I’m pretty sure everyone reading this blog knows exactly what it means to suffer the Australian heat.
With our summers now reaching nearly 50°C in the shade, it’s more important than ever to know how we can beat it.
For many of us these days, this means just reaching for the air con remote. It might be easy, but it is incredibly expensive and releases greenhouse gas emissions faster than you might imagine. It also adds a lot of ambient noise to your home.
So what else we can do to cool our homes? Continue reading to find out!
1. DECORATE INTELLIGENTLY
Home decoration plays only a small part to play in cooling your home, but it’s the most fun and exciting so we’ll talk about it first.
There are two parts to decorating intelligently to beat the heat. The first is about placement. Try to keep sitting and entertainment areas (and your beds) away from windows and out of direct sunlight. Not only will this prolong the life (and coolness) of your furniture, it will help keep you and your family and friends cool as well.
The second part is about choosing your materials intelligently. For your upholstery, consider choosing breezy fabrics like linen and cotton/linen blends. For sofa cushions, remember that some materials (e.g. down) will trap heat more than others (e.g. feathers).
2. GARDEN APPROPRIATELY
By now each of us has a basic level of awareness about climate systems at the global scale. But climate systems exist at smaller scales, too. For us, the foremost concern is the microclimate (see here for an encyclopaedic explanation). The microclimate is essentially the aggregate of longer-term patterns of weather variables like temperature, humidity, wind speed, and air pressure, and sometimes other variables like air pollution. Microclimates in outer-western Sydney, for example, are characterised by much greater extremes (frosty nights and extremely hot summers) than those along the coast. Those of us in regional areas experience different microclimates altogether.
Fortunately, those of us living with extreme heat can garden in ways which mitigate some of these extremes. You’re not going to turn your warm temperate Sydney home into an alpine residence, nor even one in a mild temperate zone like those in the greater Blue Mountains (though it has snowed in Sydney before). But you will make a noticeable difference to the actual and “feels-like” temperatures in and around your house. Certain types of plants, like tall, mature trees, are good for shading. Others, like smaller trees and shrubs which aren’t too dense, will help filter breezes. The diagram below, courtesy of YourHome, is a good illustration:
3. CHOOSE BLINDS FOR THERMAL EFFICIENCY
According to this study on thermal efficiency commissioned by a blinds company, choosing the right shutters can decrease the heat in a room by one-third when compared to the same room without window coverings over an identical period. That’s a big difference! So consider getting your blinds done next time you’re redecorating or renovating.
Courtesy of Classic Blinds & Shutters.
4. DON’T IGNORE YOUR DOORS AND WINDOWS
As we talked about in our noise pollution blog, double- or triple-glazing your windows is a serious renovation. Yet, while it takes a while to earn its money back, it’s worth the immediate and ongoing benefits to environmental efficiency. Not only will your home be less noisy, your thermal comfort will be much better all year round! (Though, of course, glazing isn’t the full story about windows. Frames, for example, are important too.)
Courtesy of Plustec.
BONUS TIP: Don’t forget the benefits of forming good habits. For example, it pays to remember to shut your doors, windows, and blinds not when it gets hot, but well before it gets hot (either before you leave for the day or, if you’re at home, when the outdoor temperature is roughly equal to the indoor temperature). Then, when it cools down at night (assuming it is cooler; sometimes the nights can be disgustingly hot), remember to open your doors and windows again.
5. WATER FEATURES SHOULD BE A FEATURE
Parts of your backyard other than the garden and trees can make a difference too. In this case, we’re talking about water features. If you’re in a position to do so, putting pools, fountains, misters, or other similar water features right outside your doors and windows is a good idea as it will cool the air before it flows inside.
6. INDOOR GARDENS CAN HELP TOO
There are two big cooling options yet to be discussed, but I just wanted to touch on indoor plants, too. After all, if outdoor plants can have an effect, perhaps indoor plants can too?
Well, it’s not quite the same. Indoor gardens have their own benefits, but they have relatively little in terms of thermal comfort (given the heat would already be in your house by that point). But they might make some difference depending on the size and where you place them. If you’ve got a big, leafy plant, for example, placing it near an open door or window will help filter the breezes. (Near the window is usually the best spot for indoor plants anyway, as that’s where they receive the most light).
Now for our final two, high-impact cooling options…
7. MAKE FANS GREAT AGAIN
Although fans are not appreciated like they used to be, they are still a really efficient way to cool yourself. A powerful ceiling fan or even a semi-decent floor fan is super cheap to run—4¢/hr is the oft-quoted rate—and it will make you feel several degrees cooler. No expensive, greenhouse-gas-emitting air conditioning required! Then again…
8. IF ALL ELSE FAILS, TURN ON THE AIR CON (AND DON’T FEEL BAD ABOUT IT!)
We all reach for the air con for a reason. It’s effective, and when we’re really struggling it’s an undeniably good option. And it’s worthwhile; you shouldn’t feel bad about using it, especially in the height of summer. Better that than all the health risks which come with extreme heat, after all.
Looking for more information about passive cooling of your home? We highly recommend ‘YourHome’, a collaboration between the Australian Government and UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, which provides all the info you could possibly need to get started on making your home more habitable and sustainable.