22 July 2011

Frugal Friday: Beat the Heat

If you're in a part of the world that isn't being lambasted with record heat and heat indices, consider yourself very lucky. The rest of us are desperate to keep cool any way possible. The thrifty among us are keeping that ticking electric meter in mind and trying to figure out how to slow it down - legally. Here are my tips:

1. Run a fan. Circulating air feels cooler than stagnant air. If you don't have a ceiling fan, get a box fan. You'll be able to set the thermostat a few degrees higher without feeling the heat. Bonus: Place a bowl or jug of water in front of the fan. This technique, called evaporative cooling, has been used in hot, dry climates like Turkey and Iran for centuries. Windcatchers on the roof would funnel breezes over pots of water, which cooled the air significantly before it entered the house.

2. Open some windows. This works better when it's not quite so stifling outside, but a few strategically opened windows can do wonders. You might have to experiment with the best combinations for your house, but in general opening windows on opposite corners of the house creates the best cross-breeze. Just be sure your A/C isn't on :) Put a fan, facing outward, in one window to force a breeze.

3. Adjust the thermostat. When I'm home during daylight hours, the thermostat is set to 78. If I leave to run errands, I either turn it off completely or set it 3 or 4 degrees higher. At night, the thermostat gets adjusted to 80 degrees. It sounds hot, but it's pretty comfortable if you forgo that cozy comforter and just stick with sheets. A programmable thermostat relieves some of the burden of daily adjustments.

4. Get out of the house. As I mentioned above, I'll often turn off the air entirely if I'm not at home. Hang out at the library, museum, art gallery, or other [free-admission] public area. The meat and dairy cases at the grocery store are good, too, but you can only hang out there so long without feeling like a creep.

5. Befriend someone with a pool. Probably my favorite strategy :) Tom can't swim and sinks like a stone in the water, but he still likes hanging out in the shallow end. If you know someone with a pool who is going out of town, offer to take care of the pool and plants in exchange for use of the pool. They won't have to hire anybody, and you'll have a place to stay cool - a win-win!

6. Keep your blinds and curtains closed during the day. I don't have blackout liners, so I usually still have enough light to accomplish most tasks without having to turn on lights. The less heat that enters the house, the less work your air conditioner has to do. Open them back up at night to take advantage of the cooler night air.

7. Reduce the use of heat-creators. Dryers, dishwashers, TVs, stoves, toasters, computers, and lights all create heat. Wait for cooler nighttime temperatures to run these appliances. Even better, air dry your laundry and dishes when possible, and read a book rather than turning on the TV or surfing the internet (except if you're looking for Frugal Friday tips, of course.) Crock pots have to stay on longer than a stove when preparing a meal, but the temps stay much lower, so use a slow cooker if you want a hot meal. But don't forget cold foods like salads, sandwiches, raw fruits and vegetables, and yogurt either.

8. Drink up. Water's best, of course, but a tall glass of tea is pretty good, too. Presumably an ice-cold beverage prevents you from acclimating to the heat, but I never let an iced beverage sit around long enough to get truly ice-cold.

9. Keep a cool cloth at hand. Sometimes a wet washcloth is all it takes to keep the will to live.

10. Take a cooler bath or shower. You'll be saving money on your water-heating bill, and you won't be sweating the second you step out of the tub.

What are your favorite strategies for keeping cool without cranking up the air conditioner?

PS: Why is spellcheck telling me that "indices" is not a word, but "indexes" is? Gah!

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