Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beating the Summer Heat

   Most of the U.S. is basking in yet another summer heat wave, so this week we'll take a look at some ways to stay cool and maybe even save some money.  Now, any hack writer could tell you to drink plenty of water and close your blinds on the sunny side of your house, but here at F/stop Architectural i like to think my readers are a little bit smarter than that.  Depending on your living situation, some of these suggestions might not apply to you, but hopefully they'll get you thinking.

  1.  Paint your roof white.
   I wanted to post a picture for each of these ideas, but i'm confident you can figure this one out.  If you've forgotten what color white is, glance at one of the blank areas of this blog.  Steven Chu, the Nobel laureate and current Secretary of Energy, who i mentioned previously in the post about nuclear power, said in a meeting in London a few years back that painting roofs white could save 10-15% on your air conditioning's electricity.  It also would help combat global warming, not only because of the energy savings, but because the white color reflects more solar energy back into space which would otherwise be absorbed by the earth.
   Applying this strategy commercially would also help create jobs -- an idea which New York's mayor Micheal Bloomberg hasn't overlooked.  Last year he started a program which has painted at least a million square feet of rooftop.  That's a nice round number, isn't it?  New York City has approximately 13 billion square feet of ground space, though, so a lot more could be done.  Admittedly some of that is parks and roads; the parks are fine, but all that pavement isn't helping (concrete is preferable to asphalt, though both contribute a significant toxic load on the environment).
   Painting shingles is another issue.  You can buy specially formulated roof paint which is designed to withstand the heat of a roof, but make sure you understand that after a few years the original color of your roof will begin to show through.  That's not the fault of the paint, shingles just shed, usually into your gutters, and the paint goes with it.
2.  Install a radiant barrier.
   This is more or less the flip side of jamming towels around your Saran-wrapped windows.  Radiant barriers are surfaces with very low emissivity, which is the inverse of reflectivity, at least for our purposes here.  That is, very shiny surfaces have low emissivity.  The barrier looks a lot like an over sized roll of aluminum foil, and you install it shiny side up inside your attic.
   In some climates and houses, especially humid ones, it can be important to use a perforated barrier so that humidity isn't trapped between the barrier and any insulation.  Because of this and any other potential unknowns, make sure you talk to a professional before attempting this home improvement yourself.
3.  Install a ridge vent on your roof.
   A ridge vent raises slightly the ridge line of your existing shingles and provides a flow of air from your attic to the outdoors.  The negative pressure from the hot air moving out of your house pulls in cooler air from elsewhere outside, assuming you aren't using your AC.  Make sure you've got plenty of insulation on your roof in the winter -- if it's properly installed the ridge vent shouldn't be a burden when it's cold outside.  Improper installation of roof insulation can result in costly ice dams.  Definitely consult a professional on this one, too.

4, 5, & 6.  Trees, Fans and Lights
   Ok, so maybe i'm a little bit of a hack writer, but seriously -- plant some trees on the south face of your house, use a ceiling fan, and turn off your incandescent lights.  Nice big deciduous trees block light in the summer and let it through in the winter, resulting in $100-$250 energy savings per year, in addition to looking pretty.  Ceiling fans can lower the perceived temperature as much as 9 degrees (some architects like to call this field of study psychrometrics, which i've always thought sounds made-up). LEDs give off 90% less heat, and come in better qualities of light than ever before.

More pictures next week, i promise!  Also lots of pictures go through the Facebook page, so hit that like button on the top right of the page!


  1. I like this post. It has lots of exciting things that would happen. I’ll visit this site for updates and new posts. Interesting stories are very nice to read.

  2. I ALSO recently learned that The Home Depot is a major contributor to the Republican party, so plan your home renovations according to your own particular political beliefs.

  3. Interesting post. I have installed a new roof w/ridge vents and have seen a reduction in my utility bill. I also planted a London Plane tree a few years ago that is now providing wonderful shade on the west side of the house. I am hesitant to paint the roof white but...