Dear EarthTalk: Summer’s
going to be a scorcher this year, and I’d like to know
how I can keep cool indoors without just running my energy-hogging
air conditioners all the time. Any tips?
John McGovern, Cohasset, MA
According to Harvey Sachs of the nonprofit American Council
for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the movement of air over the
skin is what’s key to keeping the body cool. So instead
of turning on that AC, see which direction the breeze is blowing
outside (no matter how minimal it may be), and then open a
few windows strategically to try to get it flowing through
the house from end-to-end or side-to-side.
If the breeze alone isn’t enough, apply some fan power.
Even small tabletop fans, which can be had for $30 or so at
Target and similar stores, can really whip the air around.
Placing one facing in by the window where air is coming in,
and one at an opposite window positioned to blow warm air out,
can create a nice “wind tunnel” effect in pulling
air through the house.
This strategy can be especially effective at night when it
is cooler. But then it’s important to shut the windows
when you leave for the day in the morning to keep the cooler
air in and the warmth of the new day out. Keep blinds shut
and curtains drawn, too, as sunlight pouring into the house
only creates more heat. And remember that lights left on are
not only wasting electricity—they’re creating heat,
Ceiling fans also do a nice job of circulating air in the rooms
you occupy most, and though they do require some up-front costs
for installation, they use only about 1/30th the electricity
of a room air conditioner.
Beyond moving the air around to keep cool, the Web site WikiHow.com
lists several tips for using water to keep cool sans AC. One
tried-and-true method is to wet your wrists and other pulse
points with cold water, and then keep those spots cool by holding
an ice cube wrapped in a face cloth against them. The relief
is immediate, and this method will cool down the entire body—by
as much as three degrees Fahrenheit—for upwards of an
hour. Another WikiHow suggestion: Wear a short-sleeved shirt
and keep the sleeves wet with cold water (from a squirt bottle,
faucet, or hose). Keeping the pant legs of long pants wet is
also a good way to keep your legs cool. Add in a breeze or
a fan, and you can actually get cold.
Of course, if you just can’t live without air conditioning,
there are greener options out there. For starters, a single
window unit that keeps one room cool is far less energy intensive
and polluting than central air conditioning that keeps all
the rooms in the house (including those you’re not using)
cool. Look for new models sporting the federal Energy Star
label, which marks units as energy efficient.
Another option for those in hot, dry climates is an evaporative
cooler, which cools outdoor air through evaporation and blows
it inside the house. These units make for a nice alternative
to traditional central air conditioning, as they cost about
half as much to install and use only one quarter of the energy
CONTACTS: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy,
www.aceee.org; WikiHow, www.wikihow.com; Energy Star, www.energystar.gov.
Submit questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.