ISSAQUAH, Wash.– Bright summer sunlight pours in through the master bedroom at Lynn Brueckman’s house in the Issaquah Highlands. It’s a beautiful western view that’s about to bake her house.
“It’s so bright,” she says, pointing toward the spot between the trees in the distance. “The sun sets right there, this is the brightest room in the house.”
This is Lynn’s first heat wave here in the Pacific Northwest. She and her sons relocated from Kansas to the Seattle suburb last year. We went along on an Puget Sound Energy energy audit to see what tips we can learn to help you deal with the coming heat wave — and even save money, too.
Lucky for Lynn, the front of her home gets shade from street trees. And it's relatively new construction, built in 1999, so it has adequate insulation to protect the inside of the house from when Mother's Nature's extreme heat and cold infrequently affect our region.
"I'm going to change all these for you," says Sean Gorton while on the first stop on the tour in her sons' upstairs bathroom. The eight incandescent bulbs above the mirror can generate a lot of heat, so Gorton will replace them with LED lights, which use a sixth of the electricity and produce no extra heat. "There's a lot of power going into these, but a lot of it is wasted in the form of heat."
COST: $6-10 per bulb, many are free with a PSE energy audit.
Lights are just one thing of many that can create heat inside your home. Avoiding using your oven or clothes dryer will keep your house significantly cooler during our heat waves. You can use the heat outside to dry your clothes, if you've got a clothesline or want to invest in one. For cooking, using an outside grill or your microwave is always better during a heat wave.
COST: $5-10 for a clothesline and pins
Energy efficiency experts say the best way to keep your home cool is to not let it get hot inside in the first place. Closing outside shutters or inside shades is optimal before 10 a.m. to keep out the hot summer sun. Shutters or outside blinds are rare in the Northwest since our heat waves are so infrequent. If none of your windows have sun protection, you'll want to invest in window curtains or blinds on your south- and west-facing windows first to get the most bang for you buck.
COST: 0- $100s, varies depending on type of window covering. A sheet you already have will be better than nothing at all.
When it's cooler outside than inside, you'll want to open up your house to let that cool air in. The most effective configuration is to blow air IN on the lower level and blow air OUT on the upper level in your home. If you live in an apartment or condo, you'll want to generate the greatest cross-breeze possible. If you are having difficulty getting a cross-breeze, your bathroom fan can actually help. "One effective way if you don't have big fans to put in the windows," says PSE's Sean Gorton. "You can actually turn on your bathroom fans and open some windows and that will create some negative pressure in the house and pull in some of the cool air."
COST: $10-20 per box fan
For Lynn, a real estate agent and interior designer, she's got some experience with summer sizzle having moved here from the Kansas City area, where it's pretty much hot for three or four full months every year. It gives her some perspective that can help the rest of us, too. "You do have to embrace [the heat] somewhat. Get the kids outside and get the sprinklers going. Don't dread it too much, just do what you can. "
A note on fans: They do a great job of reducing the apparent temperature-- which is how the air feels on your body. Unless the fans are actively blowing cool air in during the evening or morning-- they do nothing to reduce the actual air temperature in your house. So, if no one is home during the day when your house or apartment is closed up-- you're just wasting energy.
A note on air conditioning units: They do a great job of cooling parts or all of your house. They do cost a lot to run, so you'll want to only run them when you're home. Many window units now even have timers to start before you get home or only turn on for a few hours. And make sure you're matching the power of your air conditioning unit with the amount of space you're trying to cool. Read your manufacturer's recommendations on this one. If you're trying to cool the whole level of your house with one small unit, you'll waste money and still be uncomfortable.
Spending more: If you want to spend more, of course, you can buy yourself some cool. Insulation in many houses older than 1990 qualify for some energy rebates from utilities like PSE. You can also invest in something like a heat pump. It's a more energy-efficient device that removes the heat from the air and pumps it into your house. It does the opposite in the winter. Many heat pumps run about $2,000-$5,000 to install and most also qualify for energy rebates from most utilities.