1 Stop the heat
The best way to keep your interior cool is to stop the sun’s rays reaching it in the first place — and good old shade is a low-tech but effective way of doing just that. Your windows are the most vulnerable access point, so this is where your focus should be. A tree or bank of tall, dense plants positioned to stop the sun’s rays at the right time of day is an attractive option for green-fingered home owners, assuming you have a garden. Otherwise, consider outdoor blinds or shutters, which can be closed against the hottest part of the day and also adjusted to let in enough light. Awnings are another good option for reducing solar heat gain and most models can be rolled away when not needed. Villa dwellers may even want to think about investing in a more permanent porch structure.
Going to the high-tech end of the scale, if you own your home, you could consider window infills — double-glazed panels with a gas such as argon or krypton inside. These gases have lower conductivity levels than air and therefore heat doesn’t travel through them in the same way. Alternatively (or additionally), you could have low-e film applied to your existing windows. This thin metal coating reduces the long-wave thermal energy from the sun’s rays entering the house, while still allowing the short-wave light energy to pass through. While you’ll notice a slight mirrored effect from the outside, inside it shouldn’t change the view through your window too much.
Not that it’s all about windows; your roof could be a barrier to heat gain, too, if you paint it white. Pale colours reflect more light — and the thermal energy that comes with it — than dark ones. In California, houses with a flat roof must be painted white by law. Just check that this is allowed, as there may be regulations around how much you can tamper with the exterior appearance of your property, particularly if you are living in a gated community.
2 Encourage the cool
You can’t stop all the sun’s rays from reaching your home, so you’ll need to factor in cooling techniques, too. Air-conditioning is very effective, but does use a lot of energy, which is bad for your bank balance as well as the environment. You won’t be able to get rid of it completely, but you could reduce the amount that you need to use it. For a start, be sure that it’s regularly cleaned, as dust build-up can reduce air flow and make your system less efficient.
Fans are an effective way of cooling you rather than the room you’re in, making them ideal in a home office space, for example, or above the sofa in the living room. They work by moving the air, which evaporates moisture from the skin, thereby cooling you. If you really want a frosty blast, position a bowl of ice just in front of a free-standing fan. The only thing to remember is that fans run on motors that have a slight heating effect, so only have them on when you’re in the room and using them.
If you’ve been working hard to lower the amount of heat in your home, the last thing that you want to do is let warm, outdoor air creep in through cracks and crevices, so make sure that your property is well insulated. Seal off air-conditioner ducts, crawl spaces and so on — even a draft excluder at the base of an old door can make a big difference.
3 Decorate cleverly
There’s a reason why we refer to colours as hot or cold — numerous studies have shown that they affect the way we perceive the temperature of a room. In one, there was a significant increase in complaints about the cold after a yellow office was repainted blue, despite the temperature remaining constant. While the effect is not enough to replace air-conditioning altogether, choosing the right colours will certainly help you feel more comfortable in your home.
Likewise, the materials that you fill your living space with can have an effect. Homeowners in cold countries know to stock up on thick, warm fabrics such as wool or faux fur during the winter months. By that same logic, lighter, more airy materials will create a sense of freshness in your home — light cotton bedding, plenty of glass and chrome furniture. This is both a visual aid and a physical one, as these materials are less insulating, so won’t trap the heat as much.
4 Use your house wisely
Once you’ve made all the changes you can, think about the way that you use your house and whether you could be more effective at contributing to the cool factor. For example, consider how much machinery you use — the washing machine, the TV, the computer. They all generate heat, so save these things for the cooler parts of the day.
Nothing emits heat like ovens and stoves, so why not make more salads and other “raw” foods, or make dishes in bulk and reheat portions in the microwave, which will warm your house far less than a stove.
Light is another culprit when it comes to generating heat. Replace halogen and incandescent light bulbs with cooler LED lights, and be sure to use them only when you need them.
Closing your curtains is another way of protecting your home from the sun’s rays, so do this before it gets too hot.
While none of these things will replace the need for air-conditioning, they will all help to reduce the heat in your home, meaning that you don’t have to keep the thermostat quite so low. You’ll still be just as comfortable, but you’ll save money and help the environment, too.