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When it comes to cooling your house, there are a number of options beyond air conditioning. | Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/chrisgramly.
Although your first thought for cooling may be air conditioning, there are many alternatives that provide cooling with less energy use. A combination of proper insulation, energy-efficient windows and doors, daylighting, shading, and ventilation will usually keep homes cool with a minimum of energy use in all but the hottest climates. Although ventilation should be avoided in hot, humid climates, other approaches can significantly reduce the need to use air conditioning. Before choosing a cooling system, you may want to familiarize yourself with the principles of heating and cooling.
- Set your programmable thermostat as high as is comfortable in the summer, and raise the setpoint when you're sleeping or away from home.
- Clean or replace filters on air conditioners once a month or as recommended.
- Turn off kitchen, bath, and other exhaust fans within 20 minutes after you are done cooking or bathing; when replacing exhaust fans, consider installing high-efficiency, low-noise models.
- During summer, keep the window coverings closed during the day to block the sun's heat.
- Select energy-efficient products when you buy new cooling equipment. Your contractor should be able to give you energy fact sheets for different types, models, and designs to help you compare energy usage. See the efficiency standards for information on minimum ratings, and look for the ENERGY STAR when purchasing new products.
Whether relying on natural ventilation or forcing air through your home with fans, ventilation is the most energy-efficient way to cool your house.
Well-placed fans are sufficient to maintain comfort during the cooling season in many parts of the country.
In many climates, you can use a whole-house fan to meet all or most of your home cooling needs.
For homes in dry climates, evaporative cooling or "swamp cooling" provides an experience like air conditioning, but with much lower energy use.
Air conditioner options include room air conditioners, ductless mini-split air conditioners, and central air conditioning. Most air conditioners operate at less than their maximum efficiency, presenting energy-saving opportunities. New air conditioning units are far more efficient than earlier models. Dehumidifying heat pipes can help an air conditioner remove humidity and more efficiently cool the air.
Radiant cooling cools a floor or ceiling by absorbing the heat radiated from the rest of the room and can be appropriate in arid climates but problematic elsewhere.