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Illinois Country Living

Just Cool It!
How to turn down your air conditioner and not melt

Dear Jim: I want to try to use less energy this summer. I know I will have to air-condition less, but I like it comfortably cool in my house. What things can I do to make me feel cooler with less air-conditioning? - Linda L.

Dear Linda: Using a central air conditioner or heat pump during summer can significantly increase your utility bills. In today’s economic climate, everyone is trying to reduce their housing budget in every way possible. Using less air-conditioning, especially during the hottest summer weekday afternoons, can save you money on electric bills while helping your electric cooperative reduce peak demand. This helps hold down future rate increases.

It is not too difficult or uncomfortable to get by with much less summer air-conditioning or none at all. After all, up until just a couple of generations ago residential air-conditioning did not even exist – and we all survived. I recall when I was a child we had a window fan and a floor fan for a family of four. It got a little warm and we perspired, but we just accepted that in the summer, one perspires.

But summers don’t have to be about perspiration these days.

There are four good methods for keeping comfortable without air-conditioning:

  • Bringing in cooler outdoor air
    when possible.
  • Increasing the air velocity inside your house.
  • Minimizing the indoor
    humidity level.
  • Blocking heat transmission into
    your house.

Using all of these methods or a combination of a few can make a significant improvement. Once you become accustomed to the warmer ambient temperature, being in highly air-conditioned spaces will feel chilly.

Installing a whole-house fan accomplishes two of these methods. At night, it typically brings in cooler air and exhausts the hot air from your house. A large whole-house fan can also create quite a pleasant breeze throughout your house. A typical unit uses just a small fraction of the electricity a central air conditioner does.

Increasing the velocity of indoor air can make a room feel 5 to 10 degrees cooler than still air at the same temperature. This is the theory behind using ceiling paddle fans. They use very little electricity and they can create a comforting effect even though they actually make the room air slightly warmer.

During summer, set the ceiling fan blade rotation so it blows the air downward (turning counter clockwise as you look up) and run it on medium or high speed for the most comfort. During winter, reverse the blade rotation so the air blows upward (turning clockwise as you look up) and run it on low speed. This will gently move the warm air at the ceiling out to the walls and down. Since it is on low speed, it will not create a draft, which could feel chilly during winter.

If you plan to rely on natural ventilation through windows, hopefully you have casement windows. When the sash projects out from the house, it tends to catch and direct the natural breezes into your house more than vertical or horizontal slider windows.

If you do have sliders, all is not lost. Fully open the windows on the downwind side of your house. There usually is a slight lower pressure on this side so some air will be drawn from your house. Open the windows just a bit less on the windward side. This creates a faster airflow in through these partial-opened windows making you more comfortable if you sit near them.

Need a few more quick tips for keeping things cool?

Run your kitchen and bathroom vent fans whenever you are cooking or bathing to remove the moisture.

Use the summer weather as an excuse to grill outside more often and reduce the cooking heat in your kitchen.

Make sure the clothes dryer vent duct is not leaking and allowing hot humid air to stay indoors.

Block heat from entering your windows and glass doors with awnings and window film. Install reflective foil under the attic rafters to block radiant heat from a hot roof.

And make sure you have adequate attic ventilation and that insulation is not blocking soffit vents.

By following some of these steps, you’ll be saving money while keeping cool in no time.


Have a question for Jim? Send inquiries to: James Dulley, Illinois Country Living, 6906 Royalgreen
Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit



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