How to Keep Your Home Cool Without Wrecking the Planet

How to Keep Your Home Cool Without Wrecking the Planet
Illustration: Benjamin Currie (G/O Media)
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Summertime is officially here, baby. You know what that means: long days, beach tans, and wild ass energy bills. Keeping cool don’t come cheap—not for your pocket and definitely not for the planet.

That doesn’t have to be the case, though. This summer can be your moment to flex your green muscle. You don’t have to rely solely on your air conditioner to keep cool—and you shouldn’t. A report last year found that use of these devices may increase our planet’s temperature by more than a half degree Celsius by end of the century. Who wants to be a part of that?

The options for home-cooling in a more environmental-friendly fashion really vary depending on your housing situation and budget, but options exist for everyone. Some may decide to simply switch out their power strips, while others may choose to completely retrofit their home. Either way, these changes won’t only benefit the planet—they’ll benefit your wallet, too.

Keep the heat out 

And, uh, keep the cool in. Look, most of us fail, firstly, by increasing our need for air conditioning. We do this first by creating heat inside—think of every time you bake cookies—and second by letting in all the heat from outside. Keep any unnecessary appliances off during the summer because they all give off heat. Wait until nighttime to run that drier or dishwasher, ideally overnight. If you’re in the mood for a home-cooked meal, why not fire up that grill instead of the indoor stove? Gas-powered ones are a solid climate choice.

Most importantly, keep your blinds or drapes closed to prevent sunlight from entering. That’s a basic first step, said Claudette Hanks Reichel, a housing specialist and professor at Lousiana State University College of Agriculture. I love natural light as much as the next person, but that shit equals heat in the summertime. We don’t need any more of that when it’s 90 degrees and humid AF.

For those who want to take things a step further, solar screens and solar films help block the sun before it even touches the window glass. Solar screens kind of look like insect screens while solar films are sort of like a tape that goes over the entire window. Both are options even renters or those on a low-budget could do to help reduce their reliance on air conditioning, costing anywhere from $20 to $100 depending on the size and quality. Solar screens are easy enough to install on your own, but you may benefit from hiring someone to install the solar films if you want them to come out perfect.

“Just closing drapes or blinds is not nearly as effective because the heat is already in the house once it gets through the glass,” Reichel told Earther. “So the idea is to shade it before it enters the space, and that’s what’s going to work best.”

Those who want to go the extra mile may consider planting a tree outside their window to help provide some natural shade or installing some awnings to prevent the sun from hitting the window so harshly. There’s also your roof. Painting it a light color—like white—will reflect more of the sun’s rays and help keep your home cool. Many homeowners also retrofit their homes to improve insulation and sealing. That way, the cool air you do put into your home doesn’t leak out, either, said Jennifer Amann, the buildings program director with the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

“If you think about it, an ice chest only works if it’s closed
,” Amann told Earther.

Be smart with your A.C. 

All that being said, you may not be able to avoid air conditioning completely. Especially not in the humid climates of, say, New York or Florida. Still, that doesn’t mean your air conditioner should be on full-blast all day. There are ways to optimize your set up so that you don’t have to burn the planet with your energy use.

For starters, be strategic about air flow. You can create a cool cross breeze if you keep a window open and position your fan to help move the air throughout a space. If you live in a humid climate, however, keeping your windows closed might make more sense. That’s because all the humidity comes inside, and your air conditioner has to work extra hard to remove it. In that case, you might consider investing in a ceiling fan, which can make a space feel four to nine degrees cooler, said Amann.

Ultimately, if you live somewhere that’s hot and humid, you may need an air conditioner. If you’re going to do so, consider the type of A.C. you buy. The more efficient, the better. Look out for an ENERGY STAR label, which the Environmental Protection Agency offers products that meet its energy efficiency guidelines. You can also check out its Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, or SEER Rating, which typically range from 13 to 21. The higher, the better.

Once you own an air conditioner, be sure to properly maintain it. That way, your device isn’t working extra hard to cool your home. Replace and clean filters. Some units may need filters changed monthly; others could go three to six months without a filter change. It depends on your unit, so make sure you’ve had a chance to properly acquaint yourself with your cooling device.

And be sure to run your A.C. on economy or energy saver mode so that it automatically turns off once it reaches the desired temperature.

“Some of these are pretty simple habits,” Amann told Earther. “It just takes a matter of doing it.”

Go high tech 

If thinking about airflow all day feels like too much work, you might want to consider investing in a little technology to help do the work for you. A simple programmable thermostat from Honeywell, which shouldn’t cost more than $50, can be set for the day without any further work, for instance. It’s easy to want to tweak the settings when stepping inside from the heat, but Amann suggests resisting the temptation to crank the temperature down in those moments. She actually recommends setting your thermostat to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, which sounds pretty warm to me.

“Try that out, see if that works for you,” she said. “If you’re used to having it much cooler than that, one thing you could do is adjust it up slowly over time, and that way your body acclimates to a slightly warmer temperature.”

Smart thermostats, however, learn from your behavior. Their built-in sensors control the temperature in rooms based on the time you get home, how active you are in a certain room, and the temperature changes you make manually. The Google Nest Learning Thermostat is considered one of the best options out there right now. It costs some $250 though it should, in theory, pay for itself by helping reduce your energy bill.

Gizmodo’s Andrew Liszewski, who owns one, said his favorite thing is how easy it is to control from his iPhone and Apple Watch. While Liszewski and his family bought the thermostat more for comfort than the environmental benefits, it’s always nice when it shows a green leaf icon to indicate he’s using less energy to keep his home cool.

Smart tech is slowly making our lives easier, albeit in a somewhat creepy way. Even smart power strips for plugging in your devices can help keep your home cooler by not sending any more power to them when they’re not being used. Every small step you can take will be worth it in these days of heat and sweat.

And if you want one final suggestion that’s both cheap and low tech, consider hanging out at home in your birthday suit. That’s always an option.