Scorching heat and smothering humidity are coming soon – raising the age-old question of how to stay comfortable in the good ol’ Iowa summertime.
Before you dash to your local hardware store for a fan, dehumidifier, or air conditioner – or even all three – consider the various options carefully, so that you understand the advantages and limitations of each:
This option has the weight of history behind it. The hand-held fan has probably been around since the first caveman waved a leaf near his face on a hot day and discovered how good it felt, and the mechanical fan was invented in the late 1800s. Fans cool people well because they increase the evaporation of moisture from the skin, speeding up heat loss from the body – but there’s only so much they can do to cool a home.
There are many models of fans you can choose from:
Floor, table, and ceiling models cool best when you stay near them. A ceiling fan, for example, can keep you comfortable when it’s 82 degrees in your house and the humidity is 80 percent. They only use 25 percent as much energy to operate as a window air conditioner and are a good choice on days that aren’t too hot or humid. But when the day is brutal, you’ll need the other options below.
Window fans are designed to ventilate a house, as opposed to just cooling someone nearby. They work by moving hot air outside and bringing cool air in. Most people instinctively put them in a window on their home’s shady side, but you may get better results by opening the windows on the shady side and putting the fan on the sunny side, facing outward – so that it pulls the hot room air outside.
Whole house fans ventilate even better than window fans. They’re usually mounted in a hall ceiling on the top floor, and they’re so powerful that they can pull air from the entire house up into the attic, to be vented out. The resulting difference in pressure causes cool air to flow in through the open windows. Depending on the outside temperature, this kind of fan can reduce your home’s temperature by up to 20 degrees.
Kitchen and bath exhaust fans can also boost ventilation, but be careful: if the house is already cool from night air or an air conditioner, running an exhaust fan for just one hour will draw every bit of cool air out. Fifteen minutes should be all you need to remove bathroom humidity or cooking heat.
The fans described above may keep your home cool enough in early summer and fall, but on steamy July days, an air conditioner could be the only way to sleep and stay comfortable – because they reduce humidity as well as temperature.
They’re far more expensive to operate, though, so take steps to minimize their use. Keep your window shades and curtains drawn on the south and west sides of your house to keep your home cooler, maintain your unit before turning them on for the season, and consider placement of the AC unit. For example, place a window unit on the north side of your house in a shady window, if possible. A central unit should also be positioned in a shady spot outside. Landscape plantings that shade the unit can help, but keep them trimmed and somewhat away from the air conditioning unit.
You can reduce operating cost even further if you run a table, floor, or ceiling fan at the same time – because the fan’s moving air will cool you even better than air conditioning alone can.
It seems like reducing humidity should make you feel cooler, but the truth is that dehumidifiers generate so much heat that they actually raise a room’s temperature – so don’t buy one for cooling. Reserve them for use in areas like a damp basement, where there’s no air conditioning and no one nearby to feel the heat they give off.
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