Beat the Heat

Beat the Heat


New Home DesignsSummer is just around the corner and you want to stay cool at home without adding to global warming. Here are some practical tips to keep the temperature down along with costs and environmental impact

With summer on the way, temperatures at home can rise — and so can tempers. There are several solutions available to cool your home, however the best way to stay cool is by designing a house that naturally keeps temperatures down. There are many effective design strategies that will make a real difference. For instance, design your home with eaves on the outside of the building. Make sure the eaves are pitched so you get the winter sun but are protected from the summer sun. The other design must is to create a home that captures fresh air as much as possible; this will create cross ventilation.

If you do need to use air-conditioning, make sure you choose the right option for your home. For instance, there are portable air-conditioners that can cool a small room or there are other options such as window units that can cool larger rooms. It is important to realise that some of the larger units require additional wiring. For homes that need hard-working air-conditioning, you may want to consider centralised systems.

Portable air-conditioners
There are some windows that are not suitable for window air-conditioners or at least require a lot of modification in order to fit. This is where a portable air-conditioner may be the answer. They work by drawing warm air into the unit, chill it and blow it back into the room. The warm air is exhausted through a tube placed in the window.

Most portable air-conditioners act as a dehumidifier, thus making your room feel and smell less damp. Some models have air purifiers and can also operate as fans with no chilling, or they can serve as heaters in the winter. Unless you buy a no-drip model, you will need to empty the drip tray where the water is collected through the dehumidification process. Some models allow you to install a drainage hose, otherwise, when the drip tray is full, the unit shuts off.
To get the most from your portable air-conditioner, buy according to the size of the room. If the unit does not have the capacity for the room, it will run constantly and never effectively cool the room. Units that are too powerful will continually cycle off and on. This is bad for the compressor and does not allow proper dehumidification. Other desirable features in portable units are multi-speed fans, directional louvres and heating.

Window air-conditioner units
These can be more energy efficient than centralised systems as you tend to only cool the rooms you use. It’s a good idea to work out which rooms in the house you spend the most time in, and just keep those rooms cool. It is also important when using window air-conditioner units that you keep your windows and doors closed. Cool air can easily escape into the heat outdoors. You can also set your window unit on a timer to save energy so it turns on before you wake up and turns off when you are sleeping.

Split-system air-conditioning
These systems consist of a compressor unit that’s installed outside with one or more indoor outlets, and they’re capable of cooling one or more rooms and open-plan areas. Ducted systems are usually installed in the roof or outside, and are ducted to air outlets throughout the house. The other option is inverter technology, whereby the compressor speed can vary and therefore the temperature can be set within a narrow range and can possibly operate more efficiently.
Reverse-cycle units that can also be used for heating in winter are increasingly popular, providing an economical heating system for the cooler months.

An example of the latest centralised cooling systems that allow you to control the temperature in separate areas of the home is the new ESP Ultima from ActronAir. This system won the Environmental/Innovative Product of the Year in the prestigious Australian COOLworld Industry Awards 2008. The ESP Ultima system allows you to cool up to eight different zones in the home, providing individual zone controls that you can set at different temperatures in each zone. In open-plan living areas where temperatures would usually fluctuate within different parts of the room, additional sensors can be added to create a more accurate average temperature.

Easy alternatives
Air-conditioners provide virtually instant relief from summer heat, but they’re a huge environmental drain. One of the best ways to beat the heat without adding to your costs or burdening the environment is to install ceiling fans. Good fans make it possible for you to raise your thermostat setting and save on air-conditioning costs. Fans don’t use much energy, but when air is circulating it feels much cooler. Ceiling fans are best, but a good portable fan can work just as well.

Another simple strategy to install light-coloured curtains or blinds to reflect heat away from the house. Close blinds, shades and curtains facing the sun to keep the heat out and help fans or air-conditioners cool more efficiently. Put simply, the best way to keep your home cool is to keep the heat out.

If you have air-conditioning, keep heat-generating appliances away from your air-conditioning thermostat because the heat from these appliances will cause the air-conditioner to run longer. The heat they produce will make it think your house is warmer than it really is, and your system will run harder than it needs to. Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents; they produce the same light but use a fifth of the energy and heat.

You should also try to avoid heat-generating activities, such as cooking, on hot days or at least restrict cooking during the hottest part of the day and use your range fan to vent the hot air out of your house. By reducing the amount of heat in your home, you will have to use less energy to cool it. Humidity makes room air feel warmer, so reduce indoor humidity; minimising mid-day clothes washing, drying and showering will also help.

Keep your house cool from the outside
If you can cool your house from the outside, it will reduce the need to artificially cool your home. Start by avoiding lots of rock and cement around the house as it increases the temperature and radiates heat after the sun has set. If you have air-conditioning units on the outside of the house, plant trees or shrubs that will protect the units but be sure not to block the airflow. Deciduous trees planted on the north will keep your house cool in summer and allow the sunlight to warm the house during winter, as will awnings or a trellis planted with vines.