Cooling your house on a budget

Keeping cool doesn't have to cost a lot Keeping cool doesn't have to cost a lot of money and can be as simple as opening the windows and installing an attic fan. Photo Credit: iStock

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Mark Twain once observed that "everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it." Generally that's true, but there are ways to beat the summer heat inside your home.

Keeping your cool doesn't have to be costly, either. It can range from simple routines such as opening up your home at the appropriate time of day to tried-and-true methods such as sucking out hot air with an attic fan.

"There are so many easy things you can do," said Michael J. Deering, vice president for environmental affairs at the Long Island Power Authority.

Below are eight cool tips from architects, builders and "green" experts on ways to stay indoors without breaking a sweat:

Open up, shut up

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One method universally mentioned is to take advantage of temperature shifts by opening windows during cooler mornings and closing them before the day heats up.

"It's cheap and it's easy to do," said Mike Murtha, president of Murtha Construction in West Islip.

If it's a two-story home, opening the windows on both the bottom and the top floors creates an air flow, he said. Then, seal the cool air in by shutting them down. That way, when you come back from work, the house is still relatively cool.

Insulate

One of the main culprits in a hot house is an uninsulated attic. This is because roofs usually have dark shingles, which absorb the sun's heat, then radiate it down into the house. The result can be dramatic.

"Imagine you're trying to cool your home, but you've installed an oven on top of it," said Glen Cherveny, managing principle at Axelrod and Cherveny architects in Commack.

Adding insulation is a win-win situation since it keeps hot air out in the summer and cold air in during the winter, Cherveny said. It may be more expensive than simply opening windows, he added, but the costs will be recouped through lower energy bills.

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Made in the shade

The sun is a friend in the winter, an enemy in the summer. Blocking sol's rays with shades or blinds is one of the most elemental and effective techniques for keeping a home temperate.

"What you're trying to do is mitigate the solar energy coming in the windows," said John Barrows, a "green" builder in Bridgehampton. He suggested putting awnings over south-facing windows and adding shade trees or bushes around central air-conditioning units to help them run more efficiently.

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Move the air

Sitting around in stagnant hot air is like wearing a coat in the summer. Move it around a little, and you get a different effect.

"Natural comfort in a home can be a matter of air circulation," said Cherveny.

He recommended swapping a ceiling light for a ceiling fan, which can both replace the light and extend a room's comfort range up to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

An attic fan -- one that sucks hot air from the home up into the attic and another in the attic to vent it outside -- can provide a cooling breeze at the flick of a switch. "Older homes used to have them all the time," Cherveny said, "but it's just not done anymore."

Get into films

One relatively new and inexpensive way to help keep your home cool is to cover windows with "Low-e" (low-emissivity, meaning they emit less heat) film. Windows covered with this thin, metallic coating let in the light, but block solar heat.

Although invisible from the inside, they can give windows a semi-mirrored look from the outside. On the plus side, the coating can be purchased in rolls or pre-cut sizes and self-installed. Professional installation is recommended in some cases to ensure adequate sealing and aesthetics.

Low-e windows also are available ready-made from the factory, where the film is suspended between the panes.

Be a/c intelligent

There are some commonsense things to do when it comes to air-conditioning units. At the top of the list is replacing outdated units with newer Energy Star models that help with efficiency and cost savings. Cleaning your air-conditioner filter every month also helps.

What most people don't realize, however, is air-conditioning units often are larger than needed for the size of the home and therefore won't do the job efficiently, said Barrows. An oversized air-conditioning unit will turn itself on and off while cooling a home, but typically units need to run longer to take moisture out of the air.

"Our most common complaint is about humidity," he said.

A certified heating and cooling contractor can help you figure out if your unit is the right size, Barrows said. One rule of thumb is that if your unit shuts down after running less than 10 minutes, it's probably too big.

Get an audit

One way to ensure you have a cool, efficient home is to have a professional look it over. The Long Island Power Authority has a special perk for homeowners with central air-conditioning -- a free home energy audit.

Known as Home Performance Direct, the program checks for things like inefficient appliances, leaky duct systems, poor insulation and drafty windows. All of this is summed up in a free comprehensive home audit. In addition, the contractor will change up to 20 of the home's incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lamp bulbs and install needed duct and air sealing. All for free.

The report gives homeowners further information on LIPA rebates and financing if more work is needed. Those without central air-conditioning can get a free or reduced cost (for those earning under $400,000 a year) audit from a Building Performance Institute-accredited contractor through LIPA's public partner, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The public benefit corporation helps reduce energy use, promotes renewable energy and protects the environment.

Hot advice

Small efforts can add up to cool gains in the summer. Here are a few quick fixes:

- Insulate your water heater to keep down radiated heat and increase efficiency.

- Hang your clothes out to dry rather than use an indoor dryer.

- Heat or cook food in a microwave rather than a conventional oven.

- Caulk and weather strip your home to keep out heat in the summer and retain it in the winter.

- Get a programmable thermostat to schedule when the air conditioning turns on and off.

- Make sure your home has easy-to-install roof vents to let out hot air and remove moisture naturally.

- Turn off air- conditioning in empty rooms.

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