Ventilation is the least expensive and most energy-efficient way to cool buildings. Ventilation works best when combined with methods to avoid heat buildup in your home. In some cases, natural ventilation will suffice for cooling, although it usually needs to be supplemented with spot ventilation, ceiling fans, and window fans. For large homes, homeowners might want to investigate whole house fans.
Interior ventilation is ineffective in hot, humid climates where temperature swings between day and night are small. In these climates, natural ventilation of your attic (often required by building codes) will help to reduce your use of air conditioning, and attic fans may also prove beneficial. However, an alternate approach is to seal the attic and make it part of the conditioned space in your house, putting the insulation on the inside of the roof rather than on the floor of the attic. Sealed attics are more feasible in new home construction, but can be retrofitted on an existing house.
Principles of Heating and Cooling
Understanding the roles of conduction, convection, radiation, and perspiration.
Avoiding Heat Buildup
Keeping the outside heat outside, avoiding heat-generating activities, and using spot ventilation can help keep your home cool during hot days.
To avoid heat buildup in your home, plan ahead by landscaping your lot to shade your house. If you replace your roof, use a light-colored material to help it reflect heat. Insulate your house to at least the recommended levels to help keep out the heat, and consider using a radiant barrier.
On hot days, whenever outdoor temperatures are higher than the temperature inside your house, close tightly all the windows and exterior doors. Also install window shades or other window treatments and close the shades. Shades will help block out not only direct sunlight, but also radiated heat from the outdoors, and insulated shades will reduce the conduction of heat into your home through your windows.
Cooking can be a major source of heat within a home. On hot days, avoid using the oven; cook on the stovetop, or better yet, use only a microwave oven. For stovetop or oven cooking, use the spot ventilation of your oven hood to help remove the heat from the house (this will suck some hot outside air into your home, so don’t overdo it). Outdoor grilling is a great way to avoid cooking indoors, and of course, going out to eat or ordering take-out work as well.
Bathing, washing laundry, and other activities can also pump heat into your home. When you shower or take a bath, use the spot ventilation of a bathroom fan to remove the heat and humidity from your home. Your laundry room might also benefit from spot ventilation. If you use an electric dryer, be sure it’s vented to the outside (for safety, gas dryers should ALWAYS be vented to the outside). If you live in an older home with a sump that your laundry drains to, drain the sump after running any loads in hot water (or better yet, avoid using hot water for your laundry).
Finally, avoid any activities that generate a lot of heat, such as running a computer, burning open flames, running a dishwasher, and using hot devices such as curling irons or hair dryers. Even stereos and televisions will add some heat to your home.
In some parts of the United States, natural convection and cool breezes are sufficient to keep homes cool.
Ceiling Fans, Window Fans, and Other Circulating Fans
Fans that circulate air within your home can improve your comfort level. Window fans use relatively little electricity and provide sufficient cooling for homes in many parts of the country.
Whole House Fans
For larger homes, a whole house fan provides excellent ventilation to achieve lower indoor temperatures. For homes with ducts, an alternative approach uses those ducts to supply ventilation air throughout the home.