Driving Down Electricity Bills

By on 26 July, 2013 in Carole King, Historic Midtown with 0 Comments

We’re nearly into August and temperatures long ago began to soar. For months now, we have been looking for ways to stay comfortable. Surprisingly to many, living in an old house is one of the best ways to do that.

I corresponded with Tracy Nelson of the Preservation Resource Center in New Orleans. She has a master’s degree in sustainable design and an undergraduate degree in historic preservation and perhaps most importantly for her credentials, she lives in an old house in New Orleans. She has a lot of experience dealing with summer heat in one of the hottest, most humid places on the planet. Also, like me, she is very concerned about her utility bills and had some great ideas she was very gracious to share.

Tracy had some really great ideas that I have found very helpful by using the features of my old house in the way they were originally designed  thus keeping cool and keeping my Alabama Power bill down! Her advice is reprinted below:

“Ask an Expert” by Tracy Nelson; Preservation in Print by Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, Summer 2011:

To make your living space comfortable without the use of electricity, experiment a little with your building and the passive strategies that you may already have. This is the best way to learn what works in your house and what you need to improve. For me, I am figuring out how long I can go before I turn on my HVAC unit. Writing this at the beginning of May, I can say that so far it has been off since February. How am I able to tolerate this? Let me share a few things I have learned that will answer your questions about shutters and fans.

High ceilings and high windows allow for the heat to rise out of the structure with the help of ceiling fans.

The theory is that if you have shutters on your windows and doors, especially on the south side of your house, and you actually use the shutters, your house will be cooler and you can reduce your electric bill. This theory is true. The natural occurrence that makes the inside of your house hot occurs when the sun’s heat comes through the materials that make up your house, transferring this radiant energy inside. Walls, because they are made up of many layers (siding, airspace in the wall cavity, insulation if you have it and Sheetrock or plaster), are able to slow down this heat transfer, thus allowing only a fraction of the sun’s energy inside. If you have plaster walls, they also help reduce the moisture issues that come with the humidity in our climate.

As windows and doors only have a single wooden barrier against the sun, and because glass has almost zero ability to stop solar heat, these openings are your energy users — especially if they are not sealed well and you have air infiltration. Louvered shutters work very well for three reasons: When closed against the sun, they prevent the majority of the solar heat from actually getting to the panes of glass; they allow air movement between the window and the shutter; and they let a wonderful, filtered light into your living space that reduces the need for electrical illuminations. This is one of two main reasons why I still have a cool living space inside my own home.

Shuttered windows allows a soft light for everyday tasks without electrical lighting.

Ceiling fans are the second great strategy when the temperature inside climbs into the uncomfortable range. Heat rises, so if your house has high ceiling, transoms that work and shutters that allow cooling breezes to flow through your rooms, turning on a fan will move any accumulated hot air out and raw cooler air inside very quickly. The second immediate benefit is the cooling effect a fan has on the temperature of our skin. When we get hot, our bodies sweat.  If this moisture stays on our skin, we continue to feel hot. But when a breeze causes the sweat to evaporate, we feel cooler simply through the process of this evaporation. When I come home and the house is stuffy, I give myself 15 minutes to turn on the ceiling fans, open doors and use my shutters to catch the breeze, so by the time I change clothes both the house and I have reached a comfortable temperature. As the weather heats up, I use table and floor fans to extend the weeks that I can go without turning on my HVAC system.

Closing the shutters over large windows protects the interior from the midday heat but allows a cool breeze to blow through.

Just by these simple efforts, I am able to get a $0 to $50 power bill almost six months out of the year during spring and fall. But the really wonderful part is the ability to live and move easily between the outdoor and indoor space of my home, which always reminds me of the freedom of a beach bungalow on vacation, and in our hectic world, that is a good thing!

 

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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