This story was originally published in July 2020.
When it is hot and humid outside, many people’s first instinct is to take refuge inside and crank their air conditioners up, as far away from the heat as possible. Troy Moon, sustainability coordinator for the city of Portland said that typically, electricity consumption is heaviest in the summer, in Maine and elsewhere throughout the country.
However, this method of beating the heat may exacerbate the problem in the long run.
“As the load on the grid increases, more and more dirty energy sources come online,” Moon said. “There’s a lot of plants that only get used on the days when the demand is highest and some of those are coal and oil fired plants. Emissions increase a great deal when those plants come online. Otherwise [for Maine’s] grid, natural gas is the leading provider of electricity, [and] renewables are coming up behind them.”
Running the air conditioning all day is not only harmful for the environment, but it can be expensive.
Whether you’re trying to save money, save the planet or just don’t want to keep the air conditioning on all day, here are a few ways Mainers can keep cool in an eco-friendly, budget-friendly way.
Turn on a fan
One easy thing Mainers can do to beat the heat is turn on a fan. Strategic placement can help maximize its cooling ability. You can position a bowl of ice or a reusable ice pack at an angle in front of a large fan so the air whips off the ice in an extra-chilled, extra-misty state.
“Hot air rises, so maybe if you put your fan closer to the floor and point it up at you maybe you’ll get the benefit of cooler air closer to the floor,” Moon suggested.
Homes with ceiling fans should also utilize them for cooling. Make sure you are using yours correctly, though.
“In the summertime, you want it to run counterclockwise to get the air flowing the right direction,” Moon said. “If you’re not in the house the fan isn’t helping anybody so turn them off when you leave the room.”
Change your lightbulbs
Simply switching from incandescent light bulbs to LED light bulbs will not only save you money, but it will also cool your house. Incandescent bulbs waste about 90 percent of their energy in the heat they emit. That energy winds up heating up the air — and you.
“If you switch your lighting to LED, you’re going to save money on your bill and you’re also going to keep it cooler,” Moon said.
Efficiency Maine, which provides programs and incentives for energy efficiency to reduce greenhouse gases in the state, has a program that provides discounts for LED light bulbs at stores throughout the state. You can find participating retailers and distributors on the Efficiency Maine Discounted Screw-In LEDs program website.
“Go right to your local hardware store or home improvement store and the discount is already applied,” Moon said. “You can get an LED light bulb for like 50 cents.”
Close the blinds
Closing your curtains or blinds during the day will prevent the sun from heating up your house.
“Especially if you have a window facing to the south and west that’s getting heat all day, close those shades,” Moon said. “Keep the sun from beating into the house and warming it up.”
In the future, Moon said to consider planting trees that will shade these windows with foliage during the summer for a longer-term solution.
Closing off unused rooms will also prevent cool air from permeating these areas during the hottest part of the day. Opening the doors in your house during cooler night hours will also help air flow naturally through your home.
Turn off electronics
Even if they are not intended to do so, many of our electronic devices covertly heat the air around them. If you’re struggling to beat the heat, Moon says to go analog when you can.
“Some things that you don’t think about are using energy and making heat like TVs and computer monitors,” Moon said. “They’re producing heat as they operate, so shut those off.”
Cooking your meals on an oven or stovetop is going to add a measurable amount of heat to your house. Instead, Moon said, consider grilling outside. If you don’t have a grill, there are still ways you can keep your house cool. Limit cooking to microwaves or other small appliances like toaster ovens, which use less energy and release less heat than the larger appliances in your kitchen.
Staying hydrated is important regardless of the temperature. In the heat especially, though, your body is quicker to lose water and important electrolytes through sweat, so staying hydrated is important to keep your body functioning. As an added bonus, sweat helps to cool your body, so drinking a cold beverage will help your body self-regulate its temperature.
Moon said to stay away from alcoholic beverages and caffeinated beverages when trying to stay hydrated and cool.
“It’s a common sense kind of thing, Moon said. “Cool refreshing water would be the best.”
Install a heat pump for next year
If you have the opportunity to plan ahead for next year, Moon said to consider installing a heat pump in your home to cool off in a more energy-efficient way for summers to come. The device uses electricity to move heat from a warm space to a cool space and vice versa.
“They provide really efficient heating in the wintertime and excellent air conditioning in the summer,” Moon said. “It’s a win-win.”
Moon said that there has never been a better time to install a heat pump. Efficiency Maine has up to $1,500 rebates for ductless heat pumps, in part because Maine Gov. Janet Mills has a goal to install 100,000 heat pumps in Maine by 2025.
The spate of hot weather may seem anomalous, but Moon said that we should expect more dog days of summer in the future.
“By 2050, we expect to see average temperature increase by another three degrees Fahrenheit, [so there will be] hotter days with more humidity,” Moon said. “How do we help people stay home and in the community when we see those hot days that we’re not accustomed to in Maine?”