Keeping your cool in Chico

How to turn down the heat and save some bucks

COOL IT <br>Tempra Board inspects her central air conditioning unit to make sure the fans and cooling fins are not obstructed by debris from fallen leaves or twigs, rodent intrusions or children’s toys, all of which can cause damage to outside units.

Tempra Board inspects her central air conditioning unit to make sure the fans and cooling fins are not obstructed by debris from fallen leaves or twigs, rodent intrusions or children’s toys, all of which can cause damage to outside units.

Photo By Stephanie Bird

Spring has sprung but one thing is certain–when summer is here it will be hotter than ever. Blame global warming, blame all the lightly treed blacktop parking lots surrounding Chico these days, and slump in your backyard kiddie pool with an icy margarita because staying cool when the mercury hits 105 for days on end is a major challenge once the inversion layer stakes its claim on the North Valley.

One strategy to survive the heat is to update your house’s cooling system. There are many ways to shave some degrees off the internal temperature of your casa. You can employ evaporative coolers, window air-conditioning units, central air or any combination of whole-house and strategically placed box or oscillating fans. Moving air is what cools a body down. And it doesn’t hurt if that air is cooler to begin with.

Air feels cooler is if it’s less humid–one of the reasons air conditioners are so effective. While “swamp” or evaporative coolers are more energy efficient than air conditioners (and better for the environment) they lose their cooling edge in hotter climes with moderate humidity, like Chico.

The way an evaporative cooler works is by pulling air through filters kept wet by an internal pump. When the air is pulled through the filters, the temperature can drop up to 20 degrees as the water on the pads evaporates and cools the air surrounding them. Evaporative coolers work best in dry climates (more efficient evaporation) and in regions where the temperatures don’t exceed 100 degrees F.

If you’re a renter or can’t shell out the big bucks to get a whole-house air conditioning system, researching and buying an energy-efficient window unit air conditioner may be your best bet to stay cool. It’s important to get a unit adjusted to your room size–one designed for smaller spaces will run all the time, using more energy, and one too large will draw too much energy to begin with and then continue to start up and shut down too frequently, which is hard on the unit. Taking good measurements of your space will help you in your research.

Those who already have a whole house system older than 10 years ought to consider looking into newer, more efficient systems now available. Additionally, it’s important to have your ducts checked to make sure there aren’t any leaks, and to change out your filters on a regular basis. Most installers recommend changing them at least twice a year.

Don’t buy into one of the most popular myths out there: that letting the air-conditioner run all day long is easier on the pocketbook than shutting it off while you are out and turning it on to re-cool the house when you return. This is not true–the way to save on your energy bill is to not run the air conditioner. Additionally, if your house is closed all day long, the coolness from the night will be retained through most of the day, if you have adequate insulation and keep the windows shut. Fresh air is hotter in the summer and also more humid, bringing back the moisture your air conditioner worked hard to remove while it was on.

There are several programs out there aimed at helping homeowners improve the energy efficiency of their houses. I spoke with Anna Gomez, who is a scheduler for MICAP (Moderate Income Comprehensive Attic Program) and she pointed me to the PG&E Web site where many of these programs are listed. Most are aimed at helping lower-income residents and are funded in part by that tax on your PG&E statement. If you qualify, PG&E will do things like insulate the attic, seal ducts, replace broken window glass and even replace older refrigerators. If you’re not low-income, then you may qualify for MICAP, which targets many of the same projects.

Randy Martin offers some good advice in his article Home Energy Checklist - Reduce Your Energy Costs:

Consumer Energy Center, guide to evaporative coolers, window AC, and central heating and air: www.consumerenergycenter.orghomeandwork/homes/inside/heatandcool/

California Flex Your Power

PG&E Energy Programs Smarter Energy Line (800) 933-9555

MICAP (Moderate Income Comprehensive Attic Program) (800) 476-1022

More ways to keep cool
Choose clothing made of natural fibers, and in light colors as they will reflect heat and absorb perspiration.

Drink plenty of liquids.

Go for simple meals of cold cuts, salads, etc.

When you cook, choose appliances that don’t produce indoor heat, such as microwaves, crock pots and stove top pans. Or fire up the barbeque.

Try to get your hot work done during the cooler morning hours or later in the evening to avoid the heat-producing tasks during the hottest part of the day.

Turn off unnecessary lights and appliances.

Keep windows shut when closing up the house for the day or when running the air conditioner.

Close your drapes on hot sunny days or use outdoor shades or plant some trees as this will keep out even more heat.

To keep heat and humidity down, try using as little hot water as possible.

Use bath and kitchen vents to exhaust heat and moisture.

Make sure your clothes dryer is vented outdoors, or use a clothesline.

Open your windows in the evening to capture the cool breezes and close them early in the morning on hot days–if your home is tight and well insulated, it may stay cool all day.

Use fans whenever possible.

Install a ceiling fan to create air movement. The air movement can keep you cool at a higher temperature, and allow you to avoid running your air conditioner.