Beating the heat
As the temperature rises, so does the temptation to turn up the air conditioner. But there are ways to reduce the summer heat in your home before turning on mechanical cooling.
Direct sunlight on windows can produce as much heat as a radiator, so shade exterior windows (especially north and west facing ones) with blinds inside, and awnings or pergolas outside. Deciduous trees, bushes or vines outside windows and walls will also provide heat protection in summer.
Close windows and curtains during the hottest part of the day to keep out heat and save on cooling costs. When it cools down outside open your home up to the evening breeze. This will lower the temperature inside. Create airflow by opening windows or doors on opposite sides of the room.
If you haven't already insulated your home, you could be wasting up to half the energy you use to cool your home by allowing cool air to leak out and hot air to enter. And don't forget to draught-proof your home by sealing gaps around windows and doors—this helps keep cool air in and hot air out. Weather strips and the traditional sand-filled 'sausage' are cheap and easy options.
Electrical appliances and lighting can pump out heat too, so turn off lights, computers and televisions when not in use and try to use the dishwasher or washing machine in the morning or evening when it's cooler. Avoid using the oven in the middle of the day. Even your choice of light globes can make a difference to the heat in a room. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) not only emit less heat than older-style light globes, they are far more energy efficient and can last 4 to 10 times longer.
If you decide to use electrical cooling, consider using fans. They use a fraction of the energy an air-conditioning system uses and create a breeze to make you feel cooler. Remember, fans cool people, not rooms, so turn them off when you leave the room.
If you have an air conditioner, use it only when you have to and don't over-cool. Set the temperature between 25 and 27°C. Setting the thermostat to even 1°C higher can save between 5 and 10% on your energy use. Consider buying a programmable thermostat for your air conditioner so that you can set it to suit your schedule and needs. If your air conditioner has a component such as a compressor that sits outside, try to provide it with some shading—if it's sitting in full sun it has to work harder than it needs to. You might be able to use shading plants or an awning over a window. Don't forget to clean the filters regularly to help your system work more efficiently.
See cooling choices for more information on fans, evaporative coolers and air conditioners. If you're thinking of buying a reverse-cycle air conditioner or heat pump, look out for the Energy Rating Label and compare the efficiency of different models.
If you're looking for ways to take a fresh look at energy consumption, our reduce your energy bills guide has lots of ways to save energy and leave more dollars in your pocket.