Midcoast Green Collaborative Forum

April 10, 2009

Sustainability Post #43 – Maintenance.

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: , , — Topher @ 10:33 am

[From a discussion on making a house maintenance free, and a comment that humans were the weak link in ensuring energy efficiency]

To my mind, the STRONGEST link is the human. Humans are the best multi-purpose machine yet devised on this planet. By orders of magnitude. An empty house, even without any need to accommodate humans and their needs, is doomed to die in short order. A house loved by humans can potentially last as long as that love lasts.

One of the characteristics of humans is that they get better through practice and repetition. Having a house which needs periodic maintenance trains and encourages the humans to look after it. If a house makes no demands on its humans, they will come to ignore it, and it is doomed. Furthermore, the next house those humans occupy is also in for a hard time.

For example, look at the houses around you, some will be wood, and need paint, some will be mostly ‘maintenance-free’ siding plus some painted trim. Count the percentage of wooden houses which need paint, and compare to the percentage of sided houses which need paint. If your experiences matches mine, the latter will be a larger number, and the condition will be worse.

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March 15, 2009

Sustainability Post #42 – Carbon per Dollar

Filed under: Conversation, Information, Philosophy — Tags: , , — Topher @ 10:36 am

Here is an article which examines the carbon footprint as a function of economic production.

http://edro.wordpress.com/2008/08/05/carbon-footprint-for-your-dollar/

February 26, 2009

“The Story of Stuff”

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: , — Topher @ 11:57 am

School board assailed for decision to bar video “The Story of Stuff”
The Missoulian, Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The Missoula County Public Schools board of trustees has been severely
criticized since their decision that a high school teacher violated
school policy by showing “The Story of Stuff,” a video discussing the
true costs of overconsumption and pollution.
http://www.missoulian.com/articles/2009/02/11/news/local/news03.txt

January 15, 2009

Sustainability Post #40 – Blowing In Insulation

Filed under: Information — Tags: , , — Topher @ 1:17 pm

I am often asked what energy improvements homeowners can make themselves. I am now here to tell you that blowing cellulose insulation into your walls is one of those things. While blowing insulation into an attic is a common do it yourself project, this is a job which is often recommended for professionals only, but Mainers are skilled and resourceful people and if I and my sweetie can do it, so can others. This is not intended as a how-to, but rather as an inspirational article.

Infrared picture of house, before

Here is a picture of our house, taken with an infrared camera (one of the tools we use for energy audits). One of the things you will notice is that the windows ‘have ears’, as my sweetie put it. That is, there are warmer patches visible around the top and bottom of each window. This is an indication that the insulation is lacking in those areas. The exact reason for that is related to the unusual way my walls were constructed, something called a Larsen Truss (invented by Jim Larsen). The walls are about a foot thick and contain a lot of insulation. However, when the house was built the insulation contractor failed to fill some areas, particularly around the windows. When I turned the infrared camera on those areas the problem of cold spots my sweetie complained about, became immediately obvious. With all these picture cold is black, then purple, and orange, with yellow and white being the hottest. The temperature in the upper corner is for the spot where the cross hairs are, and the temperature scale is at the bottom. Exact temperatures aren’t important here, we are looking at relative differences.

For other houses the problem may be different. Old houses probably started life with no insulation in the walls. If nothing has been added since, then they are prime candidates for this technique. All the empty space in the walls will need to be filled with insulation.

tud bay missing insulation

Here is a picture of one of the places where I could use some more insulation (taken from the inside). As you can see there is a large space here, more than can be explained by settling. So, the job is to fill that space with insulation. Insulation can be blown in from the outside, or from the inside. The choice comes down to which will be easier to get to, and easier to patch once done. For me, the interior is not painted yet, so going from inside was an easy decision.

Blowing cellulose insulation is a messy dusty job. So the first thing was to cover as much of our stuff as possible, since it all needed to be moved away from the walls to gain access, We moved it to the center of the room and draped it with cloth, and plastic sheets. I also got my respirators out; dust masks are only marginally useful, respirators with filters are recommended. Safety glasses, and grubby clothes are also a necessity. I also planned on us eating out of the house for a few days. I cut the holes in the wall with a 1 inch hole saw in an electric drill.

We rented an insulation blowing machine at a local rental place. The insulation was acquired at a home improvement store (which often rent or lend blowing machines as well). The machine is heavy, so I was lucky to have a neighbor to help move it into place. Sane people would be doing this job on a calm spring or fall day and will have the machine outside. Being the dead of winter, I put it inside. It came with fifty feet of hose, a nozzle for the walls, and a remote switch to control it. The bag label provides some advice on how much insulation is needed to acheive a given R-value for 1000 square feet, but since I didn’t really know how much space I had, I just took a wild guess. And then went back later for as much again.

Stud bay after filling with insulation

I ran the hose and remote switch, my sweetie filled the hopper with cellulose from the bag, and tried to keep the hoseand remote cord from getting too tangled. It would have been much harder or impossible with only one person. The machine had a control to set the air-insulation mix, I found that full open was the best setting for me. The main trick was knowing when the cavity was filled. If I left the blower running too long, the nozzle filled up and needed to be cleaned out (having a short dowel to hand helped take care of this). It took an awareness of the sound from the walls as well as sound of the blower on the machine to know when the space was full. After I had gotten about a quarter of the job done, I was able to get each bay filled with few issues. Here is the same wall as the previous picture, only this time properly filled with insulation. The holes were then filled with spray foam insulation to get a nice vapor seal. The extra was sliced off flush with the wall. Subsequently they will be patched over probably with drywall compound.

The mess can be kept to a minimum by making sure that the nozzle remains in the wall until the blower has come to a complete stop. Removing a little before, or if it seems clogged can end up splewing dusty insulation everywhere. The insulation contains borates to retard fire and pests, and it is not something you want up your nose.

Infrared picture of house, after

Here is a picture of the house after all the work was done. Note that there are still some places that didn’t get fixed (under the center windows for instance) do to accessibility issues. On the whole though the entire house is mostly a uniform color. Since the camera adjusts to a given temperature range, this is the appropriate result. The fact the temperature is 17 degrees lower on the after picture is just an indication that it was colder outside that night.

The whole project (not including prep and clean up) took about 10 hours (spread over two days) and we put 13 bales of cellulose insulation into the walls, which the chart on the package says would be enough to do 722 square feet of 2 x 4 walls (to achieve R-13). For this house, we took perhaps 180 square feet of area from around R-2 (no insulation) to R-45. This should amount to 12 Million BTUs saved every year, equivalent to about 85 gallons of fuel oil. At today’s price of $2.47 per gallon, that amounts to 210 dollars. The cost of the project was as follows:

Blower Rental 1 weekend $55.00 $55.00
Cellulose insulation 13 bags $11.30 / bag (including tax) $146.87
Spray Insulation 1 can $10.30 / can (including tax) $10.30
Total $212.17

So, a simple payback of about 1 year. That is, I could have bought oil this year, or for the same money made this fix, and saved this amount every year from now on. Of course, all situations are unique, so another house would get different results, however for houses without insulation in the walls, this is almost certainly a huge win.

Infrared picture of front door

Next Project

This picture highlights my next project. This is my wooden front door, complete with storm door. As you can tell it is warmer than the (admittedly high-efficiency) window right next to it. It is therefore losing a lot of heat.

November 25, 2008

Sustainability Post #39 – EPA and CO2.

Filed under: Information, Philosophy — Tags: , , — Topher @ 4:05 pm

Friday is the last day to voice your opinion on whether the EPA — the Environmental Protection Agency — should regulate carbon dioxide pollution, the primary cause of the climate crisis.  This is a big deal.

The EPA is taking public comment before making a ruling.  Send your message in and it will appear on the EPA’s website, and be part of the public record.

Of course, special interests — like the oil and coal lobbies — are working overtime to defeat a positive ruling and have already gotten thousands of comments submitted in opposition.

Submit your public comment to the EPA here:

http://www.repoweramerica.org/epa/


Here is mine:

Greetings,

The EPA, as the premier overseer of environmental public goods, should understand that carbon dioxide is a important part of breathable air.  The human body regulates breathing through the concentration of Carbon dioxide in the blood stream.  Changes in the the environmental levels of carbon dioxide could have a drastic effect on human health.  As such, even if there is no issue with global warming, the EPA’s mandate would require it to monitor and if necessary regulate the release of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere.

Thank You Kindly,

Topher Belknap

Sustainability Post #38 – Bumper Sticker

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , — Topher @ 2:45 pm

“Think Globally, Eat Neighborly”

November 20, 2008

Sustainabilty Post #37 – Quotation

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: — Topher @ 11:03 am

[From an email from the Rocky Mountain Institute, too good not to share]

The early bioneer Bill McLarney was stirring a vat of algae in his Costa Rica research center when a brassy North American lady strode in.
What, she demanded, was he doing stirring a vat of green goo when what the world really needs is love? “There’s theoretical love,” Bill replied, “and then there’s applied love”—and kept on stirring.

At Rocky Mountain Institute, we stir and strive in the spirit of applied hope. Our people work hard to make the world better, not from some airy theoretical hope, but in the practical and grounded conviction that starting with hope and acting out of hope can cultivate a different kind of world worth being hopeful about, reinforcing itself in a virtuous spiral. Applied hope is not about some vague, far-off future but is expressed and created moment by moment through our choices.

Applied hope is not mere optimism. The optimist treats the future as fate, not choice, and thus fails to take responsibility for making the world we want. Applied hope is a deliberate choice of heart and head. The optimist, says RMI Trustee David Orr, has his feet up on the desk and a satisfied smirk knowing the deck is stacked. The person living in hope has her sleeves rolled up and is fighting hard to change or beat the odds. Optimism can easily mask cowardice. Hope requires fearlessness.

Fear of specific and avoidable dangers has evolutionary value. Nobody has ancestors who weren’t mindful of saber-toothed tigers. But pervasive dread, currently in fashion and sometimes purposely promoted, is numbing and demotivating. When I give a talk, sometimes a questioner details the many bad things happening in the world and asks how dare I propose solutions: isn’t resistance futile? The only response I’ve found is to ask, as gently as I can, “Does feeling that way make you more effective?”

To be sure, mood does matter. The last three decades of the twentieth century reportedly saw 46,000 new psychological papers on despair and grief, but only 400 on joy and happiness. If psychologists want to help people find joy and happiness, they’re looking in the wrong places. Empathy, humor, and reversing both inner and outer poverty are all vital. But the most solid foundation we know for feeling better about the future is to improve it—tangibly, durably, reproducibly, and scalably.

At RMI we’re practitioners, not theorists. We do solutions, not problems. We do transformation, not incrementalism. In a world short of both hope and time, we seek to practice Raymond Williams’s truth that “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, not despair convincing.” Hope becomes possible, practical—even profitable—when advanced resource efficiency turns scarcity into abundance. The glass, then, is neither half empty nor half full; rather, it has a 100 percent design margin, expandable by efficiency.
[editted]

AMORY B. LOVINS
Cofounder, Chairman, and Chief Scientist

November 12, 2008

Sustainability Post #36 – Shitakes.

Filed under: Conversation — Tags: , — Topher @ 9:31 am

It took 2.5 years but it looks like we are finally getting mushrooms from the bit of inocculating we did. My uncle had a large bag of mushroom spore, but no good trees. I, of course, have lots of trees, many in bad shape. So we cut one down; got his truck stuck; (who buys a two wheel drive truck in Maine?); winched it out; and the logs up drilled holes; added mushroom spore; sealed with wax; and ‘planted’. Then we waited. And waited.

Today, I went out and saw a number of mushrooms on one of the logs. The others had similar growths.  a quick sanity check on the Internet confirms that we have shitakes. Woot!

October 6, 2008

Sustainability Post #35 – Apples.

Filed under: Conversation, Question — Tags: , , — Topher @ 12:05 pm

Yesterday, Some of the family came over, and we picked apples.  About 60 gallons of apples, this all off of one tree.  This is a large 150ish year old apple tree that sits up by the road, and it is the first tree labeled (“A”).  I extracted it from a overgrowth of Japanese arrowroot, and B has been pruning it for the last couple years.  We had it checked, and it appears to be a Baldwin, we call him Alec.

We then proceeded to make apple pie (1), apple sauce (13 pints), dried apples (1 bag), J (sister) took about half of the haul away with her, and there are still TONS left.  There are still a number of trees we haven’t even gotten to yet.  Anyone have suggestions for what to do with apples?  (No root cellar yet).

October 5, 2008

Sustainability Post #34 – Shine through day & Rhythms.

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: — Topher @ 11:23 am

Yesterday was ‘Shine Through Day’ here at Hjälmaren (my house).  That is the day when the setting sun shines in the Western windows, though the house, and out the Eastern windows.  It also bounces off the Eastern windows back to the Western ones.  This is a cause for celebration here, as it is so cool.  Sadly, the clouds reduced the full effect, but it was inspirational nontheless.

Also yesterday, the clock stopped.  This is the wind-up clock in the bedroom which chimes the hours.  It needs to be wound once a month.  I often forget.

These two events brought me to thinking about rhythms, and how they affect us in our lives, and how much they are diminished in modern times.  Many people go through their lives without interacting with all but the most blatant of nature’s rhythms.  They have HVAC systems which automatically keep their buildings at a constant temperature with no direct effort (though much work to pay for it).  They get whatever food they want, regardless of season, from worldwide distribution and heated greenhouses.   And so on.  For me, I enjoy the rhythms, and the feel that they are reminders of the passage of time, and exhortation to enjoy that time, as it will be gone only too soon.  And to celebrate them (no excuse too small).

October 1, 2008

Sustainability Post #33 – Quotation.

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: — Topher @ 6:36 pm

“Inside the gate there is a footpath, and the footpath must be winding. At the turning of the footpath there is an outdoor screen, and the screen must be small. Behind the screen, there is a terrace, and the terrace must be level. On the banks of the terrace there are flowers, and the flowers must be fresh. Beyond the flowers is a wall, and the wall must be low. By the side of the wall there is a pine tree, and the pine tree must be old. At the foot of the pine tree there are rocks, and the rocks must be quaint. Over the rocks there is a pavilion, and the pavilion must be simple. Behind the pavilion are bamboos, and the bamboos must be thin and sparse. At the end of the bamboos there is a house, and the house must be secluded. By the side of the house there is a road, and the road must branch off. At the point where the several roads come together there is a bridge, and the bridge must be tantalizing to cross. At the end of the bridge there are trees, and the trees must be tall. In the shade of the trees there is grass, and the grass must be green. Above the grass plot there is a ditch, and the ditch must be slender. At the top of the ditch there is a spring, and the spring must gurgle. Above the spring there is a hill, and the hill must be deep. Below the hill there is a hall, and the hall must be square. At the corner of the hall there is a vegetable garden, and the vegetable garden must be big. In the vegetable garden there is a stork, and the stork must dance. The stork announces that there is a guest, and the guest must not be vulgar. When the guest arrives, there is wine, and wine must not be declined. During the service of the wine, there is drunkenness, and the drunken guest must not want to go home.”

Quoted in The Importance of Living” by Lin Yutang.  Original Author unknown (to me).

September 13, 2008

Sustainability Post #32 – Rechargable Batteries in Smoke Detectors?

Filed under: Philosophy, Question — Tags: , — Topher @ 1:43 pm

Today, I was awakened by a smoke detector beeping.  Not, the constant beeping of a fire, just a short beep once a minute or so, for a few minutes.  This is an indicator that the battery needs to be replaced.  Now, I have I think 7 smoke detectors in my house, and can hear all of them from any place within the house.  So, I spent some time looking for which one was beeping.  Since they only beep for a few minutes every hour or so, this was not a easy task.  Meanwhile, I am getting more frustrated.  These are, mind you, AC connected smoke detectors, the battery is just backup should power go out.  But they aren’t rechargeable batteries, nor is the unit designed to recharge them should I put rechargeables in.   How stupid is that?  I suspect many people just disable the whole thing when this happens.

Why can’t I find an AC smoke detector with rechargable batteries, which never need replacing?

September 9, 2008

Sustainability Post #31 – Building Shape Efficiency.

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: , , — Topher @ 9:57 pm

While looking at a number of local houses, I noticed the degree to which they suffer from inefficient shapes.  Lots of corners, lots of wall surface area, not much enclosed volume.  Thus hard to heat.  I decided that I needed a numerical value for this concept.  Building Shape Efficiency is thus defined as Enclosed area / (Perimeter / 4) ^2.   A good house should have a Building Shape Efficiency of 93% or more.  Some I have done audits on are under 45%.

How does your house shape up?

p.s. I make no claim to being the first to invent this metric.

September 7, 2008

Sustainability Post #30 – Lowering the price of gas and oil

Filed under: Conversation — Tags: , — Topher @ 12:15 pm

There are many people talking about how to lower the price of fossil fuels recently.  The suggestions I have heard range from governmental action, to massive new drilling, to nationalizing oil companies, to converting over to renewable sources on short time scales (10 years or so).

These all have one thing in common, they give the person suggesting them something to complain about, while usually not doing anything themselves.

Well, I have an idea for how to lower the amount that one personally spends on fuels, while at the same helping to lower the price for everyone.  Buy less fuel.  As long as demand is high, prices will keep going up.  The recent small decline in prices was preceded by a reduction in consumption.  If everyone keeps reducing  their fuel usage, the price will not see huge spikes like the ones we recently saw.

That said, the global demand for fossil fuels is likely to keep increasing, production is unlikely to keep pace, and the supply is strictedly limited.  Prices are on a trend to increase.

September 4, 2008

sustainability Post #29 – Ditty.

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , — Topher @ 12:02 pm

IN DEAD EARNEST

If I should die before I wake,
All my bone and sinew take
Put me in the compost pile
To decompose me for a while.

Worms, water, sun will have their way,
Returning me to common clay
All that I am will feed the trees
And little fishes in the seas.

When radishes and corn you munch,
You may be having me for lunch
And then excrete me with a grin,
Chortling, “There goes Lee again.”

‘Twill be my happiest destiny
To die and live eternally.

Words by Lee Hays (1979) Music by Pete Seeger (1979)
© 1981, 1982 by Sanga Music Inc.

August 8, 2008

Sustainability Post #28 — Paying all costs.

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: — Topher @ 1:26 pm

One of the problems which prevents sustainability being the obvious choice, is that many costs are hidden.

One small solution that a friend of mine uses, is to include in the cost of any new electronic devices he buys. the cost of enough photovoltaic panels to run said device.  The money goes in a special account, and when enough accumulates, another PV panel is purchased.

August 1, 2008

Sustainability Post #27 — Attitudes.

Filed under: Conversation, Philosophy — Tags: , — Topher @ 9:00 am

The other day I was driving, and feeling guilty about it.  This made me grumpy.

Then I had an epiphany, here I was using up fossil fuels, adding to the CO2 in the atmosphere and other detrimental effects and it was making me miserable.  That’s crazy.  I resolved to enjoy the time I am driving, to squeeze not only as much efficiency, but also as much happiness out of each gallon of gas.  If I wasn’t going to be happy, I wasn’t going to use fuel to accomplish it.

July 13, 2008

Sustainability Post #26 — Questions before photovoltaics

Filed under: Conversation, Information — Tags: , , — Topher @ 3:06 pm

Here are some questions to ask yourself before making the decision to install photovoltaic (PV) panels.

1. Am I sure I don’t have a micro-hydro resource?

If you have a stream which runs all year long, and it drops more then ten feet over your property, you should investigate putting in a micro-hydro generation system rather than PV.  It will save you a lot of money.

2. Am I sure I don’t have a wind resource?

Although not as cheap as hydro, wind is certainly cheaper than PV. You will need a reasonably reliable source of wind, and a tower tall enough to get about 30 feet above obstructions.

3. Have I taken advantage of all solar heat opportunities?

Solar hot water systems can heat much of your domestic hot water needs, and some of your heating needs, in most parts of the U.S.  Solar hot air is another option for heating the house.  Both are about 6 times as efficient as PV and cheaper.

4. Have I reduced my electrical use to the absolute minimum?

Solar photovoltaic panels are not environmental friendly to produce, don’t but any more of them than you absolutely have to to offset your electrical usage.   Replace all lights with CFLs or LEDs.  Improve the efficiency of your appliances or buy new high efficiency ones.  Get your family into the energy saving mindset.  Post the electric bill on the fridge, and reward those who help lower it.   Consider a heat pump to replace electric baseboard heat.

5. Is the place I plan to put them optimal?

If your prospective location is partially shaded, consider looking for another location.  Does your neighbor have a better spot; consider working a deal.  Can you sacrifice a tree or two to improve the solar exposure?

6. Does my state ave a net metering law, or a feed in tariff?

If you are going to connect to the power grid, you should be fairly compensated for the power you produce, otherwise the financial aspects are much less favorable.

7. What are the current tax incentives?

Be careful, some state offer rebates but only fund them for a limited number of applicants.  If you miss out, you get nothing.  The tax situation changes all the time, check on it often.

8. Does the power go out for extended periods of time (especially in the winter)?

Consider having some battery backup, even in a grid tied system.  Put vital systems on a separate circuit connected to the battery backup.

July 10, 2008

Sustainability Post #25 — Composting Toilet

Filed under: Conversation, Information — Tags: , — Topher @ 12:17 pm
Humanure Handbook

Humanure Handbook

I have two composting toilets in my house. The basic method is one advocated in the book at the left.  A book voted most likely to change the planet.  It might at that.  I have purchased 5 copies of this book (including one for the local code enforcement officer, and the local library), and as my lending copy seems not to have returned home, I may need to buy another one.

The basic idea is that wastes are collected and covered with carbonaceous cover material (sawdust is a common material).  This is then moved outside, and allowed to aerobically decompose in a compost pile and produce fertilizer for gardens.  The high temperature of the aerobic decomposition (up to 140ºF) kills all human pathogens.

Outhouses and chamberpots, this is not.

Unique advantages: During power outages, my system just keeps on working.  Neighbors have no water, and no way to flush.  You can buy a camp toilet, a 5 gallon bucket and some sawdust; and keep it in the basement for emergencies.  When a member of my family broke their leg, the hospital wanted to send us home with a commode (basically a tall stand with a pot under it), I told them I would just raise the toilet to the right height (and put it a grab bar).  They looked at me strangely, but after getting home a spare wooden box under the toilet was all I needed.  The need for many gallons of drinking water every day to be contaminated, transported, separated, filtered, poisoned, and released into the environment is gone.  Aerobic decomposition produces carbon dioxide, while anaerobic produces methane (which if released if 20-30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas).

Smell: No really, they don’t smell much (I contend no more than water toilets).  I have far more trouble with the smell from the cats not finding the litter box.  Admittedly, there is a tendency to become desensitized to local smells, so I am heartened by the number of people who comment on how good the house smells when they come in (usually related to the food being prepared).

Work: Yes, This system involves some manual labor moving buckets (I have a yoke for carrying them). Dumping the buckets is an onerous chore by anyone’s measure.  However, this is not a property unique to composting toilets, septic tanks need to be emptied (and they are truly foul, due to anaerobic decomposition), and municipal waste treatment facilities produce waste that no one wants to deal with.   Thus, the difference is that a composting toilet doesn’t currently have a infrastructure for someone else doing the dirty work for you (though, of course, you can hire someone).  I never have to plunge my toilets.  I expect when and if these become accepted, there will be a truck to pick up your buckets, and another to deliver certified organic manure to those that want it.

Cost: My cost was under $50 for 9 buckets with lids, two toilet seats, two toilet structures (made from leftover wood), and three composting bins made from pallets.  On going expenses are negligible, toilet paper being the largest expense, sawdust is obtained from a local lobster trap manufacturer for the cost of a gratuity.  I save money on compost, getting about 2-3 yards worth every year.  The size of the leach field (required by code) was reduced by around $3000.

July 8, 2008

Sustainability Post #24 — Cooling your house.

Filed under: Conversation, Information — Tags: — Topher @ 10:02 am

Ever wondered how our ancestors survived without air conditioning, in (basically) uninsulated houses?  They had a number of techniques, some of which I have adapted for my own use.

1) Proper control of windows:   When spring finally arrives, I start opening windows, a few at a time, whenever it is nicer outside than in.  The next day I start installing screens and killing bugs 🙂  As it gets warmer, I leave the windows open all the time (except for thunderstorms).  When days get hot (as this one threatens to be), I close the windows in the morning to retain all the coolth I collected over the evening, and open them again when it cools off at night.  If it remains hot at night, I just open some top windows (for me that is the attic as it is part of my living space) and some lower windows  to let the stack effect empty out the hottest air.  If there is a wind, the upper windows get opened on the downwind side, and the lower on the upwind side.  (If the lower windows are in the basement make sure you don’t exacerbate a moisture condensation problem).  Stack effect is most aided by having twice as much window area open in the low windows as the high windows.

2) Shutters:  Many modern houses have their shutters nailed or screwed open (or even fake plastic shutters, ick).  What use is that?  Shutters are meant to be closed on hot sunny days to prevent sunlight from entering and to allow cool breezes to enter.  These are especially useful on the west side, where the low afternoon sunlight comes in.   The south side isn’t as much of a concern since the sun is high and most of the window will be shaded by roof overhang or even just as they are.  Skylights are generally the worst offenders, and shuttering them is near impossible.

3) No added heat: Look at your electric bill (for a month without air conditioning), multiply the number of kiloWatt-hours per day by 3412, that is how many BTUs of heat you are adding to your house every day.  If all that heat was just warming the air each kiloWatt-Hour would raise the temperature of your house by roughly 10ºF.  (It heats other things too).  Don’t use electrical appliances unless you absolutely need to, find and unplug any phantom loads (TVs, VCRs, etc. that can be turned on by remote; power supplies with transformers (those heavy block plugs); Things with clocks, that don’t need to have clocks.  Take colder shorter showers (refreshing as well).  If you take them at night they will help cool you down from a long hot day.

4) No added moisture.  Well if it isn’t the heat, it’s the humidity, then quit adding humidity.  Take cool baths instead of showers, or just take a dip.  Cover any pots on the stove (yes, you should be doing this anyway).

5) Wind: Fans can substitute for a bit of wind to get circulation going (see point #1), but generally they are best pointed directly at skin.  Use fans which are directly pointed at humans to help with evaporative cooling.  Ceiling fans should be set to blow air down.

6) Drink:  I am not an advocate of huge amounts of water, but have a cool glass of water next to you at all times, and you will drink enough and be cooler (IMHO).

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