Recipe #15: Stay Cool in the Summer

Sustainability Life Recipe Series

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What practical things can we do in our daily lives to protect our living environment, save money, and contribute to good jobs for people in our community?

We’ve done the research and these steps in the areas of local food, building energy, waste reduction and transportation are a great place to start. The Sustainability Life Recipes series will focus on ways to save money, go green, and learn about resources to support your journey. Have an idea? Send us a note at sustainability@cornell.edu

Sweltering heat waves pass through Ithaca from time to time - can you remember a time when you've been hot and uncomfortable in the 90F weather around our community? Maybe you avoided such heat by jumping in the water. For those of us who need to spend the day inside, however, cooling off can be tricky to do without racking up energy bills and releasing harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.    

Here's why it's important:

  • Each American home with an air conditioner emits about 2,400 pounds (or 1.2 tons) of carbon dioxide per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy
  • This means our air-conditioned homes also add $310 to energy bills each year.

We’ve compiled a list of science-driven, tried-and-true tips to stay cool this summer without the AC. Your wallet, home, community and planet will benefit.

Quick Tips to Cool Your Home:

    1. As soon as the temperature drops outside (usually at sunset, around 9pm in Tompkins County) open all of your windows. Position fans throughout your house to circulate cool air – set one fan facing in on one end of your house, and another facing out on the opposite end. This way cold air will flow in one direction throughout your house, bringing the temperature down.
      • Make sure to close the windows and shut the blinds as soon as possible in the morning! Ideally, right before the sun rises. 
    2. If you have an attic – open the attic windows at night. Open first floor windows too. Heat rises, so the cold air will get sucked from the first floor below and pushed out above through the attic, cooling down your whole house in the process.
      Heat escaping through attic as cold air enters from lower levels..
    3. Unplug at night. Electronics give off heat, so make sure to unplug everything you’re not using while you sleep (and we mean everything: printer, computer, TV, toaster, microwave, and more. Your energy bill and home temperature will both drop!)
    4. At night, hang a wet sheet in front of an open window to cool down an entire room.
      • Pro tip: Only do this when it’s windy – the breeze blowing in will quickly lower the room’s temperature.
    5. Remember to keep a cozy bathrobe or sweater next to your bed to pull on right when you wake up. Your house can get quite cool using the methods above. We want to maximize and conserve that cold temperature for the day, so be prepared for those colder, early morning feels.
    6. During the day, close the blinds for windows receiving direct sunlight. You’ll be surprised at what a difference this makes. According to the DOE, neutral-colored curtains with white plastic backings can reduce heat gain by 30%.
    7. Close the doors of rooms you don’t use during the day. Keep them closed until the temperature drops at night.
    8. Install window awnings on south- and west- facing windows (awnings are available online at Amazon and Home Depot, or you can make some yourself for $20). Go for light colors to reflect more sunlight. According to the DOE, window awnings can reduce solar heat gain by up to 65% on south-facing windows, and 77% on west-facing windows.
    9. Put houseplants in front of sunny windows to absorb some solar energy.
      Window awnings.
      Window awnings.
    10. Insulate warm water pipes to avoid unwanted heat loss. It’s easy and cheap.
    11. Insulate the water tank itself. A roughly $20 insulation blanket will reduce heat loss from the tank by up to 45%. This means more savings on your water heating bill, too.
      • Be careful not to block the thermostat on an electric water heater or the air inlet and exhaust on a gas unit.
    12. Make your own sea breeze! Fill a large mixing bowl with ice, and tilt it at an angle in front of a fan (going on the fastest level). The air will whip off the ice in chilled, misty bursts.
    13. Replace incandescent light bulbs with LED light bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs release 90% of their energy as heat.
    14. Need to do laundry? Make sure to wash with cold water to reduce your energy use by 90% and make your clothes last longer. Only do full loads, and hang dry to keep your house cool.

More Durable Solutions:

These tips might take a little more time, but the rewards are long-lasting!

  1. Plant a tree. Researcher Geoffrey Donovan (with co-author and economist David Butry) published the first large-scale study showing that trees can reduce energy use. Key findings from their study:
    • The tree’s location is the key to energy savings. Shade trees decrease summertime electricity use, but the total amount of savings depends on where you plant them.
    • One tree generates $25 of summertime electricity savings per year.
    • Trees planted within 40 feet of the south side or within 60 feet of the west side of your house will save about the same amount of energy, due to how shadows fall at different times of the day.
    • Tree cover on the east side of your house does not affect energy use.
    • A tree planted on the west side of your house can reduce net carbon emissions from summertime electricity use by 10% over a 30-year period. From doing nothing except letting your tree grow, you’ve reduced your net carbon emissions.
  2. Paint your roof white.The average American home has a 1,000-square-foot roof. Replacing dark-colored shingles or coatings with white material offsets 10 metric tons of CO2 emissions, according to Berkeley Laboratory physicist Hashem Akbari.

Quick Tips to Cool Your Body: Cooling yourself from the inside out is also a great method. Combine these tips with those above for the most effective, No-AC cooling.

  1. Sip ice-cold drinks. Just put your favorite drink in the freezer, and remember to take it out before it’s frozen solid.
  2. Put washcloths in the freezer to later apply to your pressure points for a quick cool-down. Make sure to seal the washcloths in a plastic bag to avoid absorbing the scent of food in the freezer.
    • Pressure points include: temples, wrists, upper chest, behind your ears, and inside your elbows.
  3. Keep a bowl of ice water by your bed to dip your feet into if you wake up too warm. Caution: place the bowl somewhere it won’t get knocked over!
  4. Alternatively, put a ¾ full water bottle in the freezer (when water freezes, it expands) and place it at the foot of your bed. It’s like the opposite of a hot water bottle in the winter and does equal wonders for regulating body temperature.
  5. Use your cool (common) sense.
    • Avoid cooking on the stove or oven. Browse these delicious, no-heat-needed summer recipes. We love to cook – here are some more cool recipes.
    • Wash dishes by hand with cold water to dodge hot dishwashers. Pro tip: Simply rinse dishes right after using them for a quick clean-up.
  6. Fans are your friends. Fans actually serve to lower body temperature (not home temperature) so make sure to turn them off when you leave the room. Note: this tip does not apply to other nighttime or ice bowl fan tips.

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