How To Keep the House Cool… Lessons From a Desert Dweller

Seems like everyone is complaining about one thing right now… the heat. Since I live in Phoenix I know a thing or two about keeping the house cool. When it’s 117 in the shade you figure out how to keep the heat out pretty quickly. Here’s how we do it in the desert.

Get an Air Conditioner. Obviously in Phoenix, everyone has central air. It’s needed to survive here. But if you don’t have central air you might want to consider a window air conditioner. Getting the right size unit for your space is critical. Too small and it won’t cool the space. Too large and it won’t be as effective at removing humidity. The smaller the unit the cheaper it will be and the less electricity it will consume. So you might want to consider putting it in a bedroom with the door closed. This will give you some relief from the heat without costing a bundle.

But AC unit or not, these tips will keep you a bit cooler this summer.

Keep windows covered. When it’s hot outside it’s best to keep the windows covered so the hot sun can’t shine in. Curtains and blinds are the normal way to do this but in extreme temperatures, you need to take extreme actions. In Phoenix, we tape tin foil to the window for a total blackout. If you want something that is more easily removable you can use cardboard cut to the size of the window. Another option if you are in the market is “sun screens” These are window screens, the kind that keeps bugs out when the window is open, but that have extra thick wires to provide extra sun-blocking power. Focus on your south and west-facing windows.

Fans. Ceiling fans move the air which will make it feel cooler. This means you can keep the air conditioner at a little higher temperature with the same level of comfort. Basically, they give you a little wind chill in the house.

Cooking outdoors. If you have the house cool try to keep it that way. Avoid heating up the oven and stove by cooking outdoors.

Keep lights off. If you’ve ever changed a lightbulb you know they get pretty hot. Keep those little heaters turned off and your house will be that much cooler.

Get out of the house. Go find fun summer activities to do outside of your house. You won’t need to keep the house as cool so you won’t need to spend as much electricity.

The following two aren’t quick fixes; but if you want some longer-term solutions here are some ideas.

Trees and bushes. Getting shade onto the house is a great way to keep the house cooler. Direct sun will heat up the outside walls and that heat will seep in. Trees on the south and west side of the house will provide the best heat-blocking power.

One story: Obviously this isn’t something that you can change once you live somewhere, but if you have a choice a one-story will be cooler than a two-story. If you are looking for an apartment the first floor will be cooler than the second floor. It will also be easier to keep a first-floor apartment cooler since the heat rises. Your heat will rise up to the apartment above you.

Stay cool my friends!

9 thoughts on “How To Keep the House Cool… Lessons From a Desert Dweller”

  1. I spend hours upon hours trying to make adjustments in the cooling system to try to keep the second floor comfortable. In the winter when we have to switch to heat, I start the process all over again! Luckily I’ve been in our house about four years now so I’m FINALLY starting to get a handle on the whole process, but it’s been tweaked a lot over the years!

  2. Maggie@SquarePennies

    Great tips, Ashley. Yes, you would know! Do you sometimes take mini-vacations to the mountains to cool off? We love the national parks, but we would not visit many of them in the summer. Thinking of ones in Utah, Texas, & Arizona.

    Those drapes that have a foam insulating backing work to help keep heat out in the summer as well as keeping the cold out in the winter. They can be at sale prices during the summmer since most people think of them for winter.

    Stay cool!

  3. @Hunter: Yeah, when I moved to Phoenix and saw tin foil on the windows I did think people were crazy. But you know what I have on my south windows right now? Yeah…

  4. Timely article. We’ve been cooking here in Virginia Beach too, and I’m sure we’re not as accustomed to the heat as you are.

    I really like these ideas. I did not know about foil for the windows. If I tried that here the neighbors would think I had truly lost-it.

    The outdoors cooking is a brilliant idea. It seems that whenever we have house guests it’s the middle of summer, and some of them feel the need to bake. It drives me nuts to have a the A/C pumping and an oven on full blast for hours at a time. It’s a waste of energy and that costs money.

  5. I live in southern California where it can be triple digit heat and has been in most of July. Keep the temperature at about a 25 degree ambient temperature (inside vs. outside temp). It is efficient and in ost cases comfortable.

  6. I live in Atlanta, so we have some heat issues, but nothing so hot as yours! We’re lucky enough to have huge trees shading our whole house, but sadly it is still hot (and expensive) since our HVAC system is not set up to work very efficiently.

    We recently insulated our attic for $300, which didn’t make NEARLY as much of a difference as the $20 curtains I bought off of craigslist. I bet foil would be even better…

  7. Spruce Up Your Finances

    Having the proper insulation can also help a lot. The home that my sister just bought was brand new and it is amazing how advance insulation on the house makes a difference. It is triple digit outside but the house is running at 80 degrees even without the air conditioner on.

  8. The $60K Project

    I was in your neck of the woods this past weekend and apparently it was a “cool” 98 degrees!! Blackout curtains seem to help a lot – as does the foil (even if it looks like you might be running a meth lab behind it). 🙂

  9. I live in an area where he have hot summers and cold winters, so I some of these things tradeoff depending on the seasons. Our house is actually relatively cool in the summer since there’s little sunlight due to density of houses in our neighborhood.

    I definitely hear what you’re saying about cooking outside. But then I’ll be roasting myself outside the A/C while I’m cooking! haha

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