Cooling Your Home Naturally
Keeping cool indoors when it is hot outdoors is a problem. The sun beating down on our homes causes indoor temperatures to rise to uncomfortable levels. Air conditioning provides some relief. But the initial costs of installing an air conditioner and the electricity costs to run it can be high. In addition, conventional air conditioners use refrigerants made of chlorine compounds, suspected contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. But there are alternatives to air conditioning. This information provides some common sense suggestions and low-cost retrofit options to help you "keep your cool"- and save electricity.
An alternative way to maintain a cool house or reduce air conditioning use is natural (or passive) cooling. Passive cooling uses non-mechanical methods to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.
The most effective method to cool your home is to keep the heat from building up in the first place. The primary source of heat buildup (i.e., gain) is sunlight absorbed by your house through the roof, walls, and windows. Secondary sources are heat generating appliances in the home and air leakage. Specific methods to prevent heat gain include reflecting heat (i.e., sunlight) away from your house, blocking the heat, removing built up heat, and reducing or eliminating heat generating sources in your home.
Reflecting Heat Away
The most effective method to cool your home is to keep the heat from building up in the first place. Dull, dark colored home exteriors absorb 70% to 90% of the radiant energy from the sun that strikes the home's surfaces. Some of this absorbed energy is then transferred into your home by way of conduction, resulting in heat gain. In contrast, light colored surfaces effectively reflect most of the heat away from your home.
Installing a radiant barrier
Radiant barriers are easy to install. It does not matter which way the shiny surface faces - up or down. But you must install it on the underside of your roof - not horizontally over the ceiling, and the barrier must face an airspace.
For your own comfort while in the attic, install the radiant barrier on a cool, cloudy day. Use plywood walk boards or wooden planks over the ceiling joists for support. Caution: Do not step between the ceiling joists, or you may fall through the ceiling.
Staple the foil to the bottom or side of the rafters, draping it from rafter to rafter. Do not worry about a tight fit or small tears in the fabric; radiant transfer is not affected by air movement. The staples should be no more than 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) apart to prevent air circulation from loosening or detaching the radiant barrier. Use a caulking gun to apply a thin bead of construction adhesive to the rafters along the seams of the foil barrier. This will make the installation permanent.
About a third of the unwanted heat that builds up in your home comes in through the roof. This is hard to control with traditional roofing materials. For example, unlike most light colored surfaces, even white asphalt and fiberglass shingles absorb 70% of the solar radiation. One good solution is to apply a reflective coating to your existing roof. Two standard roofing coatings are available at your local hardware store or lumberyard. They have both waterproof and reflective properties and are marketed primarily for mobile homes and recreational vehicles. One coating is white latex that you can apply over many common roofing materials, such as asphalt and fiberglass shingles, tar paper, and metal.
A second coating is asphalt based and contains glass fibers and aluminum particles. You can apply it to most metal and asphalt roofs. Because it has a tacky surface, it attracts dust, which reduces its reflective somewhat.
Another way to reflect heat is to install a radiant barrier on the underside of your roof. A radiant barrier is simply a sheet of aluminum foil with a paper backing. When installed correctly, a radiant barrier can reduce heat gains through your ceiling by about 25%. (see box for information on installing a radiant barrier.)
Radiant barrier materials cost between $0.13 per square foot ($1.44 per square meter) for a single-layer product with a kraft-paper backing and $0.30 per square foot ($3.33 per square meter) for a vented multiflora product with a fiber-reinforced backing. The latter product doubles as insulation.
Wall color is not as important as roof color, but does affect heat gain somewhat. White exterior walls absorb less heat than dark walls, and light, bright walls increase the longevity of siding, particularly on the east, west, and south sides of the house.
Roughly 40% of the unwanted heat that builds up in your home comes in through windows. Reflective window coatings are one way to reflect heat away from your home. These coatings are plastic sheets treated with dyes or thin layers of metal. Besides keeping your house cooler, these reflective coatings cut glare and reduce fading of furniture, draperies, and carpeting.
Two main types of coatings include sun-control films and combination films. Sun-control films are best for warmer climates because they can reflect as much as 80% of the incoming sunlight. Many of these films are tinted, however, and tend to reduce light transmission as much as they reduce heat, thereby darkening the room.
Combination films allow some light into a room but they also let some heat in and prevent interior heat from escaping. These films are best for climates that have both hot and cold seasons. Investigate the different film options carefully to select the film that best meets your needs. Note: do not place reflective coatings on south facing windows if you want to take advantage of heat gain during the winter. The coatings are applied to the interior surface of the window. Although you can apply the films yourself, it is a good idea to have a professional install the coatings, particularly if you have several large windows. This will ensure a more durable installation and a more aesthetically pleasing look.
Blocking the Heat
Two excellent methods to block heat are insulation and shading. Insulation helps keep your home comfortable and saves money on mechanical cooling systems such as air conditioners and electric fans. Shading devices block the sun's rays and absorb or reflect the solar heat.
Weatherization measures - such as insulating, weather stripping, and caulking - help seal and protect your house against the summer heat in addition to keeping out the winter cold. The attic is a good place to start insulating because it is a major source of heat gain. Adequately insulating the attic protects the upper floors of a house. Recommended attic insulation levels depend on where you live and the type of heating system you use. For most climates, you want a minimum of R-30. In climates with extremely cold winters, you may want as much as R-49.
Wall insulation is not as important for cooling as attic insulation because outdoor temperatures are not as hot as attic temperatures. Also, floor insulation has little or no effect on cooling.
Although unintentional infiltration of outside air is not a major contributor to inside temperature, it is still a good idea to keep it out. Outside air can infiltrate your home around poorly sealed doors, windows, electrical outlets, and through openings in foundations and exterior walls. Thorough caulking and weather stripping will control most of these air leaks.
Shading your home can reduce indoor temperatures by as much as 20°F (11°C). Effective shading can be provided by trees and other vegetation and exterior or interior shades.
Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to shade your home and block the sun. A well placed tree, bush, or vine can deliver effective shade and add to the aesthetic value of your property. When designing your landscaping, use plants native to your area that survive with minimal care. Trees that lose their leaves in the fall (i.e., deciduous) help cut cooling energy costs the most. When selectively placed around a house, they provide excellent protection from the summer sun and permit winter sunlight to reach and warm your house. The height, growth rate, branch spread, and shape are all factors to consider in choosing a tree. Vines are a quick way to provide shading and cooling. Grown on trellises, vines can shade windows or the whole side of a house. Ask your local nursery which vine is best suited to your climate and needs.
Besides providing shade, trees and vines create a cool microclimate that dramatically reduces the temperature (by as much as (9°F [5°C]) in the surrounding area. During photosynthesis, large amounts of water vapor escape through the leaves, cooling the passing air. and the generally dark and coarse leaves absorb solar radiation. You might also consider low ground cover such as grass, small plants, and bushes. A grass-covered lawn is usually 10°F (6°C) cooler than bare ground in the summer. If you are in an arid or semiarid climate, consider native ground covers that require little water.
Planning Your Planting
Placement of vegetation is important when landscaping your home. The following are suggestions to help you gain the most from vegetation.
Both exterior and interior shades control heat gain. Exterior shades are generally more effective than interior shades because they block sunlight before it enters windows. When deciding which devices to use and where to use them, consider whether you are willing to open and close them daily or just put them up for the hottest season. You also want to know how they will affect ventilation.
Exterior shading devices include awnings, lovers, shutters, rolling shutters and shades, and solar screens. Awnings are very effective because the block direct sunlight. They are usually made of fabric or metal and are attached above the window and extend down and out. A properly installed awning can reduce heat gain up to 65% on southern windows and 77% on eastern windows. A light colored awning does double duty by also reflecting sunlight.
Maintaining a gap between the top of the awning and the side of the house helps vent accumulated heat from under a solid- surface awning. If you live in a climate with cold winters, you will want to remove awnings for winter storage, or by retractable ones, to take advantage of winter heat gain.
The amount of drop (how far down the awing comes) depends on which side of your house the window is on. An east or west window needs a drop of 65% to 75% of the window height. A south-facing window only needs a drop of 45% to 60% for the same amount of shade. A pleasing angle to the eye for mounting and awning is 45°. Make sure the awning does not project into the path of foot traffic unless it is at least 6 feet 8 inches (2 meters) from the ground.
One disadvantage of awnings is that they can block views, particularly on the east and west sides. However, slatted awnings do allow limited viewing through the top parts of windows.
Louvers are attractive because their adjustable slats control the level of sunlight slats control the level of sunlight entering your home and, depending on the design, can be adjusted from inside or outside your house. The slats can be vertical or horizontal. Louvers remain fixed and are attached to the exteriors of window frames.
Shutters are movable wooden or metal covering that, when closed, keep sunlight out. Shutters are either solid or slatted with fixed or adjustable slats. Besides reducing heat gain, they can provide privacy and security. Some shutters help insulate windows when it is cold outside.
Rolling shutters have a series of horizontal slats that run down along a track. Rolling shades use a fabric. These are the most expensive shading options, but the work well and can provide security. Many exterior rolling shutters or shades can be conveniently controlled from the inside. One disadvantage is that when fully extended, the block all light.
Solar screens resemble standard window screens except they keep direct sunlight from entering the window, cut glare, and block light without blocking the view or elimination air flow. They also provide privacy by restricting the view of the interior from outside your house. Solar screens come in a variety of colors and screening materials to compliment any home. Although do-it-yourself kits are available, these screens will not last as long as professionally built screens.
Although interior shading is not as effective as exterior shading, it is worthwhile if none of the previously mentioned techniques are possible. There are several ways to block the sun's heat from inside your house.
Draperies and curtains made of tightly woven, light-colored, opaque fabrics reflect more of the sun's rays than they let through. The tighter the curtain is against the wall around the window, the better it will prevent heat gain. Two layers of draperies improve the effectiveness of the draperies' insulation when it is either hot or cold outside.
Venetian blinds, although not as effective as draperies, can be adjusted to let in some light and air while reflecting the sun's heat. Some newer blinds are coated with reflective finishes. To be effective, the reflective surfaces must face the outdoors. Some interior cellular (honeycombed) shades also come with reflective mylar coatings. But they block natural light and restrict air flow.
Opaque roller shades are effective when fully drawn but also block light and restrict air flow.
Removing Built-Up Heat
Nothing feels better on a hot day than a cool breeze. Encouraging cool air to enter your house forces warm air out, keeping your house comfortably cool. However, this strategy only works when the inside temperature is higher than the outside temperature.
Natural ventilation maintains indoor temperatures close to outdoor temperatures close to outdoor temperatures and helps remove heat from your home. But only ventilated during the coolest parts of the day or night, and seal off your house from the hot sun and air during the hottest parts of the day. The climate you live in determines the best ventilation strategy. In areas with cool nights and very hot days, let the night air in to cool your house. By the time the interior heats up, and the outside air should be cooler and can be allowed indoors.
In climates with day time breezes, open windows on the side from where the breeze is coming and on the opposite side of the house. Keep interior doors open to encourage whole house ventilation. If your location lacks consistent breezes, create them by opening the windows at the lowest and highest points in your house. This natural "thermo siphoning," or "chimney," effect can be taken a step further by adding a clerestory or a vented skylight.
In hot, humid climates where temperature swings between day and night are mall, ventilate when humidity is not excessive. Ventilating your attic greatly reduces the amount of accumulated heat, which eventually works its way into the main part of your house. Ventilated attics are about 30°F (16°C) cooler than unventilated attics. Properly sized and placed louvers and roof vents help prevent moisture buildup and overheating in your attic.
Reducing Heat-Generating Sources
Often overlooked sources of interior heat gain are lights and household appliances, such as ovens, dishwashers, and dryers. Because most of the energy that incandescent lamps use is given off as heat, use them only when necessary. Take advantage of daylight to illuminate your house, and consider switching to compact fluorescent lamps. These use about 75% less energy than incandescent lamps, and emit 90% less heat for the same amount of light.
New, energy efficient appliances generate less heat and use less energy.
Many household appliances generate a lot of heat. When possible, use them in the morning or late evening when you can better tolerate the extra heat. Consider cooking on an outside barbecue grill or use a microwave oven, which does not generate as much heat and uses less energy than a gas or electric range.
Washers, dryers, dishwashers, and water heaters also generate large amounts of heat and humidity. To gain the most benefit, seal off your laundry room and water heater from the rest of the house.
New, energy efficient appliances generate less heat and use less energy. When it is time to purchase new appliances, make sure the are energy efficient. All refrigerators, dishwashers, and dryers display an energy guide label indicating the annual estimated cost for operating the appliance or a standardized energy efficiency ratio. Compare appliances and buy the most efficient models for your needs.
Using any or all of these strategies will help keep you cool. Even if you use air conditioning, many of these strategies, may not be enough. Sometimes you need to supplement natural cooling with mechanical devices. Fans and evaporative coolers can supplement your cooling strategies and cost less to install and run than air conditioners.
Ceiling fans make you feel cooler. Their effect is equivalent to lowering the air temperature by about 4°F (2°C). Evaporative coolers use about one-fourth the energy of conventional air conditioners.
Many utility companies offer rebates and other cost incentives when you purchase or install energy saving products, such as insulation and energy efficient lighting and appliances. Contact your local utility company to see what it offers in the way of incentives.
Cooling Strategies Checklist
Cooling strategies to consider:
9 Buyer Traps and How to Avoid Them
" A systemized approach to the homebuying process can help you steer clear of these common traps, allowing you to not only cut costs, but also secure the home that's best for you."
No matter which way you look at it buying a home is a major investment. But for many homebuyers, it can be an even more expensive process than it needs to be because many fall prey to at least a few of the many common and costly mistakes which trap them into either:
A systemized approach to the homebuying process can help you steer clear of these common traps, allowing you to not only cut costs, but also secure the home that's best for you.
9 Buyer Traps
This important report discusses the 9 most common and costly of these homebuyer traps, how to identify them, and what you can do to avoid them:
1. Bidding Blind
What price should you offer when you bid on a home? Is the seller's asking price too high, or does it represent a great deal. If you fail to research the market in order to understand what comparable homes are selling for, making your offer would be like bidding blind. Without this knowledge of market value, you could easily bid too much, or fail to make a competitive offer at all on an excellent value.
2. Buying the Wrong Home
What are you looking for in a home? A simple enough question, but the answer can be quite complex. More than one buyer has been swept up in the emotion and excitement of the buying process only to find themselves the owner of a home that is either too big or too small. Maybe they're stuck with a longer than desired commute to work, or a dozen more fix-ups than they really want to deal with now that the excitement has died down. Take the time upfront to clearly define your wants and needs. Put it in writing and then use it as a yard stick with which to measure every home you look at.
3. Unclear Title
Make sure very early on in the negotiation that you will own your new home free and clear by having a title search completed. The last thing you want to discover when you’re in the back stretch of a transaction is that there are encumbrances on the property such as tax liens, undisclosed owners, easements, leases or the like.
4. Inaccurate Survey
As part of your offer to purchase, make sure you request an updated property survey which clearly marks your boundaries. If the survey is not current, you may find that there are structural changes that are not shown (e.g. additions to the house, a new swimming pool, a neighbor's new fence which is extending a boundary line, etc.). Be very clear on these issues.
5. Undisclosed Fix-ups
Don't expect every seller to own up to every physical detail that will need to be attended to. Both you and the seller are out to maximize your investment. Ensure that you conduct a thorough inspection of the home early in the process. Consider hiring an independent inspector to objectively view the home inside and out, and make the final contract contingent upon this inspector's report. This inspector should be able to give you a report of any item that needs to be fixed with associated, approximate cost.
6. Not Getting Mortgage Pre-approval
Pre-approval is fast, easy and free. When you have a pre-approved mortgage, you can shop for your home with a greater sense of freedom and security, knowing that the money will be there when you find the home of your dreams.
7. Contract Misses
If a seller fails to comply to the letter of the contract by neglecting to attend to some repair issues, or changing the spirit of the agreement in some way, this could delay the final closing and settlement. Agree ahead of time on a dollar amount for an escrow fund to cover items that the seller fails to follow through on. Prepare a list of agreed issues, walk through them, and check them off one by one.
8. Hidden Costs
Make sure you identify and uncover all costs - large and small -far enough ahead of time. When a transaction closes, you will sometimes find fees for this or that sneaking through after the "sub"-total - fees such as loan disbursement charges, underwriting fees etc. Understand these in advance by having your lender project total charges for you in writing.
9. Rushing the Closing
Take your time during this critical part of the process, and insist on seeing all paperwork the day before you sign. Make sure this documentation perfectly reflects your understanding of the transaction, and that nothing has been added or subtracted. Is the interest rate right? Is everything covered? If you rush this process on the day of closing, you may run into a last minute snag that you can't fix without compromising the terms of the deal, the financing, or even the sale itself.
Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe
It's much more than a physical structure. It's the place where memories are made, where dreams are shared, where lives are lived. And many of your home's contents--the video of your baby's first steps, grandmother's brooch or old family photos, for instance--simply cannot be replaced. That's why it makes good sense to do everything you can to protect your home from fire and theft.
Most fires are preventable. First, let's look at the top causes of home fires.
There are some other simple, common sense precautions you can take to decrease your chances of a home fire:
If your home has one or more fireplaces, special precautions can help to keep home fires burning safely:
If Fire Breaks Out
Smoke detectors greatly increase the likelihood you'll survive a fire. Place at least one on each floor of your home and outside each sleeping area. Install detectors inside bedrooms for added protection. Mount detectors on the ceiling, at least 4 inches away from the wall. Test detectors monthly and replace batteries once a year. To help you remember, plan to install new batteries on an annual event, such as the Fourth of July. Replace smoke detectors after 10 years.
If a fire does break out, take immediate action. Smoke and flames spread rapidly. Get out of the house right away, then call the fire department from a neighbor's house or a cellular phone. Fumes overcome most victims long before flames reach them. Use your safest exit. If you must escape through smoke, get down and crawl low under the smoke, keeping your head about 12-24 inches off the floor.
If you haven't gotten around to conducting a family fire drill, now's the time to do it. And visit your local hardware store or home center to invest in a few fire extinguishers. Extinguishers are classified according to the type of fire they will put out, and you'll find the classification displayed on an extinguisher. A Class ABC extinguisher is multi-purpose and works well against any small, self-contained fire. Keep one in the kitchen, extras in the basement or garage. Contact your fire department to ask about training. Don't attempt to fight a fire unless you know you have the right extinguisher to handle that type of fire, and be sure to keep your back to a safe exit.
Fire Safety Checklist
Take this quick quiz to help you assess your family's fire safety plan:
Every year, burglars hit more than five million households, stealing more than $4 billion worth of property. Determined thieves can break into just about any home, but you can take steps to make entry a lot more difficult for them.
Sounding an Alarm
For greater peace of mind, consider investing in a professionally installed alarm system. Alarm systems come in many shapes and sizes, at prices that range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Many installers also charge monthly monitoring fees, which should be taken into account when you shop for a system. A home alarm system includes some combination of the following components:
Keep in mind that false alarms can be a problem. In addition to annoying the neighbors and taking the police away from real emergencies, some communities now assess fines for excessive false alarms. The National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association reports that nearly 80 percent of false alarms are caused by user error. Steps to prevent false alarms include regular system maintenance and ensuring that whoever has a key to your house also knows the codes to activate and deactivate your system. Local police are a good source of information and recommendations regarding security systems. They work with the security services in your area and can tell you what types of break-ins are most common in your community.
After you've determined which alarm system is best for you, ask your insurance agent, family or friends for referrals. Get written quotes from at least three companies. Before you obtain an alarm system, investigate a security service's reputation and how long it has been in business. Also ask about warranties and what they cover.
Insuring Against Loss
Homeowners or renters insurance provides money to replace possessions after a fire or theft. Remember to keep a good inventory of your property, including serial numbers. A quick way to do this is with snapshots or a camcorder. Store your inventory in a safe-deposit box or other location outside your home, and update it every year.
While you're making an inventory of your valuables, consider engraving them with your name. This makes it easier to trace the goods back to you if they're stolen. Many local police departments will loan etching tools.
Most insurers recommend that you insure your property at replacement cost. This reimburses you for what it would cost to replace items today, instead of paying only for their current, depreciated value. You'll pay a little more in premiums for this extra peace of mind, so shop around for the best policy and the best price. Consider only reputable companies and agents. Get at least three quotes. Some companies provide lower rates if you have more than one type of coverage with them, such as auto and home. Review your insurance coverage annually.