Summer in Chicagoland means many different things to many different people. For some, the summer months are all about going outdoors, and soaking in some sun at one of our region’s gorgeous parks or along the shores of Lake Michigan. For others, summer means dining on rooftop patios, hearing the crack of the bat at Wrigley Field or Guaranteed Rate Stadium, or taking in the latest blockbuster at a legendary Chicagoland movie theater.
And for plenty of people, summer means one thing — finding new, creative ways to beat the heat!
While our region is perhaps most famous for its blisteringly cold winters, there’s no denying that summers in Chicagoland can pack a punch of their own. During the hottest days of the year, it’s important to find healthy ways to keep cool, without running up a monster utility bill along the way.
According to reports from the U.S. Department of Energy, about 6 percent of a household’s energy use goes to keeping spaces cool. Looking at the big picture, that amounts to about $11 billion spent annually on air conditioning costs.
So, what practical steps can you take to help beat the heat in the “dog days” of summer — without running up a utility bill that will make you sweat? Here are five ways to help cool down your home, without cranking up the air:
1.) Create a Natural Airflow
There are plenty of ways to help your home stay cool, by using the layout of your space to create a natural airflow. Popular Mechanics offers a few simple methods, including “the cross breeze” and “the thermal chimney.”
To create a cross breeze on one floor, all you need to do is open windows on both sides of the space — one to allow the cool breeze to come in, and the other to allow the breeze to flow out. Doing this naturally increases the airspeed through the space, helping you to feel cooler.
The thermal chimney method works similarly, albeit for multiple floors. With this strategy, you open the windows on the lowest and coolest part of the house, as well as the windows in the highest part of the house. This way, hot air moves upwards and eventually escapes, creating a natural vacuum that brings in more cool air from the downstairs windows.
To make these methods even more effective, you can take a few simple steps, including closing doors to unused rooms, to help keep the cool air traveling through the spaces where you need it most. You can also speed up this process by strategically using fans, to help pull cool air into the home, and then push warm air out through the other side.
2.) Control the Lighting
When it comes to understanding how much light can play a factor in heating your home, plenty of people are in the dark.
Well, consider this illuminating fact: According to the Department of Energy, simply closing your blinds and keeping out harsh sunlight can help to reduce the amount of heat that enters a room by as much as 45 percent. HuffPost estimates that this simple change could help homeowners reduce the temperature in a room by as much as 20 degrees, and save as much as 7 percent on their utility bills.
The Department of Energy encourages using energy efficient curtains and blinds, which can allow in natural light without flooding the room with direct sunlight. It can also help to keep your lights off as much as possible. And when you do need to click on a bulb, the Department of Energy recommends swapping out your old incandescent lights for more efficient solutions. One big reason why? Incandescent bulbs consume a lot of expensive electricity, and only use about 10-15 percent of that energy for light — the rest is expelled as heat.
3.) Avoid Heat-Generating Appliances
Just as lightbulbs can release a lot of heat into a room, so can everyday appliances actually contribute significantly to making the temperature rise — while sending your utility bills climbing, as well.
During particularly warm days, avoid heat-generating appliances to help naturally keep your home cooler and more comfortable. This could mean cooking outdoors on a grill instead of roasting in the oven, or waiting to break out the hot iron or hair dryer until temperatures drop in the evening. Similarly, you may wish to avoid relying too heavily on appliances like the dishwasher, washing machine/dryer, and even your computer or TV, which can all be significant sources of heat.
When you do need to use your appliances and systems, think strategically. For example, you might be able to avoid heat buildup if you only run your washing machine once a day, instead of doing multiple smaller loads. If you do need to cook in the kitchen or take a long shower in the bathroom, be sure to use your home’s exhaust systems to help get rid of excess heat and humidity. Making these little changes can have a big impact over time.
4.) Take Control of Your Thermostat
One of the most effective ways to cut down on your energy use during the warm summer months is to think strategically about your thermostat. Take control of this little device, and you can have an enormous effect on your comfort level, and your energy bill.
The Department of Energy, for instance, recommends keeping your home warmer than normal while you are away, and then lowering the thermostat setting when you’re at home and need to cool off. At the same time, they encourage homeowners to keep the thermostat set as close to the outdoor temperature as possible, as this method can help lower your overall cooling bill. Similarly, when you turn on your thermostat, avoid immediately setting it too low. Contrary to popular belief, this won’t normally cause your space to cool off any faster, although it could cause a bump in your energy expenses.
If you’re looking to make some easy, green home updates this summer, a programmable thermostat may be one of the wisest investments you could make. These smart devices allow you to automatically cycle your cooling settings based on your household’s daily routine, and can help homeowners save up to 10 percent on their heating and cooling costs.
5.) Make Some Simple Repairs or Upgrades
The spring and summer months can be a great time to get to work on those home maintenance tasks and upgrades you may have been putting off. Before the hot weather really settles in, it may prove beneficial to make a “cool” home improvement checklist. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Clean your air vents and replace your AC filter, to help ensure that your cooling systems can perform at their peak
- Insulate and seal your air ducts; according to the Department of Energy, about 30 percent of a cooling system’s energy use goes to air escaping from ducts
- Double check the insulation in your attic and walls and make repairs, as needed
- Look for cracks or gaps that could allow cool air to escape
- Install ceiling fans in strategic areas in your home, or invest in portable fans; these energy efficient appliances can help you increase your thermostat setting by up to four degrees, according to the Department of Energy
- Look into adding trees or bushes in strategic areas around your home, to help create cooling shade
- Consider updating your HVAC and other major systems with smarter, more energy efficient models, if possible
Finding What Works for You
Interested in finding a home with the space you’ve always wanted for summertime? Ready to upgrade from vintage to cutting edge? Looking for a resource to talk all things real estate in Chicagoland? We’re here to help.
At Baird & Warner, we’ve been helping people fulfill their real estate dreams since 1855. That’s a lot of hot summers under our belt!
Our agents are hyperlocal experts who know their neighborhoods inside and out — and they love to share their expertise. Looking to buy or sell a Chicagoland home? Need a professional opinion on your property? We’ve got you covered.