Friday, July 16, 2010

Ways to Beat the Heat

It has been in the triple digits all week where I live.  I prefer warm weather to cold, which is why I will never move to a place that sees snow, but I don't like when it's HOT.  And, oh man, has it been HOT!  How hot has it been?  Hot enough that my AC kicked on before 8:00 this morning.  Hot enough that my AC kicked on again at around 10:00 last night.  Hot enough that my AC ran at least six hours yesterday.  It was on when I returned home and I have no idea how long it actually ran. 

Given the painful heat that my area is suffering with, I thought I'd write a post on ways to beat the heat.  I've split these tips into three sections.  Enjoy!

- Keep the sun out of your house by hanging blackout curtains or tinting your windows.  I recently did the white-trash move of sticking giant pieces of cardboard in our bedroom windows because the blinds and blackout curtains we have hung just weren't doing enough to stop the sun & heat.  It's actually worked really well, but it is pretty tacky looking.  Thankfully, those windows are only visible from our own backyard.

- You can also hang awnings outside to keep the sun & heat from streaming in your windows.  They make both fixed and retractable awnings and they don't look too bad.  Some actually look really good.

- Double-paned windows help to keep the heat out during the Summer and keep the heat in during the Winter.  It is also a home improvement that immediately adds value to your home and that value doesn't really diminish over time.

- Keep your AC set to a certain temperature all the time.  Do not make the mistake in thinking that it's cheaper to turn off the AC while you're at work because, by the time you arrive home, your house is uncomfortably hot and it will take HOURS to cool down. 

- You might consider installing a setback thermostat so that it automatically kicks on to have your house cooled to a certain temperature by the time you arrive home.

- A decidedly more sophisticated approach is to use an adaptive thermostat.  These utilize outdoor sensors in order accurately calculate exactly when to turn on in order to cool your home to the correct temperature by the time you arrive home.

- The time to have AC installed or serviced is prior to the blazing hot days of Summer.  If at possible, hire HVAC contractors when it's their slow times - meaning that it's not too hot & not too cold.  A bonus to investing in your indoor air comfort when the weather is mild is that you should save a lot money as well as get quicker service.

- If you do purchase a new system, be sure to invest in new ductwork rather than a super-high-tech system.  Your ductwork is what moves the "cool" air throughout your home and that has a greater effect on the air comfort in your home and energy efficiency than having a more expensive system.

- You can save a lot of money by servicing your AC all by yourself.  All you have to do is change the filter (make sure you install it properly & that it is the correct size!) and clean the outdoor coils with a garden hose.  Google it for more details.

- Check with your local electrical and gas companies to see if any rebates are being offered for things such as dual-pane windows, high efficiency HVAC systems, and the like.  Between the federal government, state governments, utility companies, and manufacturer rebates, you might be pleasantly surprised at how much money you can get back via a rebate.

- Use ceiling, oscillating, and box fans to maximize your AC's effort.  This is a very under-utilized technique and it really has a profound impact on the air comfort of your home.

- Remember that most ACs just aren't going to be that great when it's over 95 degrees.  No matter how much money you spend, the AC is only going to be sized to be effective up to 95 degrees.  If you live in the desert, know that your HVAC contractor has had to do all kinds of hinky shenanigans to keep you cool when the outside temps are above 95 degrees.

- Keep cool in the kitchen by avoiding your oven and minimizing stove-top cooking. The grill, crock-pot, and microwave are perfect for hot-weather cooking.

- I'm intrigued by solar cookers that you can make on your own, but not intrigued enough to attempt to construct one & use it for my family's supper. It just seems like a microbial disaster and I'd rather not risk my family in my effort to keep cool. If you use one, I'd love to know how it works for you!

- You can also keep cool(er) in the kitchen by preparing your dinner in the morning when it's hopefully not too hot yet and reheat in the microwave when it's suppertime. Be sure to refrigerate until you're ready to reheat it though!

- Utilize someone else's utilities. The library, the mall, the movies, restaurants (even fast food ones) are all great places to go to hang out when it's hot. Heck, even the grocery store has the AC jammin' in the Summertime.

- I like to let my son play in the Children's section at big bookstores (Borders is the one I like best) because they have toys that the kids can play with, puppets for sale (that I tease him with!), and he seems to really like it. The downside is that I usually end up buying more books and he already could open a library with the books he currently owns.

- I don't particularly like to eat at places like these, but Chuck E. Cheese's and John's Incredible Pizza are air conditioned places that you can use to wear out your kiddos. I suppose that you technically don't even have to order anything at Chuck E. Cheese's, but I think that's kinda rude.  Am I totally off-base on this?

- Go to indoor playgrounds to keep cool & let your little monkeys run wild. In my area we have a ton of places that the kiddos love and that are nice & cool: Hullabaloo's Playhouse, Scooter's Jungle, Pump it Up, and more! My son is guaranteed to nap at least three hours after 90 minutes at an indoor playground.

- Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids (water in particular) and eating watery foods.  Watermelon and grapes are my current favorite.  Did you know that you can freeze whole grapes and they make a tasty cool treat?  Do remember though that whole grapes are a choking hazard to young children and they can be even more dangerous if they are hard & frozen.

- Don't forget to make sure your children keep cool & well-hydrated.

- Keep cool by eating cold soups and crisp green salads.  Vichyssoise and gazpacho are my favorite cold soups when the heat is on and a big salad for dinner is always refreshing.

- Other tasty eats when the heat is on are:  cold pasta salads, chicken or tuna salad sandwiches, and cold soba noodles with cold tofu with ginger, green onions, & soy sauce.

- This is probably a big "duh," but plan to stay indoors during the hottest hours of the day and familiarize yourself with the signs of heat related illnesses, such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion. 

- If you absolutely must go out at the hottest part of the day, try your best to remain in shady areas away from the sun's rays.

- If you have elderly relatives, neighbors, or friends, do be sure to check in on them when the heat is on.  The elderly are particularly vulnerable to heat related illnesses and your call or visit might just save their life.

What are your tips to keep cool?  I'd love to hear from you!

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