Thursday, July 2, 2009

Keeping it Cool, Tips to Make Your Home More Confortable - by Seattle's Home Inspection Team

With the warmer weather, we are looking to ways to keep our homes cool. Here are some tips to keep your home comfortable.
Window Coverings
When the temperatures are expected to be high, consider keeping shades closed throughout the day. It is amazing the difference in heat gain when the sun is kept off the windows. I have blinds, thermal shades and exterior sun screens that we use on the hottest days to keep the solar gain to a minimum.
I have a digital indoor and outdoor thermometer that I use to determine when the outside temperature has dropped below the inside temperature. When the temperature outside has dropped in the evening, I have a large box fan that is tightly fitted in a back bedroom window that exhausts the hot interior air outside. This causes negative air pressure in the house, and when you open other windows in the home, you will get a nice cool breeze coming in.
Fan Controller
I have built a simple thermostat to control this fan, (See a diagram and instructions here) so when the house temperature drops below 67 or so, the fan turns off automatically. Don't forget to remove the fan, close up the windows and shades in the morning to keep the air as cool as possible during the day.
Wall Air Conditioners
We have also installed ceiling fans to keep the air moving, this helps make it much more comfortable, especially in bedrooms.
In my home, I have small room air conditioners that keep an individual room cool. this is especially nice on very hot evenings when you can't cool the house with a fan because the outside air temperature it too high. If you keep the door closed these window units are a great choice.
Home Air Conditioners
If you have a central air conditioner, there are a few items you should consider to keep it running at peak efficiency.

The outside component of your unit is called the compressor. It houses the pump and the blower that cool the compressed gas that is then pumped into the home to cool the air inside. We see these units covered with landscaping debris (grass, weeds, bushes etc.) all the time.
When this happens the airflow is restricted and it has to work harder to cool your home. Always keep these units clear from obstructions, so they can easily cool the coils. Keep lawn clippings from blowing on them when trimming the grass. Sometimes dryer vents are located too close to AC units, plugging them with lint.
Read your manual on the best way to clean the unit. Some may be hosed off, ALWAYS TURN OFF THE POWER when cleaning them. Others require more complex cleaning. A dirty AC will waste a lot of energy. When in doubt have a professional clean it regularly, usually at least once a year.
Attic Fans
These will help keep he attic spaces cool. Ideally the attic is the same temperature as the outside air. In the summer, I routinely enter attics that are as high at 145 degrees! Ventilation and insulation are both critical to keep this heat away from your living space. If your attic has less then 12 inches of insulation consider having more added. This will pay for itself in heating in winter and keep you much more comfortable in summer.
When re-roofing a home, consider using light colored coverings. They will reduce the heat from the sun. We always recommend silver coating un-coated torch down roofs. It will extend their life and help cool your home.
Use automatic thermostats with timers to control your cooling system. Be sure your air filters are clean, and your ductwork is tight, well insulated and free from leaks. We see leaking ductwork every day!
We recommend that you plant trees that will drop their leaves in winter on the south and west side of homes. This way you have shade in summer and the sun can naturally heat the home in winter. Remember to keep all plants trimmed away from the building.
"To increase the efficiency of your air-conditioning unit by up to 10 percent, plant trees and shrubs to shade the outside unit; place them at least 18 inches away so they don't block the vents on the compressor. For more tips on ways to use landscaping to increase the energy efficiency of your home, see the DOE's landscaping advice." Consumer Reports
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