Stay cool for less

Susan Hely finds ways to beat a heatwave

Susan Hely

AIR-CONDITIONERS are working overtime around Australia this summer. They pump out cool air at work, in shops, on public transport and increasingly in homes. But with steepening power bills, it’s time to look at other ways to cool your home and yourself efficiently.

Air-conditioners use more energy and create more greenhouse gas emissions than other types of mechanical cooling devices such as fans or evaporative coolers. Does your room really need an air-conditioner or could it be cooled by, for instance, better ventilation and shading? Try these ways to keep cool:

Insulation really works. It keeps out the heat in summer and the cold in winter. Insulate your roof and, if you are in the process of building, the walls and floors.

Close windows and doors during the day when the temperature is high, but when the sun goes down open the windows and let the house cool down.

I installed a big ventilator fan in the roof to suck the hot air out of the house. Running costs are about those of a light bulb.

Shade your windows. Grow deciduous trees around your house to keep the sun off your windows. If you can’t grow trees, install awnings, shutters or exterior blinds.

Awnings can reduce solar heat gain (the amount the temperature rises because of sunshine) – some experts estimate by as much as 65% on northern windows and even more on western windows.

Use fans. If you can live just with fans, you will keep your power bills at a more manageable level. Fans cost a fraction of the price of air-conditioning. Choice magazine found that you could run most fans 24 hours a day for an entire summer and pay only $30 or less for the electricity used. Pedestal and tower fans are generally not that expensive to buy.

Open your window tops. Hot air rises and can more easily escape through the high part of your windows.

Buy energy-efficient air-conditioning. Energy-efficiency regulations have driven air-conditioner manufacturers to produce increasingly efficient models over the past few years. The cooling star rating is now based on the unit’s annual energy efficiency rating (AEER), meaning that as well as operational efficiency its standby and other non-operational power usage is factored in.

Install a built-in air-conditioner. A built-in air-conditioner is much more power efficient than the portable version. Portable air-conditioners aren’t included in the AEER scheme. While they are not very energy efficient, the good ones can certainly cool a room.

Cook outside. Don’t heat the house unnecessarily. Fire up the barbecue and cook outside or eat cold food. Salads are particularly tasty in summer.

Susan Hely has been a senior investment writer at The Sydney Morning Herald. She wrote the best-selling book Women & Money.

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