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How to survive the summer heat — without spending too much

By Garth Haslem, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Aug 1st, 2014 @ 12:09pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — Let’s face it: the heat is oppressive. You can go outside to get the mail, then come back in feeling more sticky than a fly strip. Worse yet, when you’re sticky, the flies are more attracted to you than the strips. You sit on a couch and wonder if you’re destroying the furniture with your body goo. Then there’s the body heat thing: you just can’t seem to cool off.

Have you ever wished for a way to beat the heat without trashing your bank account? As a home inspector, there are some options — some have to do with home inspection subjects, others don’t.

Fly to an even hotter place — with a beach

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just fly to Hawaii? Actually the temps there are less than the three-digit days we deal with in Utah — they’re around 80 to 85 degrees pretty much year-round. We could all just take a super-jumbo plane there and flood the island with mainlanders. The islands may be small, but the swimming pools they have there? Much bigger.

Run in the sprinklers

So it may be difficult to pack the kids up and send them to Hawaii for the afternoon. Certainly there is a cheaper option, right? The kids may have already discovered it for you. Throw on that swimming suit and go turn on the sprinklers. Then you can invite the neighbors and see if they look worse than you do — it’s great fun. Oh — and the other neighbors that drive by slowly looking at you like you’re from Pluto? They’re just envious of your cool factor.

If these sorts of options perhaps don’t work for you — or if you have perhaps already been there and done that — here are some other options. You can make your home more cool and comfortable without completely emptying your bank account.

Seal the doors and windows

Take a look around your exterior doors. Do you see daylight? If so, your cooling dollars are flowing out toward the sun like rain falling from the sky. And the soaking you get every month from the cooling bill? Yeah — that won’t cool you off at all.

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How about the windows? If you get dirt blowing in through your windows, you are losing your home’s precious cool air as well. Window improvements can help the home feel more comfortable as well.

Up your insulation

Let’s face it — some of us live in homes that are about as well insulated as an old style Hawaiian hut. A few inches of insulation, and presto! The contractor was done. After the mice and raccoons are done tramping it around, you often get an effective R-10ish value in the older homes. What does energystar.gov recommend? Quite a bit more than that. Your home should have anywhere from an R-49 to an R-60. Depending on the type of insulation, that could be around 18-20 inches of insulation.

Up your attic ventilation

So you know those little box things on the top of your roof? Those are turtle vents. If you don’t have them — or some other variety of attic vent — chances are that your home is hot all summer long. The sun hits the roof, the roof gets hot. The roof passes the heat into the attic and now the attic is sizzling. If you have good ventilation, some of that super-heated air can escape. If not? Then the house gets baked. And what happens to you and your mood when the house gets fried? Well, you already know the answer to that.

Consider a whole house fan

Sometimes the worst of the heat happens well after the sun has done most of its damage. Between about 5 and 8 p.m., the sun is finishing up but the heat in your home is at its worst. You could pay a lot of money to get your air conditioning system to try to cool you down, or you could just turn on the house fan. House fans exchange the hotness you have inside for the cooler air outside — and they do it quickly. They also add an air flow to your home, making it feel cooler as well.

If you’re running a swamp cooler, a house fan isn’t the answer — you already have one. By contrast, if you’re paying the power company to cool your home, you’ll pay much less with a good house fan. One word of insight: Don’t use your house fan and the AC system at the same time. That’s inefficient.

Find your Zen place

But all of the above takes some level of house surgery — or exposing your back to the neighborhood. There are still alternatives. Basements can be havens of happiness for those seeking a frosty refuge from the upper level oven. Leave your main floor thermostat where it is and turn yourself down — to the basement. While there, consider a long movie or a nice cold bath. Lower that body core temperature and you might just be able to survive the summer.


Garth Haslem is an experienced home inspector and registered engineer. For more information about home related issues, please visit www.crossroadsengineers.com or www.10or10000.com. Garth has books, articles and videos there.

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