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10 Ways to Cool a House Without Air Conditioning
Sleeping on the front porch was a necessity after a hot summer day. The upstairs of the 1940s farm house had been converted into a sauna, and the upstairs bedroom was unsleepable. Even as the sun went down, the upper floor seemed to get hotter. Let’s see some ways to cool the house without air conditioning?
Now that I spend time figuring out how to make the home more energy efficient, I think back to those summer days and wonder two things:
1. Where was the air conditioner?
I have seen many articles discussing air conditioning as an unnecessary appliance. Those people have softened, and if people handled the heat like a caveman, they wouldn’t need energy-wasting air conditioners.
Growing up in that Northwest farm house didn’t expect air conditioning. Sleeping on the front porch a few times a year. Air conditioners were only for city people who weren’t lucky enough to live on farms.
Where was the air conditioner? It was still in the Variety Store catalog.
2. Why is it so hot upstairs in the evening?
When you’re sleeping on the front porch and you’re 10 years old, you don’t really care why it’s so hot upstairs. You don’t try to figure this out before you find yourself sleeping on the porch again. You like to sleep on the porch.
If the upstairs is too hot to sleep in and you won’t risk sleeping on the porch or anywhere else outside, then an important question to consider is why the upstairs and the whole house is so hot in the evenings.
Air conditioners are fairly energy efficient appliances, but they are not free to operate. With the A/C constantly grinding and the electricity bill rising by the hour, one tends to wonder why the upstairs is so hot and what are the ways to cool down the house.
As the old farm house was being moved to a new location and part of the roof was being removed I had the opportunity to look into the attic. Instead of the dark, creepy cave of my childhood, the attic was an inviting place to explore with lots of natural light.
I was surprised to see that there was nothing in the attic. No old magazines, no old socks or toys, no old carcasses of mice or cats. Of course, there was no insulation either and I could follow the chimney from the attic to the basement. This is a good place to answer the question of methods of cooling the house.
The roof had no attic ventilation at the peak of the roof or at the eaves. The only ventilation was provided by two gable vents, one at each end of the attic. The roof shingles were always dark in color.
I now understand better why the upper floor of this old house was so hot after a hot summer day. The attic collected heat throughout the day and then shared it downstairs throughout the evening.
How to keep the attic from overheating and spoiling a good night’s sleep.
Here are 10 ways to cool your home before you add air conditioning. Try these retrofits and improvements to help keep your home livable in the evenings.
1. Solar powered attic fan
A solar powered attic fan works very well and is a one-time investment of $450 to $800. When installed on your roof, a self-contained solar unit expels hot air from the attic whenever the sun hits the solar array with bright enough direct sunlight to drive the fans.
Best operation occurs when attic ventilation is added at eve and ventilation is limited to the peak of the roof.
2. Roof sprinkler system
Well, this flat works on commercial buildings, can also work on houses. Anything that cools the roof surface will help prevent heat from escaping into the attic space. Unfortunately, this can increase your water bill significantly. Sprinkler and hose, $20. Water bill about $300.
3. Really big trees
Shade the roof and you have a cool attic and a cool house. If you have a two-story house and are planting shade trees, this solution may take some time to materialize. A redwood tree 12 inches tall, $4.95. Expect a shadow in 40 years.
4. Attic floor air sealing
Do not add insulation to an attic floor without first sealing the air holes and access – especially before adding insulation. Best process, good drop light, knee pads and a can of great stuff spray foam insulation. Materials cost, $30.
5. Adding additional roof ventilation
Ways to cool a home start with attic ventilation. Most older homes do not have adequate attic ventilation. Ventilation should allow air to flow from the eve to the apex. Remove solid bird blocking and add screened vents to eve. Attach holes in the manufactured metal or plastic roof near the peak. The best time to add attic ventilation is during the installation of a new roof. Eve soffit vents, $8.50. Roof peak vents about $12
6. Adding insulation
After air sealing, install insulation. Insulation will help reduce heat transfer from the attic to the living space below. The more insulation the better. Building codes continue to add insulation, in some colder parts of the country, the code is to insulate to R-49. That’s about 16 inches of insulation.
Don’t worry, this can be a do-it-yourself project. Large building supply stores have the materials and equipment you need to get the job done.
Add insulation in cold weather to stay warm, add insulation in hot weather to keep cool. Add 12 inches of blown fiberglass insulation for about $1.25 to $1.75 per square foot of attic floor space.
7. Sealing the knee wall floor connection.
Many older, two-story homes have knee wall attic space. This is the space along the wall of an upstairs room that has reduced headroom on the side of the room. You know, you have to be careful to stand in the middle of the room so you don’t stand on the top floor and hit your head.
The problem is that the knee wall attic is open to the space between the floor of the upstairs room and the ceiling of the downstairs room. This means the hot air in the knee wall attic can go right down to the top floor and help heat the whole house.
Stuff a little insulation in a plastic bag and stuff a bag between each floor joist in the knee wall attic. This will prevent hot air from traveling between the floor and ceiling. It is important to seal these floor joist openings during the cooling season and heating season. Plastic bags $.50, insulation, $1.00 a bag.
8. Ceiling Chimney Chase
In older bubble frame homes, the chimney chase is often open and allows heat and cold transfer between all floors, clear from the attic to the basement. For effective cooling and heating, these chase corridors should be sealed. Spray foam insulation, $7.00 a can.
9. Place fans in upstairs windows
Place one or more large box fans in upstairs windows. Install them so they are flying out the window. Close all other windows and exterior doors but leave interior doors open all the way to the basement. Vent cool basement air out of the house and through upstairs windows.
Basements are always cool and help cool the rest of the house. Hopefully, you don’t have a smelly tank of stove oil in the basement! A good box fan is about $30.
10. Install the solar panel
Typically when you mount solar panels on a roof, the panels are placed on a racking system that holds the panels 3 inches from the roof. The panels block the sun’s rays from hitting the roof surface and reduce heat transfer to the attic space.
One advantage of solar panels on hot days is that they provide a canopy. Maybe not as good as the shade of a big redwood, but still shade.
Most power companies will help you install solar panels. They know that when the weather heats up and all those air conditioners kick on, they need all the help they can get to cool down the house.
I used to have that old farmhouse with the big front porch and the big yard. I’ll have a few tricks ready for those summer evenings when it gets too hot upstairs. After air sealing and insulating the attic, I install a solar attic fan, put some solar panels on the roof, put a couple of box fans in the upstairs windows, and put my sleeping bag on the front porch.
There are ways to cool down the house, but you can still get a good night’s sleep on the front porch. Of course, these days, a better air mattress is needed than ever before.
Thanks for stopping by, hope you sleep a little cooler tonight, don’t forget to turn on the lights…
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