4 ways to stay cool that don’t involve your A/C

My daughters have it so easy. They hardly break a sweat on the hottest days as they play in our air conditioned-house.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have an A/C. To stay ...

Tagged: summer, saving energy, air conditioning, heat

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4 ways to stay cool that don’t involve your A/C

Little girl in goggles plays in the sprinkler

Homeowners spend $11 billion every year to power their air conditioners, and about 6 percent of the average household’s energy use goes to space cooling.

Key Points

  • Consider other ways of keeping your cool that don’t involve air conditioning.
  • Keep hot air out of your house by closing curtains and sealing cracks.
  • Avoid using appliances like your oven to keep the heat out of your house.

My daughters have it so easy. They hardly break a sweat on the hottest days as they play in our air conditioned-house.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have an A/C. To stay cool, we opened windows at night, shuttered up the house during the day and hunkered down in the basement.

I also walked uphill, both ways, to school, but that’s another story.

Homeowners spend $11 billion every year to power their air conditioners, and about 6 percent of the average household’s energy use goes to space cooling. If you want to save some serious energy — and money — this summer, consider going old school with these non-AC cooling strategies.

  1. Skip the oven — Don’t heat your home with appliances. Take it outside and use a grill on hot days.
  2. Shut the curtains — It might be a little dreary, but close the blinds or curtains to prevent solar heat gain.
  3. Check for leaks — Insulate your attic and walls, and seal cracks and openings to prevent warm air from leaking into your home.

4.Ventilate:

  • Natural ventilation — Natural ventilation relies on the wind to create a “chimney effect” to cool a home. A simple natural ventilation strategy is opening windows to create a cross-wise breeze.
  • Fans — Fans circulate air in a room, creating a wind chill effect that makes occupants more comfortable. Fans for cooling come in a variety of options, including ceiling, table, floor and wall-mounted.
  • Whole house fans — These fans pull air in through windows and exhaust it through a home’s attic and roof. To ensure proper sizing and safety, professionals should install whole house fans.

Get more cooling tips from the Department of Energy.

And when all else fails, do what my brother, sister and I did to survive the heat growing up: Run through a sprinkler, eat a popsicle, or sing the entire Amy Grant “Heart in Motion” album into a blowing fan so you sound like a singing ‘90’s pop-star robot, taking “staying cool” to a whole new level.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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This bag could soon be a fashion statement. Really.

There’s a push to change the way people stay cool. Our approach to cooling doesn’t make much sense. Cooling entire buildings – and many times, empty rooms – wastes a lot ...

Tagged: air conditioning, cooling, plastic, clothes

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This bag could soon be a fashion statement. Really.

Plastic bag

Researchers are figuring out ways to cool people instead of the air around them.

Key Points

  • Plastic might someday be in your clothes.
  • Researchers discovered that plastic can keep you cooler.
  • Cooler clothes could result in less AC use and less energy use. 

There’s a push to change the way people stay cool. Our approach to cooling doesn’t make much sense. Cooling entire buildings – and many times, empty rooms – wastes a lot of energy. So researchers are figuring out ways to cool people instead of the air around them.

One of the latest attempts is plastic clothes. The same plastic that’s in your grocery bag. But of course, wearing plastic has its pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The material doesn’t absorb your body’s heat. Researchers discovered that skin with plastic on it stayed cooler than skin with cotton on it.
  • If enough people wore it, it might be enough to change what temperature the AC is set at.
  • This multiplied by hundreds of thousands of buildings could add up to big energy savings.

Cons:

  • Plastic isn’t exactly comfy cozy. But the researchers are working on a way to make it softer.
  • I’m pretty sure I saw Kim Kardashian wearing a version of it, and I’m Team Taylor.

Other attempts to change how people stay cool include ideas like a personal robot that follows you around blowing air at a temperature of your choice, clothing with tiny capillaries that carry warmed or cooled air through them, and a chair with built-in heating and cooling elements that let you regulate your personal space like a boss.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A. in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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A magic bracelet could keep you cool on the hottest summer day

Forecasters are predicting 100-degree heat here this week. Our family will likely forego the park and opt for playing inside with the A/C blasting to beat the heat. But what if we ...

Tagged: Wristify, MIT, air conditioning, body temperature, thermoelectric

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A magic bracelet could keep you cool on the hottest summer day

Temperatures are soaring

This bracelet could make it possible to play at the park on a scorching hot day, but the impact is actually much bigger.

Key Points

  • A new bracelet can help regulate your body temperature.
  • It uses a thermoelectric material to heat or cool the blood flowing through your wrist.
  • Personal cooling systems like this could help save energy and money as an alternative to using the A/C.

Forecasters are predicting 100-degree heat here this week. Our family will likely forego the park and opt for playing inside with the A/C blasting to beat the heat. But what if we had a magic device that could keep us cool, even when it’s boiling hot out?

Some researchers at MIT are working on a solution to our heat problems. They created a thermoelectric bracelet. It looks like a watch and works with your blood-flow to quickly change your body’s internal temperature. With the touch of a button, the wearer can adjust the temperature on the device, which then uses a thermoelectric material to heat or cool your wrist. The effect is supposed to be similar to dipping your toes in cold water on a hot day, helping you adjust to the extreme temperatures around you.

As a mom with kids who want to play outside, my first thought is that this bracelet could make it possible to play at the park on a scorching hot day or keep us comfortable while we build a snowman this winter. But the impact is actually much bigger.

The researchers hope that this device could help the world save energy. According to UC Berkley’s Haas School of Business, the number of homes with air conditioning are expected to rise from 13 percent today to more than 70 percent at the end of the century. If that happens, that will greatly increase the amount of electricity consumed. If we had the option to use personal cooling systems like Wristify, we might not be so quick to adjust our thermostats.

The researchers created a startup company named EMBR Labs and hopes to start taking product pre-orders this fall. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Three (more) reasons to fire up your grill this weekend

It’s hard to beat the flavor of pretty much anything cooked on a grill. But if you need even more motivation to become a grill master, consider how energy efficient outdoor cooking ...

Tagged: energy efficient, grill, heat, air conditioning

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Three (more) reasons to fire up your grill this weekend

It's Grill Time!

Your summer cooking can be energy efficient -- and extra tasty.

Key Points

  • Grilling is a great way to save energy.
  • No dishes means no energy spent running the dishwasher or heating water.
  • It keeps the heat outside instead of warming your house with the oven. 

It’s hard to beat the flavor of pretty much anything cooked on a grill. But if you need even more motivation to become a grill master, consider how energy efficient outdoor cooking is.

Here are three reasons to fire up the grill this weekend:

  1. It beats the stovetop or oven — Grills use less energy to run than their indoor competitors.
  2. It keeps the heat outside — Your air conditioner will thank you for not filling the kitchen with hot oven air.
  3. Less cleanup saves energy too — Grilling frees you up from washing the pots and pans you’d use for an oven-baked meal, saving the energy you’d spend to run the dishwasher or heat water.

If you’re still not convinced, check out these grilling tips from our friends at www.projectevolve.com. Pizza on the grill? These are my kind of people.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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The war on air conditioning: Which side are you on?

I grew up without air conditioning in our house (yes, cue the violins). We’d open windows, run fans and kick off the blankets. Even in college, our dorm rooms and eventually my ...

Tagged: air conditioning, Energy Efficiency, save energy, New York Times

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The war on air conditioning: Which side are you on?

The hot and cold AC debate

The cultural debate about if air conditioning is good or evil is heating up.

Key Points

  • We’re at war. A war on air conditioning.
  • The debate on if AC is good or evil misses the point that we should all use energy efficiently.
  • Whether you’re heating your home, or cooling it, make sure to do it right to save energy and money. 

I grew up without air conditioning in our house (yes, cue the violins). We’d open windows, run fans and kick off the blankets. Even in college, our dorm rooms and eventually my sorority house lacked cooling. So sometimes now, as I set my home thermostat on hot days to a nice cool temperature, I feel a little pang of guilt. Surely I’m wasting energy and squandering money on an unnecessary luxury, not to mention hurting the Earth with my indulgent 72 degrees.

The cultural debate about if air conditioning is good or evil is heating up. The New York Times recently published an editorial about why America is so over-conditioned. The article suggests that “being able to make people feel cold in the summer is a sign of power and prestige.”

OK, I get it. Air conditioning is a luxury. I was right to feel so guilty. Definitely need to turn off my energy-sucking, pollution-creating evil box.

But then I looked into what the other side is saying in the war on air conditioning. Slate magazine noted that America uses about a fourth as much energy on cooling as it does on heating (40.4 million British thermal units on home heating compared to 9.3 BTUs on home cooling). The article argues that it’s more efficient to air condition homes in Florida than it is to warm the ones in Minnesota. This side of the debate notes that labeling air conditioning as evil and home heating as good is a trendy way to appear like you care about the Earth but misses the point that we all use a whole lot of energy.

Air conditioning and home heating both save lives. Both make life more livable during extreme temperatures. And yes, both use a lot of energy.

As with most things in life, the answer seems to be balance. Getting rid of either of these modern conveniences doesn’t make sense. Instead, we can use them with a little more common sense.

Make sure you’re heating and cooling efficiently. Here are tips to keep your AC tuned up, and here are some to keep your furnace in tip top efficiently-running shape


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Is your air conditioner ready for summer?

We’re doing some spring cleaning in the Folsland house. That includes cleaning out closets. Which includes packing up all the 0-9 month baby clothes Annie will never wear again. ...

Tagged: air conditioning, spring cleaning, Energy.gov

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Is your air conditioner ready for summer?

Air conditioner

Three things you should do to make sure your AC is ready for the high temps.

Key Points

  • Make sure your AC is ready for summer.
  • Vacuum your registers and replace filters.
  • Inspect the unit for debris, or if a window unit, cracks. 

We’re doing some spring cleaning in the Folsland house. That includes cleaning out closets. Which includes packing up all the 0-9 month baby clothes Annie will never wear again. Which makes me want to cry a little bit. Which leads to an overwhelming desire for ice cream. Which made me think, hey, this is cold. We’re going to need cold air soon. We should replace our air conditioning filters.

Here are three things you should do to make sure your AC is ready for the high temps:

  1. Vacuum your registers — Make sure to put your registers on your spring cleaning list. Blocked airflow makes your AC work harder to distribute air throughout your house. That means it sucks more electricity. And that leads to a higher bill. It’s also good to make sure that you don’t have any furniture blocking the airflow.
  2. Replace the filter — According to www.Energy.gov, this simple step could save you 5 to 15 percent in cooling costs. Not only will a clean filter save you energy, it will save your AC. Dirty filters can hurt the evaporator coil and impair the coil’s heat-absorbing ability.
  3. Inspect the unit — If you have a split unit (that means you have a big box outside), make sure there aren’t any leaves, bird nests, discarded sand box toys (yes, really) on it. If you have a window unit, make sure there aren’t any cracks around it letting outside air in.

Energy saved? Check. Now back to cuddling with my baby before she leaves for college. Sniff, sniff. 

For more tips, check out this infographic.  


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Smart (and Quirky) Air Conditioner

Yesterday I wrote a post about how I am willing to make energy-use sacrafices to keep my air conditioning thermostat where I want it to be. ...

Tagged: air conditioning

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I love air conditioning part 2

Key Points

  • A new appliance that learns energy-use behavior and optimizes use based on history
  • Another way we can make a difference and help keep energy affordable

Yesterday I wrote a post about how I am willing to make energy-use sacrafices to keep my air conditioning thermostat where I want it to be. This afternoon I ran across an article about a new controllable air conditioning unit that seems to work much like a Nest thermostat. GE partnered with Quirky to design and market a new window AC unit. The unit has a connection to a smart phone and allows the user to fully control the unit, set an energy-use budget, and interact with the unit to learn and predict the usage behavior. Sounds like it hasn't shipped yet, but will be on the market in time for the summer.

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I Love Air Conditioning

I grew up in the mid-west and each summer I would spend at least a couple of weeks at my grandparents farm in southern Missouri. I enjoyed being outside ...

Tagged: air conditioning, Energy Efficiency

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I'm sure there are many people that say AC isn't important to them, but it is to me.

Key Points

  • Efficient use of energy is a lifestyle and budget choice.
  • We all have different energy use preferences and thankfully have options.

I grew up in the mid-west and each summer I would spend at least a couple of weeks at my grandparents farm in southern Missouri. I enjoyed being outside and helping my grandpa around the farm but I always looked forward to the moment when I would come inside and stand in front of the window AC unit. For me, it is the smell of freon rather than apple pie that makes me think of my grandparents. Needless to say, I confess that I love air conditioning.

Now I live in western South Dakota and for the most part, I don't need air conditioning the way I did when living in Missouri. But once the outside temperature gets over 80 degrees I can guarantee that the AC will be running.

I was recently looking through energy efficiency tips and saw that setting the thermostat over 78 degrees is recommended to save energy. I'm sure there are many people that say AC isn't important to them, but it is to me. 

I choose to save energy in other ways so that I can have the AC set at a temperature that works for me. It is my choice to efficiently manage energy in a way that makes sense for my lifestyle. Thankfully there are many ways to manage energy and I have choices and options to do so. I'd rather hand-wash dishes in the dark than turn up my thermostat, but that's just me.

What are your energy priorities and choices? Leave a comment below.

[Picture Source]

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