Straight Talk Articles

Play it Cool: Staying Comfortable in Summer
May, 2018

Dear Pat, My energy bill was pretty high last summer. Do you have any tips for how to keep comfortable this year without breaking the bank? – Don


Dear Dave,

Absolutely! There are lots of ways to make your home more comfortable this summer. Some of the solutions are low cost, others require a bigger investment. In the end, you could be more comfortable and have lower summer energy bills.


The first step is to reduce your home’s solar gains – the heat energy it collects from the sun. Since most solar gains come through your windows, awnings are an effective solution – they can bring down solar heat gain by as much as 65% on south-facing windows and 77% on west-facing windows.(1) You can also try less expensive solutions on the outside or inside of your windows, like reflective film and solar screens. Heavy window coverings also work, and have the added benefit of reducing heat loss in winter.(2)

Two places that can be major sources of heat gain are skylights and attics. Reflective film or specially designed window coverings are possible solutions for skylights.(3) Attics can get extremely hot and radiate that heat through the ceiling into the living space. Abundant venting through the roof, gable or eaves is one solution, but you also need adequate attic insulation.

Another important step is to seal air leaks around windows and doors and around plumbing or wiring penetrations, to keep hot air out and cool air in.

Some of the excess heat in the home is generated within your home and at your expense. Here’s a short list of simple steps you can take:

  • Make it a habit to turn lights and TVs off in rooms that aren’t in use.

  • Incandescent light bulbs generate a lot of heat. Replace them with LEDs.

  • Unplug devices you aren’t using, such as chargers, computers, monitors and consumer electronics. Many of these use ‘phantom power’ that keep them on continually, which generates heat.

  • Maintain appliances for peak efficiency. Clean your refrigerator coils.

  • Lower your water heater to no higher than 120° F. (4) and your refrigerator to no lower than 38° (5). Insulate hot water pipes.

  • Minimize use of your oven, and don’t run the dishwasher or washing machine until they are full.


Now that you’ve worked on keeping heat out of your home and minimizing the waste heat generated inside, let’s look at how to make the inside air cooler. That starts by assessing your air conditioning (AC) system.


If you have Central AC, get it tuned up so that it’s working as efficiently as possible. Replace the filters regularly. Look to see if your supply registers are open. AC systems need to push an adequate amount of air out into the supply ductwork to function properly.


If you do not have central AC, window AC units can be an efficient solution if they are EnergyStar-certified and only used to cool part of the house part of the time. But make sure to seal up the opening around the window unit!

The least expensive way to cool yourself off is air movement. A ceiling fan or portable fan can make a room feel up to 10 degrees cooler,5 but keep in mind that they don’t help much unless you’re in the room.

If you live in an area where the night air is cool and not too humid you can exchange your hot air for cool outside air by opening the windows and turning on your kitchen and bath fans. Or you can put a fan in one window to exhaust the hot air and open another window at the other end of the house for the cooler night air to enter. The permanent, but more expensive, option is to install a whole house fan.


I hope that some of these solutions will make this coming summer more enjoyable for you than the last!

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency.

For more information on staying comfortable in summer, please visit the May 2018 more information page.



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A skylight can provide welcome daylight but unwelcome solar heat gain. Photo Credit: Kevin Kerrick, Flickr.