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How to keep your home cool in the summer heat

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Watch for the heat to hang around once it arrives in British Columbia

At some point this summer, the weather's going to heat up. Just how much the mercury rises is somewhat of a guessing game, but Global TV senior meteorologist Mark Madryga says he expects things this July and August to be near-normal in B.C.

The trend, science shows, is up. The research, says Mark, predicts a greater frequency of extreme weather events, and Health Canada is expecting a doubling of extreme heat events by the end of the century.

Team Power Smart contest: Win an energy-efficient washer and dryer

Mark said that while temperatures in B.C. rarely reach 40°C, heat waves are lasting longer. A heat wave, defined by Environment Canada as three or more consecutive days in which the maximum temperature is greater than or equal to 32°C, is significant enough to cause health problems, particularly in young children and the elderly.

But it's easy to ready your home to stay cool no matter how hot things get this summer.

Team Power Smart engineer Tony Mauro explains that there are two ways to prepare a house to deal with the heat. The first is to make sure the house doesn't heat up in the first place. The second is to use air flow to dissipate any heat that does build up.

Keep appliances off

A major source of heat in our houses are the large appliances that make our lives so convenient. You can keep the temperature in your house down by choosing not to use them.

Fire up the barbecue and cook outdoors so you don't have to turn on the stove or oven.

You can even cook vegetables on the grill using metal baskets or foil, and anything else can be prepped in the energy-efficient and reasonably cool microwave.

One of summer's many benefits is the chance to use a clothesline to save energy and money while drying laundry.

If you do eight loads of laundry a week and use your clothesline for 50% of those clothes, you could save $45 a year. And your home will be cooler than it would have been had you been running the dryer.

Keep the heat out

In addition to turning off the heat sources inside the house, Mauro says that prepping your house for hot days is key.

Keeping the blinds closed, especially in rooms that are exposed to direct sunlight, keeps the sun rays out. Mauro installed thermal blinds in his daughter's room, which catches the sun all day, and says the temperature in that bedroom was drastically reduced.

You can also plant trees to keep the sun from shining on your house.

Improving your house's envelope can also help to protect your house from the heat. The province has not only extended the LiveSmart BC program, but has increased the incentives available, so now is an ideal time to upgrade insulation and windows.

And draft proofing your home not only keeps the hot air out in the summer, but it also keeps the cold air out when winter comes around.

Improve air flow

The drawback to sealing houses with better insulation and windows, though, is that air doesn't flow through them as easily. And the best way to moderate temperature is with the movement of air.

"The vast majority of homes are leaky," says Mauro, "so the houses ventilate themselves."

That's not true of newer homes and houses that have been renovated, though, which is one reason air conditioning units, especially the portable kind, have become so popular. But air conditioners require lots of electricity.

Instead, there are some simple things you can do to get the air inside your house moving around and replacing it with fresh air from outside.

The simplest is to turn on the bathroom fan. Despite what you might think, fans are not installed in bathrooms to deal with bad smells, but rather to provide ventilation to the house.

Ceiling fans also improve the circulation of air through your house, and Mauro says that a recent test with attic fans in Florida resulted in a dramatic decrease in the use of air conditioners there.

Floor and table fans can also be used to improve air flow. See the sidebar on this page for more on how fans keep you cool.

Getting rid of stagnant air

In the evenings, when the outside temperature has dropped, you can cool and freshen your house by simply opening up some doors and windows and letting the breeze take care of things.

Tony says to remember that heat rises, which is why your upstairs bedrooms can become unbearable and the basement so pleasant. That scientific fact can work to your advantage if you open a window downstairs and another upstairs.

The technical term for it is "the stack effect", says Tony, joking that it's somewhat of a geeky engineering thing. Practically, it describes how the hot air will rise up and out the window on the second floor, and cooler air from outside will come in from below.

Heat recovery ventilators (HRV), also known as ventilation fans, transfer heat while moving air in and out of your house. They aren't all created equal, though, so if an HRV is a good option for you, look for an ENERGY STAR® certified model and make sure it is well-maintained so it will work properly and efficiently.

Air conditioners: best practices

If you need an air conditioner, insist on an ENERGY STAR model, and use it responsibly.

Set your unit to 25°C so it isn't running constantly, but only when necessary. And don't operate the air conditioner in the evenings, when the temperature outside has dropped, or when your house isn't occupied.

And make sure that the outside component is clear of debris like leaves and garbage, because that will affect the performance and efficiency of the air conditioner.

If you've got more than two or three portable models being used, you should consider a whole-home unit, which will be more efficient and will save you money in the end.

Learn about how design and technology make for a cooler home