How to Stay Cool and Efficient This Summer

Finally, summer is here. With the sun less of a stranger and the temperature rising (Sacramento is predicted to hit 100 this weekend!), it’s high time to think about keeping those indoor temperatures well below the outside scorch. And we all want to do so as efficiently as possible. Even those living in the more temperate microclimates around the Bay Area will want to think about how to efficiently regulate temperatures as we enter the summer season. So we contacted Lacey Lutes, an efficiency expert with the City of Palo Alto Utilities, to ask for tips on how to keep those Eichlers cool with the least amount of energy outlay.

Cover those gigantic windows: The glass-paned walls of many Eichlers mean the sun has ample opportunity to heat the air inside the house all day. A good window covering, such as those outlined in our previous article on the topic, can go a long way toward fighting that. “Drapes are the easiest thing, the most non-invasive, that anybody could do in their house,” Lutes says. “During the summer you have the curtains closed ruing the day and then open at night with the windows open.”

Beyond window coverings, a few strategically placed trees, especially on the south side of the property, can provide enough shade to make a dramatic difference in temperature.

main image alt text

Make your windows more efficient: The windows themselves can help repel the sun’s heat and retain the home’s coolness. Double-paned windows give the glass itself a higher insulation level, while window UV-repelling window films can help reflect much of the sun’s energy. “Some window films can reduce the amount of heat coming through the glass by 50 to 70 percent, affecting the need for HVAC,” our own Tajna Kern wrote in her previous coverage of the topic.

Install as much insulation as you can: Many people reroof their homes at this time of year, and Lutes says that’s the time to invest in as much insulation as can fit. “At that time, installing the maximum possible foam board insulation is the best thing you can ever do,” she says. You want an insulation level of R19, which will help maximize the temperature-regulating properties of those flat, attic-free roofs.  

“A lot of roofing companies will try and upsell the insulation and the resident will be like, oh, you’re just trying to upsell me, I don’t need that. But in fact you do get a huge bang for your buck to add as much as can possibly fit.”

Get green with your air conditioning. “Any time they’re doing any boiler or HVAC upgrades, always make sure the energy efficiency percentage is as high as possible,” Lutes says. For air conditioners, this means a Consortium of Energy Efficiency rating of tier II or higher, which is the equivalent of an SEER rating of 15 or higher. All of these are basically comparable to the Energy Star rating, just specific to HVAC.

But we all know shopping for air conditioners in an Eichler rarely means going to the store and buying one. Because of the large windows and unique construction, window units aren’t ideal, and whole-house cooling systems are the way to go. Check out our rundown on Eichler-friendly HVAC systems, and contact an expert such as Downing Heating and Air Conditioning or Los Gatos Aire for more information.

Don’t let your swimming pool drain you dry: It’s pool season, and that pump may be costing you a lot of electricity, especially if it’s older. So you want to get a variable speed pump with a timer. “Old school pool pumps run and pump the water 24 hours a day 7 days a week,” Lutes says. “When you put in a variable speed, it means it’s going to be pumping more slowly and be more efficient. I’ve seen literally a 75 percent difference in electric bill when people switch out their pumps.”