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20 ways to REALLY reduce your summer utility bills

 
paul wheaton
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In my feeble attempt to be a good site steward, I've been learning to use reddit and tell reddit about stuff here.

I came across something there that says "10 ways to reduce your summer utility bills" and it seemed to be all about brain dead air conditioner stuff. 

So I thought it would be good to come up with REAL ways to save on utilities in the summer.  Surely, we can do a helluva lot better.

1) make that summer heat work for you:  dry your clothes on a clothes line

2) grow trees around your house

3) increase your thermal mass indoors:  more stuff inside.  The heavier, the better.  A greater thermal mass makes for greater thermal inertia.  The cool from the evening, or even a few days ago will cool you during the warmest part of the day.

4) cook less

5) keep your fridge full and dust the coils

6) go away - the less you are at home, the less power/water you use.  Plus, your own body is a heater.

7) with proper lawn care you can have a green lawn all summer without watering it: http://www.richsoil.com/lawn-care.jsp

wash your dishes by hand - the right way.  Less water means less water bill AND less hot water which is less electricity/gas.

9) put motion detectors on your outside flood lights

10) layers of shade inside and outside.  This is worth a thread of its own.  There are so many things you can do.  And for every style of roof (yes, even the three tab stuff, or cedar shake, or metal) you could do a rooftop garden which will cool the house tremendously. 

11) Vent your attic space.  It can get to 140 degrees in there!

Who wants to add to this list?

 
Jami McBride
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You covered it well, I can only think of a couple more....

Open your windows in the evening/morning and keep them closed during the day!

Use your BBQ, Crock pot and/or Propane-burner to 'cook' outside.

Leave your house in the afternoon - go to the mall, the river, the book store, as you say Paul leave!

Use osculating fans, pointed at the people, instead of air conditioning.

If you don't have established vegetation, hang something (blinds) from your eves outside to block direct sun access through windows.

Drink more water!

  Stay Cool.....

 
Emerson White
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I'm pretty sure an energy star dishwasher will wash your dishes with less water than you possibly could and less energy, especially if you are using solar hot water like you should be.
 
paul wheaton
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Jami, I'm gonna add some numbers to your stuff

12) Open your windows in the evening/morning and keep them closed during the day!

13) Use your BBQ, Crock pot and/or Propane-burner to 'cook' outside.

6.1) Leave your house in the afternoon - go to the mall, the river, the book store, as you say Paul smiley leave!

14) Use osculating fans, pointed at the people, instead of air conditioning.

10.1) If you don't have established vegetation, hang something (blinds) from your eves outside to block direct sun access through windows.

15) Drink more water!


Five more to go!


 
paul wheaton
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Emerson White wrote:
I'm pretty sure an energy star dishwasher will wash your dishes with less water than you possibly could and less energy, especially if you are using solar hot water like you should be.


I'm gonna refute that in another thread:  http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/4019_0/alternative-energy/washing-dishes-by-hand-vs-dishwasher


 
                                  
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-- Grow creeping/climbing evergreen vines with edible fruit/leaves/flowers to cover the walls of your house.  Cuts the sun falling on the exterior walls by up to 70% in the summer; prevents heat loss in the winter by up to 30%.

-- Paint your house with reflective insulating paint to add R value to the walls.

-- Construct a shade-house along the north wall of your house out of trellis material.  Grow edible vines to cover the wall and roof.  It cools the air that enters the house through the north windows.
 
paul wheaton
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paul wheaton
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17) If you form a bit of a dinner club with friends, family and neighbors, maybe you'll be about to eat with friends once or twice a week.  Thus reducing cooking, cooling, ligthting, etc. at your house - and once in a while you will return the favor, but the difference in utilities for that night would be about the same as cooking for yourself.
 
paul wheaton
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1 use permaculture techniques to reduce water needs for your garden.

19)  Maybe it's time to get a high efficiency front end loader washing machine - cut water usage by a factor of three.

20)  Save three gallons of water every time you pee (toilets typically use three gallons per flush) by peeing outside.  (bonus thread for women)
 
                        
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Great list Paul!  I would take objection to Number 8.  Some dishwashers are designed to use less water and they actually do use less than hand washing.  If I have rat doo in my pots and pans -- I want to run them through the dishwasher before I use them for cooking.

Trees:  This guy at Auburn University worked out how much electricity you can save by planting shade trees.

http://wireeagle.auburn.edu/news/581

But .... people along the gulf coast pointed out that when those big trees come down in the hurricanes/tornados they can cost a whole lot of money.

If you plant trees -- check the prevailing winds of major storms and plant to alleviate the damage of high winds:  Layer.  Plant in staggered rows to break the force of high winds.  And check the survivability of trees species in your area-- some species are much more storm worthy than others.  And keep brittle and weak wood off your property.  In a hurricane that's the stuff that goes flying and puncturing your windows.

Next topic.  Shades on windows.  In old houses here in Alabama (where it gets HOT) windows were fitted with interior shutters on accordion  hinges.  In summer the shutters are kept closed.  In winter they fold and rest neatly exposing the full area of the window for maximum sunlight.  Traditional architecture was a lot more weather/energy worthy than modern houses.

Also tall ceilings let the heat go up away from the people zone.  An attic ventilating fan takes it up and out of your building.  Again -- old houses have symmetical windows and doors on each end of the building that draw up the hot air and let it out of the building in Summer.
 
tel jetson
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wombat wrote:
But .... people along the gulf coast pointed out that when those big trees come down in the hurricanes/tornados they can cost a whole lot of money.


how about vines growing on buildings or on trellises very close to buildings?  cooling in the summer by shade and transpiration.  reduce heat loss to wind in the winter.  and fruit, supposing you find the right vine(s).
 
                        
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most people don't use vines for shade because they consider them "snakey".  Also most vines would damage siding on buildings.  A trellis of grapevines should be feasible -- but Ive never seen anyone do that here.

Recently I noticed that someone had planted a vine at the hospital to shade a south facing passageway.  I investigated and found that it was this plant:

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag112

"air potato".  This little garden was planted by the Rural Studio which is a group of students from Auburn University interested in finding innovative-inexpensive ways to construct housing for this poverty area.  The air potato makes a very shady cover and I thought about trying it until I found out how invasive it is.

Another vine that would work for trellising in this area is smilax.

http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://alabamaplants.com/Whitealt/Smilax_pumila_plant.jpg&imgrefurl=http://alabamaplants.com/Whitealt/Smilax_pumila_page.html&h=548&w=560&sz=116&tbnid=baQHpFs3S0Z7cM:&tbnh=130&tbnw=133&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dsmilax&usg=__IbCBV92A0lnApd1XlLC0_q17Q2E=&ei=A_zrS_bIKsGC8gaPhvHHBA&sa=X&oi=image_result&resnum=10&ct=image&ved=0CE4Q9QEwCQ

Rural Studio has built structures in this area from tires, straw bales, and other innovative practices.  Wikipedia even has a list of projects :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rural_Studio

 
                                  
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wombat wrote:
Also most vines would damage siding on buildings.  A trellis of grapevines should be feasible -- but Ive never seen anyone do that here.


Whether there is any damage is controversial and depends on several factors, such as the type of vine, eg, creeper or climber, evergreen or deciduous, etc. 
Some say that vines protect structures against UV damage and direct pounding by rain and wind, and the blistering heat of the sun. 
There are many buildings in Europe, for instance, that have been ivy covered for many hundreds of years with several beneficial effects.  I think the "risk" is well
worth the reward, as long as the situation is monitored seasonally.
 
                          
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I like the idea of mowing less. Need a lift kit for the rider 
 
                        
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I have a 100 year old wooden house.  English ivy and poison ivy damage the building by growing under the shingles and prying them loose.  Trumpet creeper does the same thing.

The ivies also have areal rootlets that damage wooden structures.

Smilax is a well behaved vine that will just lean against the structure without damage.

I think a trellis a several feet away from the structure for a climbing vine is a better idea.  And it makes a shady spot to be outside, but not in the blistering sun.

 
                                  
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Sounds like you have horizontal siding.  I wonder whether the same degree of damage would take place on structures with vertical siding; I kinda doubt it.  Still,
for wooden structures, trellising the vines about 12" away from the wall would probably be the way to go.  This would also create some dead air that may well add
to the insulative value.  For brick and stone, though, I don't think I'd bother.  I think it's also worth a try on metal and fiberglass mobile homes. 

The good thing is that if you inspect it regularly, it ought to be possible to see any impending problems before they get out of hand and simply cut down the vines.

 
                        
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I was thinking more like 12 feet away from the building.  that way you don't impede air circulation which is so critical to preventing rot in an old building.  Also that distance would be less likely to harbor things like black widow spiders.

At a 12 distance you have a shady outdoor room that you can use for all sorts of things.  Especially if there is an overhang so you can still use it on rainy days.
 
                                  
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A shade house is a great thing for the north side of a home, as Mollison discusses in depth, and vines covering
a trellis "room" would fit the bill nicely.  But one of the benefits is to funnel cool air into the home and 12' away is
probably too far for optimal cooling.

And assuming there's a sunroom/greenhouse on the south side, that leaves east and west.  I'm not sure the reason
to place vines so far away from those walls is to prevent black widow spiders.
 
                    
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Great ideas thanks! its about to get hot out there!
 
                                    
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Insulated curtains. They do a great job of blocking out the sun and have kept my unairconditioned home a lot more comfortable...like 20 degrees more comfortable.

We have a frontloader and because we have a city water bill it paid for itself in around three years. We saw a around a $35 drop in our water bill per month.We also saved on electricity as we bought the washer/dryer set and had 14 year old appliances before that.Electric bill dropped by around $30.
 
Burra Maluca
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I run a hose pipe with a trigger spray in loops around the back yard during hot weather and then when I wash up I bring the end into the house and it supplies the hot water.  It's very economical - a quick spray is all you need to rinse, and you don't get back ache leaning towards the tap all the time.  One day I'll have 'proper' solar heated water and a kitchen that fits... 
 
                                        
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If your lifestyle permits, then take a siesta.  This summer I have been waking up early and having breakfast, then doing as much work as I can before it gets too hot outside(meanwhile the house is sealed up with curtains drawn ect . . .).  During the hot part of the day I can nap in front of a fan without the air conditioning on.  Wake up and work some more after 5PM.  Have a late dinner and do household chores at night.  I have not run the AC at all this year and we have had some 100 degree days.  We'll see how this works out when we have multliple 100 plus days like we usually do here in NoCal during July and August. . I find it easier to take the heat when I am asleep, as long as I am in front of a fan.
 
                    
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Indeed! I vote for taking a siesta!
Now if I could only convince the rest of the state to join me.
 
                                                                    
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Thanks for all of the great ideas.


If I may add some more input:

1) Wear open toed shoes like sandals.
2) Dress in lighter fabrics like cotton and linen that offer little insulation.  Wear less clothing.
3) Deal gently and forthrightly with hormonal hot flashes that result in a trip to the thermostat.  "dear you may be having a hot flash" WHAM.
4) Try to acclimatize to the heat.  I find that I can condition my body to the heat by not avoiding it continually. 
5) Fill re-usable glass water bottles and keep them cold in the fridge.  When I feel really hot I can reach for a cold one.  I reuse Grolsh beer bottles.
6) Have trees over the house but hire a skilled arborist to trim them and cable them so they don't crush the house and/or it's occupants.


 
Ken Peavey
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Summer means SUN.

Seems to me that if you want to reduce the utility bills, putting the sun to work for you as a source of free, renewable energy is the path to follow.

-Solar cookers are easy to build, even if your handyman skills are lacking.  Meals can be prepared without heating up the house or consuming costly fuels.  Save your sweat glands, your wallet and the planet.
-Make sun tea.  A gallon glass jug, +-5 tea bags, and 4 hours in a bright spot.  Add sugar after you cool it.
-solar hot water.  Hot water heaters are one of the largest energy consuming appliances in the house.  If you can use the sunlight on the roof of your house, the sunlight that would otherwise heat your house is removed, reducing your cooling costs.
-Set up an SLCD: Solar Linear Clothes Dryer.   Known colloquially as a clothes line.
-There are people who burn propane or natural gas to heat a swimming pool in the summer.

-The sun is the enemy of your cooling bill.  Shade trees are all well and good, but I have had a problem with trees and storms.  Consider a trellis with vines, pole beans, curcurbits, or morning glory.  Sunflowers grow tall and make a fine snack.   Covering the windows with aluminum foil, shiny side out, keeps the heat of the sun outside. 
For cooling without the energy intensive air conditioner, window fans can go a long way.  I've set them up blowing into the house from the shaded north side, blowing out to the sunny south side. 
If air conditioning is a necessity you can't do without, set it high.  I set mine at 80 degrees.  If you can't handle 80 degrees, you are weak and soft.  Work on it.

-Refrigeration works harder and costs more when the room containing the appliance is warmer.  Add thermal mass to the fridge and freezer by keeping it full.   Jugs of water or sun tea in the fridge, ice in the freezer.  Open the door less.  Try taking a picture of the contents with your cell phone so you dont have to stand there with the door open for 20 minutes staring at bacon.

Eliminate heat sources in the house. 
-Rather than leave the coffee pot running, turn the thing off, put the coffee in the fridge, have some ice coffee.
-Replace the high heat generating, inefficient incandescent light bulbs with compact flourescent.  The bulbs may cost more but its not the bulb that is expensive, its the cost of electrifying it.  Compact flo will save you money.  Get them, use them, preach them.  Let them become a fiber of your existence.  Name your next daughter Flo.
-Unplug any devices which have a transformer or remote control.  These devices generate heat and carry a phantom electrical load.
-Do you really need to blow dry your hair?  Can you not live without a finger nail polish dryer?  Does a hair curler keep your spouse from running away?   Consider all your energy consumption.  It saves you money which you can use on your next permaculture project or book by mike oehler.

Structural improvements to the house.
-A solar attic fan can be had in the $200-300 range.  The heat trapped in the attic space can run up the AC use, especially if the ducting is exposed in that space.
-Insulate the house.  This is probably the single best investment for energy efficiency.  Pay once, get lower bills immediately and lower bills forever.
-Awnings over the south facing windows
-How about a porch?
-How about a screen porch?
-An outdoor kitchen adds versatility and function.  rocket stove, smoker, brick oven, BBQ grill, or just a stack of wood in a pit to roast marshmallows. 
-Ceiling fans
-Energy efficient windows and doors
-Weatherstripping and weatherizing
-Natural lighting

Lifestyle Changes
-Getup in the morning when the sun comes up.  Its a lot cooler. 
-Take a siesta in the afternoon.  I love my pillow.
-Cold dinners.  Salad, chilled soups, raw vegetables.  You DO have a summer garden of some sort, right?
-If your weight is larger than your phone number, give it some attention.
-Sleep outside.  This is where that screen porch comes in handy.
-Relocate.  Is it hotter in the city or in the summer?
-Drink water.  You don't sweat soda.
-Allow your body to develop a natural tan.  A farmer tan is sexy.  You'll need a straw hat.

All fun and games aside, much of the advice offered in this thread makes good sense, not just in the summer and for your utility bills, but for your well-being, comfort and for the good of the environment. 

Keep em coming


 
                    
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Instead of running the air conditioner when you sleep take a damp hand towel & place it on your tummy....cool & comfy & basically very cheap.

This works especially well in dry hot areas because of evaporation.

When I take my friends to the high desert where I grew up they often get stifled  by the heat, more than once I have prevented heat stroke by placing one cool wet towel on the tummy & one around the neck.
 
                        
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Regarding "structural improvements":

An enormous amount of energy is lost each year due to leaky ductwork.  Have a professional come out and test your ductwork for leaks before you start insulating your house.
 
Josh T-Hansen
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Good ideas^^

If all else fails in the heat,I sometimes try to remember that half the battle is mental.  Think of yourself as in a sauna that is at a lower than usual temperature. Drink water and enjoy the cleanse. 

Use window blinds to keep hot sun out.  Although in some cases this might cause a need for indoor lighting, if it saves turning on the AC, a lot of energy has been saved.
 
                    
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Oh yes the mental battle, we put on a CD of rain falling & point the fan at our bed, then we dream of cool rain.
 
Daniel Zimmermann
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I live in Sacramento, and I may have taken a radical step: I don't run my A/C.  Not in 4 years.  I have fans, and a portable swamp cooler.  I also cheat,
in that I go someplace cool during the hottest hours.  But my heat tolerance has risen considerably.  I couldn't do this if I lived in the
Midwest, though, because of the humidity.
 
Brenda Groth
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not sure about other areas but here in Michigan the sun is at a high angle in the heat of summer and a lower angle in the winter..so we use really deep overhangs on our buildings..or porches if feasable..

the sun doesn't even get inside the rooms in the summer if you have a wide enough roof overhang..but it comes in several feet in the winter when it is at a lower angle.

we have two layers of blinds on our windows..one is the traditional blinds and the other is a fabric curtain that can be pulled to keep out either heat or cold.

also we have certain shrubs that grow quickly in the summer but die down to the ground every winter..we grow those in front of our south windows..and by the itme the summer heat is unbearable, the shrubs are tall enough to be shading the windows..and pretty to watch birds in..the two outside of my living room windows right  now are cotinus (purple leaf smoke bush) and a large flowered hibiscus, with purple pink flowers..outside the bedroom are roses and a very tall ornamental grass as well as some more hibiscus and a vine of woodbine over a trellis...these are very helpful..we also have lilacs that don't die down, but do loose their leaves in the winter.
 
paul wheaton
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I save energy recharging solar garden lights outdoors all day long so I bring them inside to light my house at night.

I eat more fresh raw homegrown food  and graze around the garden saving money on energy used in cooking heat.

I save money experimenting with solar cooking  (for the first time this year) .  Lets jsut say I could save money, with more practice.

No air conditioning bills , in the worst of the heat I  siesta in a hammock under trees and extend the day with solar lights to do more.


(moving this into the main thread)
 
Tyler Ludens
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We put a timer on our water heater so it is on only about four hours a day.  We might be able to reduce the on hours even more; we're still in the trial period.  Our electric bill has not risen even though we have been doing a fair amount of airconditioning one small room where we work during the day.

We've been doing the damp washcloth on the tummy routine at night. 
 
paul wheaton
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Interesting idea about the timer.  I wonder how much of a difference it might make.  After all, if your hot water heater is well insulated, I wonder if keeping hot water hot turns out to not use much power - while getting cold water to be hot uses a lot.  This makes me wonder if the savings might be something like 10% instead of something like 60%.

Just curious.

 
Tyler Ludens
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The water is warm in the morning after 12 hours of the heater being off.  We won't know for certain for another month or two, but from our last electric bill, it looks like the timer is saving us the amount of electricity used by the air conditioning, since our bill has not risen in spite of using the AC.

 
Erik Green
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replace the tank style water heater with a demand style water heater.  There is no wasting in making hot water when it isn't needed.  Also, you won't run out of hot water with this.

Don't under estimate how much heat a room full of computers and other electronics gives off.  If you work from home with the computer running all day, it does give off heat.  That along with cel phone transformers, modems, fax machines, etc. will heat up a room.  Set your computer to energy saver mode and if possible rewire modems so that they are in a garage or someplace outside of the house. 

One summer I lost use of a central air conditioner in a 10 year old two story 1400 s.f. house.  I didn't replace it and used a simple 5000 btu window AC unit in one of the up stairs bedrooms.  I was amazed at what a good job it did.  At first I was going to keep the office door shut but soon found out that with the good insulation, blinds to block out sun, and keeping the water heater off, that that AC did a good job of cooling the entire house.  I would never put in central AC again.  I will concentrate on Good insulation in the Attic and walls.
 
Tyler Ludens
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erikgreen wrote:
replace the tank style water heater with a demand style water heater. 


That would be fab if I had the money for it.    But I would probably buy a solar water heater instead. 
 
paul wheaton
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When it comes to a hot water heater, the "on demand" stuff tends to be a bit spendy. 

I wonder about something a bit simpler:  the next time your hot water heater is shot, replace it with a smaller hot water heater and then set the temp to something higher (safer).  Any extra space that the bigger heater used to take, could be replaced with more insulation.


 
                                  
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bruc33ef wrote:
Whether there is any damage is controversial and depends on several factors, such as the type of vine, eg, creeper or climber, evergreen or deciduous, etc. 
Some say that vines protect structures against UV damage and direct pounding by rain and wind, and the blistering heat of the sun. 
There are many buildings in Europe, for instance, that have been ivy covered for many hundreds of years with several beneficial effects.  I think the "risk" is well
worth the reward, as long as the situation is monitored seasonally.



imagine on the southern side of your structure connecting a net to the lower edge of the roof to the ground, then planting a perennial like hops or annual like morning glory, to shade the hot sun as well as the evaporative cooling effect for the windows behind, especial if you get solar(thermal)gain in the winter 
 
Kathleen Sanderson
Posts: 985
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
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This doesn't work in humid climates, but in arid locations it does:  once the sun goes down, open the house up wide and leave it open all night.  Just before sunrise, close it all up again.  The house will cool off at night and stay cool most of the day.  By the time it's getting warm indoors in the evening, it's almost time to open it up again. 

I wish that we had more wind at night here -- quite often have high winds during the day, but they die down around dark.  That would help with cooling things off in the house.  If you can arrange your landscaping to funnel summer breezes through your house, that would help a lot.

Other than that, I think my ideas have already all been mentioned!

Kathleen
 
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