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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 direct necessity. The upper floor of the 1940s farmhouse became a sauna and sleeping in the upper bedrooms was not possible. Even after the sun went down, the top floor seemed to get warmer. Let’s look at some ways to cool a house without an air conditioner?
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 wonder two things:
1. Where was the air conditioner?
I’ve seen several articles floating around that talk about air conditioning as an unnecessary appliance. That people have softened, and if people would just treat the heat like a caveman, they wouldn’t need those energy-wasting air conditioners.
Growing up in that Northwest farmhouse, air conditioning was not expected. Sleeping on the front porch a few times a year was. The air conditioner was only for townspeople who weren’t lucky enough to live on a farm.
Where was the air conditioner? It was still in the Variety Store Catalog.
2. Why did the upper floor get so hot in the evening?
When you’re sleeping on the front porch with your 10-year-old, you don’t really care why the upstairs is so hot. It’s not something you try to figure out before you go back to sleeping on the porch. You like to sleep on the porch.
If the upstairs is too hot to sleep in and you’d rather not risk sleeping on the porch, or anywhere outside, then considering why the upstairs and the whole house is so hot in the evening becomes an important issue to resolve.
Air conditioners are quite energy efficient devices, but they are not allowed to run. With the constant grinding of the A/C and the electric bill increasing by the hour, a person has a tendency to think about why the upstairs is so hot and ways to cool down a house.
The old farmhouse was moved to a new location and I had a chance to look in the attic while part of the roof was being removed. Instead of the attic being the dark, creepy cave of my childhood, it was an inviting place to explore with lots of natural light.
I was surprised to see that the attic had nothing in it. No old magazines, no old socks or toys, no old corpses of rats or cats. Of course, there was no insulation either and I could see down the chimney from the attic clear to the basement. This is a good place to start answering the question of ways to cool a house.
The roof had no attic ventilation at the roof peak or the eaves. The only ventilation was provided by two gable vents, one at each end of the attic. The roof tiles were always a dark color.
I understand well now why the upper floor of this old house was so hot after a hot summer day. The attic collected the heat all day and then shared 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 house before adding an air conditioner. These will help in your attempt to keep the home livable in the evening – try these renovations 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 when the sun hits the solar array with bright enough direct sunlight to run the fan.
Best operation occurs when attic ventilation is added in the evening and the roof top ventilation is limited.
2. Roof sprinkler system
Well, it works on flat commercial buildings, maybe it works on homes too. Anything that will cool the roof surface will help prevent heat from radiating into the attic space. Unfortunately, this can greatly increase your water bill. Sprinkler and hose, $20. Water bill about $300.
3. Really big trees
Shade the roof and you have a cooler attic and a cooler home. If you have a two-story home and you’re just starting to plant shade trees, this solution may take a while to come to fruition. One redwood tree 12 inches tall, $4.95. Expect a shadow after 40 years.
4. Air sealing the attic floor
Especially before adding insulation – don’t add insulation to the attic without air sealing the air holes and penetrations first. Best process, good drip light, knees and a can of Great Stuff spray foam insulation. Material cost, $30.
5. Adding Additional roof ventilation
Ways to cool a house start with attic ventilation. Most older homes simply do not have enough attic ventilation. Ventilation should allow air flow from the evening to the peak. Take out solid bird blocking and add screened vents in the evening. Add fabricated metal or plastic roof vents near the top. During the installation of a new roof is the best time to add attic ventilation. Eve Soffit vents, $8.50. Roof top vents around $12
6. Adding insulation
After air sealing, install insulation. Insulation will help slow the transfer of heat from the attic to the living space below. The more insulation the merrier. Building codes continue to add insulation, in some of the colder parts of the country, insulation to R-49 is code. That’s about 16 inches of insulation.
Don’t worry, this could be a do-it-yourself project. The big building supply stores have the material and the equipment you need to get the job done.
Add insulation in the colder climates to keep warm, add insulation in the warmer climates to keep cool. Add 12 inches of blown fiberglass insulation for about $1.25 to $1.75 per square foot of attic space.
7. Sealing the knee wall-floor connection.
Many older, two-story homes have knee wall attic space. This is the space along the walls of an upstairs room that has reduced headroom along the sides of the room. You know, you’re standing up and you have to be careful standing in the middle of the room to avoid hitting your head.
The problem is that the knee wall attic is often open to the space between the floor of the upper floor room and the ceiling of the lower room. This means that the hot air in the knee wall attic can travel right under the floor above and help heat the whole house.
Stuff some insulation in a plastic bag and stuff a bag between each floor joist opening in the knee wall attic. This will prevent the hot air from traveling between the floor and ceiling. Sealing these floor openings is important during the cooling season and the heating season. Plastic bags $.50, insulation, $1.00 per bag.
8. Sealing chimney chase
In older balloon framed homes, the chimney chase is often open and allows heat and cold transfer between all floors, clear from the attic to the basement. For effective cooling and heating, these hunting corridors must be closed. Spray foam insulation, $7.00 can.
9. Place Fans in Upper Windows
Place one or more large boxes in the upper windows. Install them so that they blow through 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 through the house and through the upstairs windows.
Basements are always cooler and can help cool the rest of the home. Hopefully, you don’t have a smelly tank of furnace oil in the basement! A good box fan around $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 off the roof about 3 inches. The panels prevent the sun’s rays from hitting the roof surface and slow heat transfer to the attic space.
One of the advantages of solar panels on a hot day is the shading they provide the roof. Maybe not as good for shade as a big redwood, but it’s still shade.
Most electric companies will help you install solar panels. They know that when the weather warms up and all those air conditioners kick in, they need all the help they can get with ways to cool a house.
I wish I still had that old farmhouse with the big front porch and the big yard. I would have a few tricks ready for those hot summer evenings when the upstairs would get so hot. After air sealing and insulating the attic, I would install a solar attic fan, mount some solar panels on the roof, put some box fans in the upstairs windows and roll out my sleeping bag on the front porch.
These are ways to cool down a house, but you can still get a good night’s sleep on the front porch. Of course, these days one would need a better air mattress than it used to be.
Thanks for stopping by, hope you sleep a little cooler tonight, don’t forget to turn off the light…
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