Save Energy and Use Nature to Cool Your Home
There was a time when air-conditioners, swamp coolers and electric fans didn’t exist. In those days, to cool off the inside of their homes, folks were forced to use their ingenuity. In the desert south facing widows are bad things. In cold country south facing windows are good things. Settlers used Mother Nature to their advantage. They had too. They considered prevailing winds that would promote cross ventilation and located next to water and tree cover for their cooling and shading effects.
Today it could cost a small fortune to live near the water – if in fact any was available. And with new homes being built in groups of a hundred or more one is lucky to personally select colors – let alone have it positioned for optimum energy efficiency. However, it doesn’t hurt to think in those terms and use some of the same common sense that our ancestors did. In the short run you can count on being more comfortable and in the long run you can count on saving mucho dineros.
Some food for thought. Most air conditioners run on 220. Coming out of the gate that’s twice as much voltage as 110. Think about it!
First, a lesson in sunshine is probably in order. We’ll call it shading 101. When the sun rises in the morning it heats a home through any easterly facing windows. The same thing happens in the afternoon when the sun begins to set. Westerly facing windows allow hot afternoon sun to bake the occupants. Curtains are cute and may match the furniture in the rest of the room, but there isn’t anything as effective as roller shades. They are inexpensive and effective. Keep in mind though that shades on the exterior are considerably more effective than the interior type because they prevent the heat from entering the house in the first place. Unfortunately, most people don’t want to go outside every time the shade has to be opened or closed. There are exterior-mount shades that operate from the inside via through-wall pulleys, but they are expensive and haven’t won any awards for good looks. Awnings are a great way to reduce heat without ruining the view. They are not permanent and can be left in place until late fall at which point they can be removed and stored until early spring when they can be reinstalled. You definitely want all the sunlight you can get during the winter months.
From sunshine 101 we move on to basic tree and shrub placement. Shading 101a. The idea is to place foliage so that it provides shade in the summer but not in the winter. Doing this really is easy if you think about it. Place shrubs on east and west exposures to block early morning and late afternoon sun. Moderate sized trees block late morning and early evening sun. Large trees are placed to shade the roof. Remember that old Mr. Sun is hottest when he is high in the sky. In fact, at noon the sun is closer to you than any other time of day. Conversely, during the winter, sunshine is a good thing for a house? That’s why it’s important to plant deciduous trees. They lose their leaves in winter while providing shade in the summer. Isn’t nature marvelous?!? Now you know why God created deciduous trees. Ha! There’s a reason for everything. So you don’t want to rake leaves. Well, if that’s the case you can count on paying more for summer cooling not to mention winter heating. Another thing, the branches of a bare tree can block out 20- to 30-percent of needed sunlight. The answer here is simple. Be prepared to prune regularly. It’s good for the sunlight and it’s good for the tree.
Every landscape will be different. Even your neighbor’s home will be slightly different than your own. By the way, it may not be a bad idea to work with your neighbors to develop a neighborhood shade plan — one that might benefit everyone. Also, be careful. Some trees have enormous roots that grow very near the surface. A tree planted to close to the foundation of your home could do major damage. It might be a good idea to contact a nursery person in your area to determine which shrubs and trees will work best to fulfill your needs year round.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article south facing windows are a good thing in the winter or in chilly climates. They should be kept clear during winter months when collecting sunshine becomes more important than reflecting it.
Finally, be sure that there is a thick layer of insulation in your attic and when you’re finished in the garden and the attic your energy bill will drop like a hot knife through soft butter. And, good luck!