Stay Cool Affordably

On hot summer days, when the mercury climbs into the red, a comfortably cool home is wonderfully refreshing.  For some people with illnesses (e.g., a heart condition) or trouble sleeping in the heat, moderating the temperature also becomes essential to health.  The following tips can help you enjoy a comfortable indoor environment without overtaxing your wallet or your local power grid!

A significant amount of solar heat radiates through windows so keep your blinds or curtains closed during the sunniest parts of the day.  If your curtains or blinds are dark, consider installing light-coloured curtains or backings.  When it comes time to replace your windows, consider those treated with a reflective film to block the heat as well as for privacy.  


Another way to block solar heat gain is from the outside.  By some estimates, exterior shading methods are 50 percent more effective than internal devices (curtains, blinds and reflective coatings).  Awnings are a good option as are trees and tall shrubs near windows.  Deciduous trees are ideal for our Canadian climate since they drop their leaves in the autumn, allowing light and heat to enter in the cooler months.

On very hot days, air conditioning is usually the largest energy consumer in the home.  These simple measures can ensure that your unit runs at peak efficiency:

  • Shade your air conditioning unit.  When air conditioners are in a sunny location, they must work that much harder at cooling the air.  However you create shade, be sure to allow plenty of airflow since the appliance is releasing hot air from your home as well as its motor.
  • Clean and replace the filter regularly.
  • Program your thermostat to provide the most cooling when you and your family are typically at home.

Did you know that temperatures in the attic of a single family home can reach 60° C (or 140° F)?  Although heat will slowly dissipate through the attic walls, some of it escapes into the living areas, which increases cooling costs.  An electric or solar powered attic fan will pump out much of the hot air and draw in cooler outdoor air.  Choose a product with all metal construction and a quiet, permanently lubricated motor.  Screen the exhaust opening to prevent birds, rodents and other pests from getting into your attic.

It’s easy to flip a switch on your air conditioner and cool your entire home but there are areas that do not need cooling—like your closets!  Close your closet doors and you can save approximately 5 percent on your cooling bill.  Also close vents in unused rooms. 

Although insulation may seem like a topic for the wintertime, in fact, it also plays a key role in the summer.  As your air conditioner cools your home, the difference in temperature and air pressure between the indoors and outdoors will draw in warmer outdoor air.  This warm air will slip through any gaps in windows and doors so check and patch any leaks.  Heat and cold will also transfer through the glass itself.  The best windows are those with two relatively new technologies: low-emissive (low-E) coatings and low-conductivity gas (rather than air) between the glazing layers.  If your windows are more than 15 years old, it is likely time for an upgrade.  Heat transfer will also occur through your walls and attic so have your insulation inspected and replaced, if needed.

Once you have your air conditioner running at peak efficiency and your home is sealed and insulated, there is one more step in reducing your cooling costs: reducing the heat generated from inside your home.  Consider these ideas:

  • Turn off unneeded lights and consider switching to florescent bulbs, which produce very little heat.
  • Hang your laundry on a line in the backyard rather than putting clothes in the dryer. 
  • Use only essential appliances during the day.
  • Run your dishwasher and start your laundry after 7 p.m.
  • Enjoy a barbeque in the great outdoors instead of sweating it out in the kitchen.
  • When possible, use a microwave instead of a conventional oven.
  • Turn off computers, stereos and televisions when you are not using them.
  • Insulate your water heater.
  • Since most appliances continue to draw electricity and generate heat even when not in use, plug multiple appliances (e.g., television, DVD player) into power strips for a convenient way to shut off the power.
  • Clean the coils on the back of your refrigerator.
  • Ceiling and portable fans can be an economical alternative to air conditioning.
Since they make us feel cool by moving away our body heat (rather than lowering the temperature), remember to turn off the fan when you leave a room since the motor will generate unnecessary heat.

Lastly, try setting your air conditioner a few degrees higher to save money and see how it feels.  After all, summer in Canada is fleeting.  When the snowflakes start to fall in four months or so, you will look back fondly on the heat!

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