself on the back because you’re doing the right thing, from an environmental point of view anyway. (I’m not sure about the unsuspecting people who may knock at your door, but it’s worth it when you’re saving the planet, right?)

Well, even if you’re not into walking around in your undies, there are fortunately lots of other ways you can keep yourself and your house naturally cool with minimal need for the AC.

When it gets hot outside, keeping cool requires two things. One is that you keep the external heat outside, and two is that you refrain from creating internal heat as much as possible.

If it’s going to be a scorcher, keep the sun from shining into your house and heating it up. Keep your windows and curtains closed on the sunny side of the house, and consider keeping all windows shut if the outside air is hotter than the inside air. White window shades or drape liners and blinds reflect heat the best. Once the sun has sunk below the horizon in the evening, you may open windows to allow in cooler air, especially if there’s a lovely breeze.

On hot days, a ceiling fan (which has minimal energy needs) should be set so that it blows air down. It doesn’t actually make the air cooler, of course, but moving air can make you feel much cooler and more comfortable. A portable fan works in the same way.

Window fans can actually cool down the temperature inside, if used properly. They can be used to create an air flow. For example, you can pull in cool evening air and open an opposite window to push out the heated air that may have accumulated in your home.

An attic fan that blows heated attic air outside is also a great idea because it can create an air flow through the house, pulling up cooler basement air. Investing in increased attic insulation (up to 12 inches) can also make a difference.

Inside the house, keep it cool by managing your time so heat-producing activities occur at night. For example, don’t wash clothes until later in the evening and consider drying them on a clothes rack or line outside, if possible. Use cold water wash whenever possible. Wash dishes in the evening, and turn off the heat drying cycle on the dishwasher. If you have a fan installed, use it to suck away hot damp air in places where it is generated, like showers, or laundry rooms.

Cooking, particularly in the oven, will heat up your home fast. Use a microwave, or barbecue outside, use a slow-cooker plugged into an outlet in the garage, or eat a salad meal. If you use your stove or burners, turn on the fan so the heat is whisked outside. Put electronic devices like TVs and computers on a power switch and turn them off when they’re not in use so they’re not producing heat all day. And as my dad used to say, turn the lights off if they are not needed. Use fluorescent light whenever possible, since incandescents produce heat, besides being inefficient energy users.

Of course, there is nothing better than long-term good planning, and if you can stick around for the long-term, do invest in planting big shady deciduous trees on southern and western exposures.

Minimize hard concrete or stone surfaces around your house in favour of plantings, since stone and concrete retains heat and reflects it back at you in the evening.

– Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design;

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