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10 Ways to Cool a House Without Air Conditioning
Sleeping on the front porch after a hot summer day was a straight up necessity. The upstairs of the 1940’s farmhouse was turned into a sauna and sleeping in the upstairs bedrooms was not possible. Even after the sun had set, the upstairs seemed warmer. Let’s look at some ways to cool a house without air conditioning?
Now that I spend time trying to figure out how a home can be more energy efficient, I think back to those hot summer days and ask two things:
1. Where was the air conditioner?
I’ve seen several articles floating around that talk about air conditioning as an unnecessary appliance. These people have become soft, and if people would just manage the heat like a caveman, they would not need these wasted air conditioning energy.
Growing up in this Northwest farmhouse, air conditioning was not expected. Sleeping on the porch a few times a year was. Air conditioning was only for city people who didn’t have the chance to live on a farm.
Where was the air conditioner? It was always in the variety store catalog.
2. Why was it so hot upstairs in the evening?
When you’re sleeping on the front porch with your 10-year-old, you don’t really care why it’s so hot upstairs. It’s not something you try to figure 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 and you would rather not risk sleeping on the porch, or anywhere else outside, then consider why the upstairs and the whole house is so hot at night becomes an important issue are resolved.
Air conditioners are fairly energy efficient devices, but they are not free to operate. With the constant grinding of the A/C and the power bill increasing by the hour, one has a tendency to think about why the upstairs is so hot and how to cool a house.
The old farmhouse was moved to a new location and I had a chance to look into the attic while part of the roof was being removed. Instead of being the dark attic, the scary cave of my childhood, it was an inviting place to explore with lots of natural light.
I was surprised to see that the attic was empty. No old magazines, no old socks or toys, no old carcasses of rats or cats. Of course, there was no insulation either and I could look down the chimney from the attic clearly in the basement. This is a good place to start answering the question of how to cool a house.
The roof had no attic ventilation in the roof peak or ev. The only ventilation was provided by two gable vents, one at each end of the attic. The roof shingles were always a dark color.
I understand very well now why the top of this house was so hot after a hot summer day. The attic collects the heat all day and then shares it with the downstairs all evening.
How to keep the attic from overheating and ruining a good night’s sleep.
Here are 10 ways to cool a home before adding air conditioning. These will help try to keep the house livable in the evenings – try these modernizations and improvements.
1. Solar powered attic fan
A solar powered attic fan works very well and is a one time investment in the amount of $450 to $800. When installed on your roof, the freestanding solar unit exhausts hot air from the attic whenever the sun hits the solar array and enough direct sunlight shines to operate the fan.
Best operation occurs when attic ventilation is added on the eve and peak roof ventilation is limited.
2. Roof sprinkler system
Well, it works on flat commercial buildings, could work on houses too. Anything that will cool the roof surface will help keep 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 tree
Shade the roof and you have a cooler attic and a cooler house. If you have a two-story house and you’re just getting around to planting shade trees, this solution may take a while to materialize. A redwood tree 12 inches tall, $4.95. Expect shade in 40 years.
4. Air seal the attic floor
Especially before adding insulation – do not add insulation to the attic floor without air sealing the air holes and penetration first. Better processing, good drop lights, knee pads, and a can of Great Stuff spray foam insulation. Cost of materials, $30.
5. Add additional roof vents
The way to cool a house starts with attic ventilation. Most older homes simply do not have adequate attic ventilation. Ventilation should allow air flow from the eve to the peak. Remove solid bird blocking and add screen ventilation in the evening. Add manufactured metal or plastic roof ventilation near the peak. During the installation of new roof is the best time to add attic ventilation. Eve Soffit Vent, $8.50. Roof peak ventilation about $12
6. Add insulation
After air sealing, install insulation. Insulation will help slow the transfer of heat from the attic to the living space below. The more isolated the merrier. Building codes continue to add insulation, in some of the coldest parts of the country, insulation in R-49 is code. That’s about 16 inches of insulation.
Don’t worry, this could be a do-it-yourself project. Major building supply stores have the materials and equipment you need to get the job done.
Add insulation in colder climates to keep warm, add insulation in warmer climates to keep cool. Add 12 inches of blown glass insulation for about $1.25 to $1.75 a square foot of attic floor space.
7. Close the knee wall floor connection.
Many older, two-story homes have knee-wall attic space. This is the space on the walls of an upstairs room that has reduced headroom on the sides of the room. You know, you’re standing upstairs and you have to be careful to stand in the middle of the room so you don’t hit your head.
The problem is the knee wall attic is often open in the space between the floor of the upper room and the ceiling of the lower room. This means that hot air in the knee wall attic can travel right down to the top floor and help heat the whole house.
Put some insulation in a plastic bag and place a bag between each floor joist opening in the attic knee wall. This will prevent the hot air from traveling between the floor and the ceiling. Sealing these floor joist openings is important during the cooling and heating seasons. Plastic bags $.50, insulation, $1.00 a bag.
8. sealed chimney chase
In older balloon-framed houses, the chimney chase is often open and allows heat and cold to transfer between all floors, clear from the attic to the basement. For efficient cooling and heating, these exhaust corridors should be closed. Spray foam insulation, $7.00 a can.
9. Put fans in the upstairs windows
Place one or more large box fans in an upstairs window. Install them to blow out the window. Close all other windows and exterior doors but leave the interior doors open all the way to the basement. Draw the cooler basement air into the house and out through the upstairs windows.
Basements are always cooler and can help cool the rest of the house. Hopefully, you do not have a smelly tank of stove oil in the basement! A box fan is good for about $30.
10. Install solar panels
Usually when you install solar panels on a roof, the panels are placed on a racking system that holds the panels on the roof about 3 inches. The shutters prevent the sun’s rays from hitting the roof surface and slow down the transfer of heat to the attic space.
One of the advantages of solar panels on a hot day is the shade they provide to the roof. Maybe not as good for shade as a big redwood, but it’s still shade.
Most power companies will help you install solar panels. They know that when the weather gets hot and all those air conditioners kick in, they need all the help they can get with how to cool a home.
I wish I still had that old farmhouse with the big front porch and the big yard. I would have some tricks ready for those hot summer evenings when the upstairs was so hot. After air sealing and insulating the attic, I would install a solar attic fan, mount some solar panels on the roof, put a couple of box fans in the upstairs windows and roll my sleeping bag out on the front porch.
These are ways to cool a house, but you can still get a good night’s sleep on the front porch. Of course, these days he would take a mattress when better than what he used to do.
Thanks for stopping by, hope you’ll sleep a little cooler tonight, don’t forget to turn off the light…
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