Summer tips for staying comfortable without using a lot of electricity

Lars Henrikson is a Senior Planning & Development Specialist in Seattle City Light’s Customer Care and Energy Solutions.

Long-time Seattle residents will tell you that some summers never get above 80 degrees and when it does get hot, it’s only for a day or two. As we’ve seen this summer with the record-setting heat wave caused by climate change, now is the time to prepare for hotter summers.

We need to start taking the heat seriously. Heat can be deadly, and with every heat wave, the need to tackle climate change is more important than ever. With City Light’s clean hydro and carbon neutral electricity, you can stay cool and comfortable during the next heat wave without releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Even in the short term, a little planning can add a lot of comfort. We have tips to help you prepare for current and future heat waves.

It’s going to be hot tomorrow, what should I do?

  • Pre-cool your home. Open windows on both the upwind and downwind sides of your house the night before a predicted hot day to let natural airflow cool your house down close to outdoor nighttime temperatures. If you’re in a multi-story home, opening windows on your top floor and bottom floor will allow the natural chimney effect to pull in cool and push out warm air. If the nighttime air is calm, putting a fan in the window to draw in cool air and push out hot air, might be beneficial.
  • Trap that cold air. Before the day starts heating up, close your windows and draw the blinds on windows that are exposed to the sun. Try to keep windows or doors shut when it’s cooler inside than outside.
  • Use a fan to cool you! A fan doesn’t cool the air, but moving air helps your body’s natural cooling processes (perspiration) work better. Fan motors put out heat, so only use them when you’re in the room to benefit from the moving air.
  • If possible, go downstairs. Warmer air usually rises, so downstairs is likely to be cooler than upstairs. Take advantage of your basement, as walls and floors are tempered by the cool earth, and are likely much cooler than other parts of the house on a hot day.
  • Don’t add extra heat to your home. Electric appliances and lighting all give off heat when they’re working, so use them sparingly. Maybe it’s a good evening for a cold dinner. If you have to cook, use appliances that use less energy and produce less heat – a microwave produces a tiny fraction of the heat that a stove or oven does.
  • Cool yourself. Drink cool hydrating liquids. Wipe your face, neck, and wrists with a cool wet cloth. If you get really hot, a cold shower might feel really good and can bring your core body temperature down pretty quickly. Be sure to check for signs of heatstroke if you’re feeling ill.
  • Sleep comfortably. Your bedroom might not be the coolest room in the house – consider moving to where it’s cooler to sleep more comfortably. You can even try sleeping in light loose cotton pajamas on top of the covers.

I have a day to plan for hot weather, what could I do that would be even better? 

  • Shade your home. Bamboo shades or light-colored cloths hanging on the outside of your house, particularly in front of east, south, and west-facing windows and doors, can keep the direct sun from getting to your house in the first place. Notice where the heat has come in the most in the past and focus there first.
  • Make some extra ice. On a hot day, no one wants to run out of ice for their drinks. Store ice you’ve already made in a plastic bag or freezer container and start making more to stock up.
  • The Seattle Times has a come up with some additional tricks that might be worth a try:
    Make a batch of mint tea without sweetener. Put it in the fridge and then into a mister. Use it to spray down your face and body.
    Put your sheets and pillowcase into the freezer for a few hours, and then make the bed with them.
    Put a couple of bottles of frozen water, or a bowl of ice water, in front of the fan that’s aimed at your bed.
  • Grab some gel ice packs, freeze them, put them in pillowcases and place at strategic points — under your neck, knees, wrists.
  • Turn off and unplug every electrical appliance you can.

This summer is a wake-up call, I need to make some changes by next summer. What should I do? 

  • Insulate and air-seal your home. The same insulation that keeps the heat inside in the winter, can keep it out in the summer.  If your walls aren’t insulated, or your attic only has a few inches of insulation, get three contractor [link] bids to upgrade your insulation. Your heating bills will be lower and you’ll be more comfortable year-round.
  • Upgrade from single-pane windows. Better windows provide year-round benefit by reducing heat flow along with the air leaks that can make a home uncomfortable.
  • Plant shade trees. It may be a few years before they do much for you but thinking ahead is always a good idea.  Deciduous shade trees on the south and west side of your home can help keep out the summer sun, while letting the winter sun come through once the leaves have fallen. A southside arbor with vines, like kiwis or grapes, might be an option too and vines tend to grow pretty quickly.
  • Install awnings over south-facing windowsLike with the shades mentioned above, keeping the sun off your home is better than trying to get that heat out after it’s already in.
  • Install a heat pump. OK, now that we’ve found that Seattle really can get hot, sometimes we need a technological fix. Ductless heat pumps provide super-efficient cooling and heating for the most-used areas of your home. You might decide a whole-home solution is better and replacing your furnace with a ducted heat pump will provide you with cooling in the summer and efficient heating in the winter.  Bonus – with  City Light’s carbon neutral electricity, your electricity use won’t be contributing to climate change.
  • GreenUp!  City Light already provides carbon neutral electricity, yet by participating in GreenUp, you’re supporting the installation of more green power generation in the region and right here in Seattle.

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