Posts Tagged ‘cooling tips’

Staying cool and saving during the monster heat wave

July 21, 2011

The incredible heat wave continues across the Midwest and the East Coast.  To temperatures pushing—or passing—100 degrees, add stifling humidity the bump the heat index over 120 in some places.  In this case, it’s the heat AND the humidity.

While our friends down in Houston are used to this, and they’ve got the air-conditioning to deal with it.  This is beyond what many people and homes and buildings in the East and Midwest are prepared for.  And the heat can be deadly. So it’s worth taking a few minutes to talk about what you can do.

We often providing cooling tips, and they’re worth revisiting.  But let’s hit a couple of important reminders for you and your home to help get through this.

Keeping your person cool

  • Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic, and without caffeine), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you get thirsty to drink. Warning:  if your doctor has you limiting fluids or reducing water, check in with her to find your specific recommendation.  Remember, if you’re sweating a lot, you need to replace electrolytes, too.  I like a diluted sports drink (otherwise they can be too sweet).
  • If possible, stay indoors in an air-conditioned space.  If you don’t have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library–or the time-honored tradition of going to a movie theater.  Might be a good reason to go so Harry Potter again!  Some locals might have heat-relief shelters.  Check with your local health department.
  • Go swimming in a cool pool.  Take a cold shower or a cold bath.  (Not a hot shower or hot bath!)  Cooler water can be an excellent way to cool down your body temperature.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • If you’re going to be outside, try to do it early in the day or late in the evening when it’s generally cooler.  Try to avoid heavy exercise in the heat.

The Centers for Disease Control has a helpful Extreme Heat guide the offers additional details and advice.

Keeping your home cool

  • According to CDC, air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death.  Room air-conditioners can help.  And installing a central AC unit is usually done in a day.
  • Keep the heat out!  During the day, if it’s cooler inside than outside, keep windows shut.  And keep window shades down to block out direct sunlight.  Open the windows at night if it’s cooler outside than in. 
  • Fans to the outside—blowing in either direction—can help if it is cooler outside than inside.  But they’re counterproductive if it’s hotter outside.  Ceiling fans (and other fans) help you stay comfortable—but only while you’re in the room.  The fan motors actually generate heat, so turn them off when you’re not there.

Finally, children, the elderly, and the sick, are especially susceptible to heat.  Keep a close eye on them. 

Of course, contact us if you’d like more permanent, energy-efficient solutions.  But in the meantime, be safe, and stay cool.

Mike

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Staying Cool…How to Save Energy in the Kitchen this Summer

May 31, 2011

We had seven visitors this Memorial Day weekend for what’s become an annual rite—my wife’s family runs in the Burlington Marathon.  With the extra people, and the need to keep them fed, including with the pre-race, pasta-fueled, carbo-loading, I found myself thinking how to stay cool in the kitchen.  And how to save energy.  [If I can brag a bit on my daughter, this is also now an issue since she has embraced baking and is doing amazing things.  Her baking is also impacting my waist size!]

Even in the heat of the summer, you can cook, stay cool, and minimize the fighting the air-conditioner has to do.  There are a few simple strategies.  Reduce the heat you produce.  Remove the heat you do produce.  And chip away at the other energy-savings via efficient lights, appliances, and behaviors as you would elsewhere in the home.

Don’t generate as much heat in the first place.

If you don’t heat up the kitchen, you don’t have to cool it down.  Here are some things you can do, none of them hard, all of them useful.

  • Grill outside.  People love this!  And if keeps you from heating the stove, oven, and room!
  • Try to limit pre-heating the oven.  You can’t do this which some baked goods where rising might be impacted.  However, you make find that getting the oven up to temperate doesn’t take as long as the recipes might suggest.  And if you’re cooking that baked macaroni and cheese, you don’t really need to wait for the oven to heat all the way up—although you may have to leave it in a couple minutes longer.
  • Don’t “peek” if you don’t need to.  Opening the oven door dumps heat into the room, drops the oven temperature, and increases cooking time.
  • Shut the oven off a few minutes early.  An oven will retain the heat for a while after you shut it off, and the food will continue to cook.
  • Check the oven door seal, and clean it with a bit of degreaser if needed.  A good seal keeps the heat where it should be.
  • Boiling water for that pre-race pasta?  Keep the cover on!  And as tempting as it is, the don’t peek rule applies here.  The water will boil faster AND you’ll reduce the amount of steam and hot water vapor you dump into your house.  Speaking of pasta, you may be able to get good results reducing the amount of water you use, as suggested in the NY Times article.  Some folks even suggest turning the heat off after adding the pasta and returning it to a boil.  I’ve done this with rice with good success.
  • On the stove top, match the pan to the element.  Don’t use a small pan on a large element because much of the heat just goes into the room.  (Induction stove users—you’ve got an advantage here!)
  • Sometimes a small toaster oven will do as well as a large oven—and require less energy and dump less heat in the process.

Evacuate any extra heat if you can.

  • Here’s where an exhaust fan with a good range hood comes in handy.  If it is vented to the outside—as it absolutely should be if you have a gas stove or oven—you can remove the heat and cooking-related moisture from the house.  Remember, as you suck air out of the house, you’re bringing in air elsewhere, and you don’t want to do that if the air is hotter and more humid that you like.  In this case, though, it’s well worth the trade.  [BTW, this same principle applies in the shower—get the steam out rather than using your A/C to cool in and remove the humidity.]
  • Safety first.  Any time we’re talking about exhaust fans, I like to remind people that they be vented outside and NOT into the attic.  And you should make sure you test your combustion equipment (including water heater and furnace) to make sure the exhaust fan doesn’t impact proper venting.

Other smart things–they add up.

  • Kitchens often have a lot of lighting, including recessed lights and track lighting.  Incandescent, including halogen lighting, actually use most of their energy creating heat, not light.  A kitchen full of mini-space heaters disguised as lights will be harder to keep cool.   Switching this to CFL or LED lighting (see previous posts on the CREE CR6, for example!) can move a huge difference.
  • Run your dishwasher only when it’s full, and don’t use the “Rinse/Hold” feature for just a few dirty.  It uses several gallons of hot water each time you use it.
  • Do the dollar bill test—the seal on your refrigerator door should snug hold a dollar bill in place when closed.  If not, the seal may need to be replaced.
  • Mom was right.  Don’t stand with the refrigerator door open FOREVER.  Minimize the time with the door open and the number of times you open it.  This saves energy in its own right.  And remember, refrigerators don’t magically create “cool”.  They remove heat from inside the compartment, and dump it—and waste heat—outside, which just happens to in your kitchen.
  • You probably don’t have a lot of flexibility with your current appliance locations, be it generally makes sense to keep the refrigerator out of bright sunlight and away from the stove—remember, you’re trying to keep it cool.   Keep it in mind if you’re remodeling, though.
  • And at new appliance time, think Energy Star!

You can also explore more general cooling tips for not just the kitchen, but your whole house.

And to really find the trouble spots in your home — and to be sure they’re addressed with the right solutions, we recommend that you get a comprehensive home energy audit.

Energy-Efficient…Trees?

May 19, 2011

OK, I’ve been too danged busy. But my neighbors are out—between the crazy frequent rain storms this spring—working on their yards. Landscaping, planting flowers, planting trees. Energy geek that I am, I’m paying particular attention to the trees. Not because they’re sexy (they are!) or because I’m a treehugger (I’m not—too scratchy—I prefer to hug my wife), but because they can have a real impact on the comfort and energy use of a home.

The trees to the South and West around this Vermont home provide shade from the summer sun, but drop their leaves and let winter sun bathe the house.

The right tree (or bush or vine—you homebrewers, grow your own hops and save energy!) can provide shade (good in the summer), serve as a windbreak (good to protect you from those cold North winds), and chip away at your energy bills in other way.

What you should focus on with your shrubbery (said in my best Monty Pythonesque voice) depends on the climate—and the microclimate where you live. The Department of Energy dives into the weeds with some good guidance on landscaping to save energy. Here are the basics.

  • Maximize shade on the walls and windows, especially on the South and West, and the roof in the summer. A mature shade tree can dramatically reduce cooling costs. With enough trees, transpiration, can actually reduce air temperatures by up to five degrees.
  • Even ground cover, including grass, small plants, and bushes helps, staying cooler than bare ground. But use native plants that thrive with little water and minimal babysitting.
  • But…allow winter sun to hit south facing windows, especially in colder climates. And thus, think deciduous trees that drop their leaves in the fall. The heat from the sun helps warm your house.
  • Protect your home from cold winter winds…and hot summer winds if you use air-conditioning.

So planting the right tree in the right place is green times two. Or three.

Cheers,
Mike

MIRA-COOL: The only miracle is that these guys can get away will selling this stuff

August 21, 2010

Another goofy full-page ad with the same marketing hype and misleading information….

On the plane yesterday, I noticed the ad for the ”MIRA-COOL” air cooler.   “A new miracle air-cooler” looks a lot like snail oil in a different package.  I guess the purveyors of this nonsense think that by using the name MIRA-COOL, they can repackage the BS of the Cool Surge air cooler and skirt around the terrible reviews and warnings.  Pure nonsense.  Don’t buy this for the exact same reasons I encouraged you not to buy the Cool Surge.  Ignore the Scalding Zone, the Scorching Zone, and the Sizzling Zone.  Ignore this product. 

My apologies to William Shakespeare, but when it comes to the MIRA-COOL, a turd by any other name stinks just as badly.

If you want to stay cool, don’t waste your money.  Start with these simple cooling tips.

Thanks,
Mike

Keeping cool during the East Coast heat wave

July 6, 2010

Boston, New York, DC are sweltering.  Hot and humid, most of the East Coast is in the middle of a heat wave—and it’s supposed to get worse as the week progresses.  Add the high humidity, and a lot of people are going to be uncomfortable.  While there are great long-term solutions, here are some things you can do now to help stay cool.

Keep the heat out of your house.

  • Pull shades/draw curtains to block the sun during the day.  Much of the summer temperature gain in a home comes through the windows in the form of sunlight.
  • During the day, use window or exhaust fans when it is cooler outside than inside.  Don’t use them when it’s hotter outside—that just helps pull more warm air into the house.  Likewise, keep windows closed if it’s cooler inside than it is outside.
  • Avoid cooking, baking, boiling water.
  • Use exhaust fans when showering and cooking to immediately remove excess heat and humidity.
  • Keep lights and electronics off when you’re not using them—they generate heat.  In particular, try to avoid halogen or incandescent lights which are like mini heaters throughout your home.

Cool off your home at night.

  • If/when it cools off at night, open the windows, and exhaust as much air as possible, drawing in cooler in.

Keep yourself cool.

  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.
  • Take a cool shower or bath.
  • Use a fan to circulate air in the room you’re in.  (Unless you’re pulling in cooler outside air, turn the fan off when you leave the room—it cools you, not the room, and the fan motor actually generates heat.
  • Eat small meals—and cold ones.
  • Jump in the pool, hit the beach, cool yourself off.
  • When you’re outside, stay in the shade, avoid the sun.
  • If you don’t have AC, and the temperature in your home stays above 80 degrees, try to at least spend part of the day someplace cooler.  At the mall, at the movie theater, in a deep cave.  (And check your neighbors to make sure they’re OK, too.)

There are plenty of longer term solutions—from sealing and insulating your attic, swapping to efficient lighting, sealing duct work, using high-efficiency AC equipment, planting trees to help shade the house.  GreenHomes can help you with most of these.  But in the meantime, stay cool, and stay safe.

Thanks,
Mike

Keeping Cool this Summer

May 25, 2010

More on keeping cool since full on summer is hitting a bit early in the Northeast.  Hot and humid.  It’s a good time to revisit the cooling tips (hint:  do NOT buy a Cool Surge air warmer…er, “cooler”, unless you harvested ice out of the pond over the winter and you’re storing it in an ice shed).

Summer hits the Northeast

August 17, 2009

We weren’t sure it was ever going to come this year–but summer has arrived.  Hot and HUMID in the Northeast.  Good time to check out the cooling tips (hint:  don’t buy a Cool Surge air warmer…er, “cooler”).

Thanks,
Mike

Cool Surge: A “Don’t Buy” Recommendation

July 23, 2009

Energy Myth:  The Cool Surge Air Cooler Can Defy Physics!  The reality is, it can’t!

We continue to get a lot of inquiries into the Cool Surge Portable Air Cooler.  As explained in my previous post about this scam-tastic offer, the Consumer Reports review, and elsewhere (like this Regruntled post), this doesn’t make sense for most people.  SAVE YOUR MONEY—DON’T BUY ONE!   There are better ways to stay cool.   

[August 2010 Update:  This appears now be marketed in a slightly repackaged manner as the MIRA-COOL.  Different name, same “DON’T BUY” recommendation.]

Ten Tips for Keeping Cool

June 29, 2009

Now that summer is officially here, let’s get to those cooling tips I promised earlier.  Some of the tips are simple things you can do yourself.  Some are more involved are likely are best handled by a contractor.

  1. Keep the heat out!  During the day, if it’s cooler inside than outside, keep windows shut.  And keep window shades down to block out direct sunlight.  Open the windows at night if it’s cooler outside than in.  Solar shades can help.  And the more ambitious project, new low-e windows with a low “solar heat gain coefficient” (SHGC) can block the heat from the sun.
  2. Ceiling fans (and other fans) help you stay comfortable—but only while you’re in the room.  The fan motors actually generate heat, so turn them off when you’re not there.
  3. Use a bath fan vented to the outside to remove the heat and moisture created by showering.  If you don’t have a bath fan, install one.
  4. Similarly, use a kitchen exhaust fan to remove heat and moisture created by cooking.  This has the added benefit of removing pollutants, especially if you cook with gas.
  5. Use efficient lighting and appliances.  Incandescent and halogen lights actually use most of their energy creating heat instead of light.  Not only does this means you’re overpaying for lighting, but in the summer you’re creating a lot of unwanted heat in the rooms you’re trying to keep cool.  Compact florescent light bulbs have improved greatly over the past several years.  The humming, slow starts, and ghoulish colors of years past are gone.  With lighting or appliances, look for ENERGY STAR models.
  6. Do you have a forced air heating or cooling system? If so, make sure to seal and insulate the ductwork in attics and crawl spaces.  As much as 30% of the air you cool can escape outside through leaky ducts.
  7. Insulate and air-seal your attic.  In the summer, temperatures in the attic often climb to more than 140o.    Proper insulation can keep this heat from conducting down into your home, but first…  Remember that your insulation only works if air isn’t moving through it.  Seal around chimneys, flues, plumbing penetrations, and recessed lighting, for example.   See my previous post Insulate to Stay Cool (Tax credits may apply)
  8. If you have a central air-conditioner, keep it tuned up.   If it’s more than 10 years old, consider replacing with a high-efficiency unit, one that at least qualifies for ENERGY STAR.  If your buying a window air-conditioner or dehumidifier, look for the ENERGY STAR, too.  (Tax credits may apply)
  9. Planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of a house can help keep your home cool in the summer.  In many parts of the country, maples, oaks, and birches are good trees to consider.  Because they drop their leaves in the fall, they let sunlight through to help warm your house in the winter.
  10. To really find the trouble spots in your home, and to be sure that they’re addressed properly, get a comprehensive home assessment like those recommended in the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program.  GreenHomes America can provide this, and GreenHomes trained and certified crews can even install your improvements.

And whether you do the work yourself or you have it done by a contractor, after you tighten the house you should have any combustion equipment like furnaces and water heaters tested to make sure they’re running safely and efficiently.  GreenHomes does this testing on every project it completes.

Thanks,
Mike

Another scam?!—the Cool Surge Portable Air Cooler

June 20, 2009

I occasionally read USA Today when I’m travelling.  Flipping through an edition last week, I came across an ad that looked a lot like the Amish Heater nonsense I commented on earlier.  Same type of incomplete and misleading information, same sleazy marketing hooks.  Digging deeper, it looks like it’s put out by the same company. 

My short recommendation:  Don’t buy this!  See what Consumer Reports has to say.

This “Cool Surge” window dressing is essentially a small “swamp cooler”, a fan that blows across water.  This can actually provide some cooling, but is really only effective in very dry climates like in the Southwest US, and even then this particular unit would generally be insufficient to even cool one room in most conditions.  But I’ll stick with my “don’t buy” comment even for those areas primarily because you can buy the equivalent equipment for 1/3 the price (less than $100, without the expensive national advertising campaign).  In humid climates like the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY on a swamp cooler and certainly not this product!

The savings claims are silly, especially if you were to use their “glacial ice block”.  This is really just a freezer pack that you stick in your freezer—and guess what—you pay the electricity to freeze the block, but you run that electricity through your freezer rather than the bogus cooling unit.  The ad’s electricy claims don’t account for this.  Worse, and not captured by the Consumer Reports review, the waste heat from your refrigerator/freezer (you generate heat when your refrigerator is cooling) actually warms your house!  “Miracle” advertising—even full-page, color, miracle advertising—doesn’t change the laws of physics!

Bottom line:  don’t buy one of these—and don’t support misleading advertising.

[If you’d like information on staying cool and saving energy, see our cooling tips and cooling myths, or signup for our quarterly newsletter.]

Thanks,
Mike


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