Summer in Australia can be tough, doubly so when you’re hit with a surprise heatwave. When the temperature starts climbing towards 40°C and up, staying cool and well-hydrated is a must.
While the simplest way to stay cool during a heatwave is to invest in an air conditioner, it’s rarely the cheapest option available, both in up-front and running costs.
Here are some tips to help you stay cool in summer without spending a bundle:
Stay in the shade
Why do garden greenhouses get so hot? It’s because the glass lets sunlight in to warm up the air inside, but doesn’t let this hot air escape.
The same principle applies when it comes to your home’s windows during the summer. If the hot sun is allowed to shine into your home, the indoor temperature may rise. If this hot air isn’t allowed to escape, your home may quickly grow uncomfortably warm.
One option to consider is covering your windows with shades, shutters, blinds, tinting or curtains during the day, keeping the sun’s rays outside and limiting their impact on your home’s temperature. These coverings can be removed at night to prevent them from insulating your home and locking too much warmth indoors.
Make smart use of cross-ventilation
A ceiling fan, desk fan, or upright fan may be relatively inexpensive to buy/install, but may not be able to beat the summer heat all on its own. While the indoor breeze from a fan can feel refreshing, simply moving your home’s hot air around does nothing to lower the temperature.
One option is to open some of your doors and windows, allowing air to flow in through one opening and out through the other. This cross-ventilation, encouraged by a running fan, can help to move the warm air out of your home and bring cooler air inside to replace it.
This of course assumes that the air is cooler outside your home than inside – it may be worth waiting until night-time, when things have cooled down, to put this strategy into action.
Mind your energy usage
There are two reasons to consider limiting your use of electronics and appliances in the hottest days of summer – heat generation and running costs.
Everything in your home that runs on electricity generate a small amount of heat as a side effect. While some gadgets and household appliance produce more waste heat than others – your laptop likely runs hotter than your radio, for example – the combined effect of a household full of electronics can mean a warmer than average household, which is exactly the opposite of what you want in the summer.
If unplugging your electronics isn’t a viable option (some gadgets use energy and generate heat even in standby mode), it’s important to estimate their electricity usage, calculate their running costs, and work out where you can change your usage habits to cut costs.
Working out the approximate running costs of any appliance involves finding its wattage (often included in the manual or specifications sheet), adding up the number of hours it’s typically used over a length of time (day/week/month/year), then comparing this to the cost of electricity in your area (check with your energy provider).
Sometimes it’s not the heat, but the humidity that bothers you in summer, especially in Australia’s more tropical regions. In cases such as these, a dehumidifier could be useful for removing excess moisture from your home’s air, while also being relatively inexpensive compared to an air conditioner.
Not only can a dehumidifier help make tropical summers feel a bit less sticky, but drying out your home can help to discourage the growth of mould and mildew, which is good news for allergy sufferers.
Keep in mind that while a dehumidifier can help to keep you dry, it won’t necessarily help to cool your home down – in fact, dehumidifiers often emit a small amount of warm air as exhaust.
Run your aircon efficiently
If you do own an air conditioner, it’s important to be realistic about what it can do, and to avoid using excess energy trying to achieve the impossible.
Smaller portable air conditioners, while cheaper than bigger split systems, tend to do their best work in smaller rooms, so don’t expect your little chiller to efficiently cool your large open-plan home. Also, their exhaust needs to be vented efficiently to get their best performance, which could limit their usage to rooms with windows that fit the exhaust hose.
Even the large split systems can use way more energy than required if not run smartly. For example, setting too low a target temperature compared to the current conditions (e.g. setting it to 20°C on a 40°C day) can mean the aircon will run its motor at full blast trying in vain to compete with the nigh-unlimited power of the sun.
The Australian government’s Energy Made Easy website recommends setting an aircon temperature of 26°C in summer to take the edge off your home’s temperature, rather than trying to turn your home into a walk-in fridge. This is a far more achievable goal for an aircon, and can help limit its energy use and wear and tear on the motor over time.