Q:How can I keep my house cool in this heat without using too much energy?
A:When things get this sticky, I start fantasizing about how I might possibly contort my body into enough of a preztel to sit comfortably in my fridge. Alas, I must make due by sticking my head in the freezer for a brief blissful moment.
But that's not much of a long-term solution. You've got to get strategic. Leave your windows open at night and shut them in the morning before it gets warm. If you're as dedicated as my friend's mother, you'll wake up at 5 am to do this.
It seals in the cooler air, but only if you draw all the blinds , too. Up to 40 per cent of heat comes through your windows. Outdoor shutters and awnings keep the sun's rays from touching your windows. But almost any old blind will do the trick. Cellular or honeycomb blinds are better than most. You can check out cheaper places like Blinds to Go on Keele or Davenport, or get swankier Duet cellulars from Sun Shades on Yonge or Super Shade on Mount Pleasant. They also carry SheerWeave roller shades that allow you to see outside but keep out up 95 per cent of the sun's rays.
Get opaque, fast-growing bamboo roman blinds from Sears (from $26.99) or fair trade bamboo curtains from Ten Thousand Villages on Yonge or Danforth (from $40). Whatever you do, stay far away from blinds made of toxic PVC or vinyl.
Moving air across your skin is key to keeping cool, so get yourself some good fans if you haven't already. They use 90 per cent less electricity than ACs. But not all fans are alike. Energy Star ceiling fans move air up to 20 per cent more efficiently than standard ones. Some, like aerodynamic Turbo-Aire high-velocity cooling fans, are 300 per cent more energy-efficient than others with the same size motor ($79.98 at Home Depot and Canadian Tire). The 12-inch one consumes less power than a 100-watt bulb.
Reversible window fans are great because you can adjust them to pull air from one window and push it out another, creating a much-needed cross-current in your sweltering apartment (from $34.99 at Home Hardware and Canadian Tire).
Whole-house fan systems suck air into a vented attic. They really circulate air well and lower the temperature of your house. Not so practical for renters, but if you own you might consider installing one. (See Downtown Lumber on Ossington, Rona Lansing on Dundas West and others, and Home Depot stores for Broan attic blower systems. )
Still, no matter how many fans you run, this summer's killer heat is enough to make many eco heads cave and buy - gasp! - an air conditioner. This is by no means a new trend. The number of households that purchased the energy suckers jumped nearly 25 per cent between 1990 and 2003. Why? The combination of a few warmer-than-average summers and the fact that we're getting, well, soft. Yes, it's true, we're terrified of breaking a sweat. Ontarians are by far the biggest AC addicts, buying 63 per cent of all units and sucking up three-quarters of the energy used on cooling in this country. For shame.
If you're considering an AC unit, this is one of the only times I'll tell you not to buy used. Newer models are much more energy-efficient, especially Energy Star-certified ones. Energy Star room/window units use at least 10 per cent less energy than others. And Energy Star central air systems use about 20 per cent less power. Don't want to spend the extra coin? Think of it this way: for every kilowatt hour of electricity you save, you stop the release of nearly one and a half pounds of CO2 from local power plants.
Carrier, by the way, is the only air conditioning manufacturer that uses chlorine-free refrigerant Puron. While the rest have long switched from ozone destroying CFCs, the coolant fluid they now use still has some impact on the ozone layer.
Make sure to buy the right air unit for your space. No need for a big one that can cool 1,000 square feet when your bedroom is only 200. And don't be an energy pig. Turn it off (or at least raise the temperature) if you're leaving a room or your house for more than four hours. Otherwise, you're just throwing electricity away. Can't bear the thought of coming home to a warm pad? A programmable thermostat (starting at $23.99 at Canadian Tire and Home Depot) can set the AC to start chilling your space about an hour before you get home.
One reader asks whether it's okay to use the water collected from under an AC on your garden. According to the experts we spoke to, it's perfectly safe. The only chemicals the drip water might contain are those filtered from the air in your house. So go ahead and use it on your flowers (especially during the ongoing water advisory); just don't drink the stuff.
If you really want to tap into the earth's energy, consider geothermal systems (see www.waterfurnace.ca). They can reduce energy consumption by 25 to 75 per cent. Deep-water cooling from Lake Ontario is another energy-saving option, but so far it's not available to homeowners.
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