(Go on, indulge. It'll make sense soon enough.)
I've alluded in the past to how, during our time of unemployment (which stretched out Yea These Turbulent Nine Months--and was not fun), the work that we had done for adaptation to a low/no energy lifestyle was a huge help to us. But I've managed to not really discuss how, except for a lengthy diatribe about the importance of social services and how you really ought to be looking for them now. So while most of my computer's speed is being taken up downloading a video game off of Steam (hey, don't judge--it's old, cheap, and no packaging), I thought this would be a great time to finally delve into that particular project. This will likely be a multi-part post, because my attention span is only just so long ya know.
Some of the ways our low-energy adaptations were helpful should be pretty obvious. I mean, when you don't turn your A/C on at all for the summer, your electric bill is bound to be lower, right? But part of that was being in the right situation to pull that off. In our case, this means having the presence of mind (er, well, at least having a spouse who had the presence of mind) to see the value of buying an old house--other than the gorgeous interior woodwork. Our house was designed to not have A/C. It has high ceilings and lots of windows. I seriously doubt we could've pulled off the no-A/C thing in your modern tract house, or any house built on the assumption that you will cope with exterior temperature fluctuations by moving a little slide-bar on a box screwed to your wall. How did we actually do it, though? Several ways.
The Dance of the Windows
C'mon, sing it with me, you know you want to: "Dancing days are here again as the summer evenings grow / I got my flower, I got my power, I got a woman who knows". How does one dance with windows? Easy. Once the outside temps cool down to at least 65*F, you go around the house and open every window you can find. Leave them open all night. Then, the next morning, very first thing, close them all, pull the blinds, etc. If you have reasonably good insulation, and especially if you have high ceilings, this will do wonders for keeping your temps down.
Two problems with this strategy: first, it's easy to let things get away from you. Once you let your house warm up, then that insulation starts to work against you. So don't slack off! And start doing it sooner than you think you need to. The first time you think "Man, we should've opened the windows last night" it could already be too late. Constant vigilance! Second, summers around here eventually hit a point where even the nights don't go below 70*F. It's about this time that the temps in the house will go to, and stay at, around 80*F or even higher. Sleeping isn't too bad typically, if you have open windows and good fans, but during the day it can be brutal. At this point, other measures are necessary.
Yes, being outside when it's hot is better than being inside when it's hot. I think there are a lot of reasons for this. Sometimes it can actually be cooler outside than inside, so that has something to do with it. There's air movement & breeze, although with good circulation you can get that inside, too. But I think there's also a psychological thing in our heads that says "It shouldn't be this hot inside!" (which is, of course, nonsense--there is no normative "ought" about interior temperatures, except to us modern Americans). It's just "more okay" to be hot outside. Fine, whatever, go outside. Sheesh.
This is technically still in the "being outside" category, but is so significant I think it deserves its own heading. Last year I sprung (sprang? springed? Can I get a past tense on that?) for one of those blue pools, where you blow up the ring at the top and then fill it with water, etc. And you know what? That was the solidly, hands-down, no doubt about it BEST $50 I've ever spent. Period. To hot? Go sit in the pool. Bliss. And once you come back inside, it just felt cooler somehow, even once I was all dried off. And the kids loved it. Yes, you have to have the filter plugged in, but the electric increase was negligible (and minuscule compared to the energy it would've taken to run our A/C). Yes, you do need chlorine for it, and chlorine is a nasty thing (besides other issues, it makes me puke). I am very willing to entertain non-chlorine options for pool care, so if you've got 'em, throw 'em my way. But seriously, the pool is 10' across and 2' deep--we aren't talking chlorinating Niagara Falls here. Furthermore, it must've been of at least a mild enough concentration that, no matter how much got splashed on our lawn or, occasionally, the potato plants, it never killed or damaged anything. And the pool was deep enough to comfortably submerge oneself, and even stretch out a bit--very, very relaxing and cooooool.
Remember those curtains I put up for winter to keep the heat trapped in certain locations? Well, they work the other way around, too. We put the curtain back up between the kitchen & the rest of the house to keep the heat in the kitchen. And you know what? Even a single-layer sheet makes a HUGE difference.
Acclimatizing, and letting your expectations go
Don't turn on your A/C. At all. No, not even to take the edge off. Your body will get used to the temperatures, but not if you keep monkeying around with them. Will it eventually be as comfortable as a 68*F room? No, of course it won't. But once you're acclimatized, you can be in a state where you're up & doing, and suddenly you realize "Hey, it's hot in here!" and then you just keep doing whatever you were and forget again. Given that I have an office job now (where I have no control over the thermostat, and would probably anger people greatly if I tried), I'm very curious how my body will react this year. And let your expectations go. Like I said above, there is no "ought" about indoor temperature. Or if there is an "ought", it's of the form "If it's hot outside, it ought be hot inside, too." Just stop thinking that somehow houses are supposed to only hover between 68*F & 72*F.
Isn't this dangerous? No, not in our climate it isn't (midwest). Can children and elderly handle this? If properly managed and checked-on, of course they can. I mean, crap, no one had A/C anywhere until the 1970's! Did everybody's granny and baby die each summer? No, they all had the skill-set to cope. Now, if people have a medical condition (and no, age is not a medical condition) that compromises their body's ability to self-regulate, or worse, their ability to identify when they need to get cooler (and here, age is a concern, both young and old), then you're in a different situation. If you have an elderly person in your home, especially if they're easily confused or disoriented, make sure they are doing okay, drinking enough, and have ways of staying cool. If they aren't doing well, take them somewhere cool to recoup. And if they've lived a long life and just cannot cope anymore without A/C in the summer (for whatever reason), maybe it's time to re-evaluate the no-A/C decision. For kids, watch them closely, make sure they're staying hydrated, and coming in to the shade to cool down occasionally. Kids often can't tell when they're overheating, so if you're in charge of them, that is your job. Do it.
Now, what could we have done to make things even better?
Someday we're seriously going to install a bunch of these all over the place. As it is, we have a number of box fans around that do a reasonably good job, but ceiling fans are just more efficient and effective. But they're also more expensive and very high on the DIY scale, where I rank about a 2 out of, say 500.
Big purchase time, but if we could afford one, wow would that be awesome. And our house has a great setup for one, too. Suck all of that hot air right on out of your house, pull in cooler outside air!
We never actually moved downstairs to sleep at night. The discomfort of sleeping upstairs where it's hotter never seemed to outweigh the annoyance of setting up shop (kids & all) downstairs. But that might change this year. We now have a sleeper sofa (or, as my kids put it, a *gasp* TRANSFORMER COUCH OMGOMGOMG!), which is posh and in fact more comfortable than our regular bed. But will we be willing to put our bed up and take it back out every day? Hm. Kinda doubt it. We have been known to clear the dinner plates to make room for the breakfast plates....
What else can/could we do? Suggestions? Send 'em along--I'll be out in the pool. =)
(In other news, the State of the Garden is GOOD this year. Pictures and details forthcoming.)