Thursday, May 16, 2013

Life Without Air Conditioning - Impossible?

There are many budget items over which we have little control - mortgage, auto and health insurance, car payments, etc. However we do have control over our electric bill. Several years ago, we installed a high-efficiency, wood-burning stove into our traditional, wood-burning fireplace. When we did this, we anticipated merely supplementing our heat. Wrong! We replaced our furnace altogether and we heat our entire home with this little dynamo. Our winter electric bill runs between $174-225 per month. Not bad for 4,000+ square feet.

While it has been a cool spring, Maryland's hot, humid, summertime temps are right around the corner. How long can we go without turning on the AC? I have no idea. Plainly stated - I hate the heat. Yes - I grew up in central California. Yes - it was hot. No - we did not have air conditioning. Yes - it was miserable at times. No - it did not kill us to live without AC. No - I never got used to it. Yes - I'm getting cranky just thinking about it. Yes - I should definitely be living in New England - but I digress. Here in Maryland, July and August are oppressively hot. So we are going to take a phased-in approach to life with out AC. 
Curtains Drawn Tight by 7:30 am

Steps in Phase #1 - Mild Days/Cool Nights - Open the windows each morning around 5:30 am and leave open until approximately 7:30 am.  Insert our box fan into the open kitchen window and pull as much cool air into the house as possible.  Close everything up - including the curtains by 7:30 a.m.  Let the dogs out on the North side of the house.  The air is cooler there and won't heat the house as much as opening the back door which faces the extremely hot West side of our home.  Line Dry Clothes. We've been doing this for over a month now and have yet to turn on our AC.

Beds Placed by Windows
Open Air Sleeping
Steps in Phase #2 - Warm Days (85+ degrees)/Cool (75- degrees) - Rearrange the upstairs bedrooms so that beds are closer to the windows. Sleep in front of open windows. Use ceiling fans to provide relief when air is still. Continue to open downstairs up at 5:30 a.m., pull cool air in with the box fan, and close up everything by 7:30 a.m. Cook outside on the grill as much as possible. Turn off the heated dry cycle on the dishwasher. Take cool baths in the evening to lower your body temp before bed. This is surprisingly effective and my favorite part of Phase #2. NOTE: We started Phase #2 last Sunday and ran into our first snag last night. BIRDS! They decided to sing in the middle of the night forcing me to close the windows and turn the fan on high. So Phase #2 has a new addition - earplugs. So far, though, we are AC free.

Feeling Cooler Already
Steps in Phase #3 - Hot (85+ days)/Hot (80+ nights).   Go underground.  This is how our ancestors dealt with the summer temps and we will be no different.  We plan to set up air mattresses in the finished portion of the basement and sleep down there - where it seldom gets above 72 degrees.  August nights in Maryland are hot and stifling.  It won't help much to open the windows at night - the house will simply get hot and stay hot.  We, at least I, will continue to cool down each evening in a nice cold tub. Continue to cook outside.  Experiment with retrofitting one of the cold frames for use as solar oven.  We may have to spend a good portion of our days below ground and this is where the entire plan may fail, because even though our basement is nicely furnished and equipped, it is really our teenager's domain.  I avoid the basement like the plague. This will test my resolve.

Create an Electric Bill Nest Egg
Backup Plan - Using the YNAB budgeting plan, I've been budgeting $250 per month for electricity ever since the first of January.  Each month we live without using the furnace or the AC, I am able to set aside around $50 for future use.  This has grown into a nice little backup fund that we will be able to tap into during the hottest summer temps - just in case I'm feeling cranky and desperate and compelled to turn on the air conditioning.  But make no mistake, I'm determined to reduce our consumption of everything and this includes electricity.
Canine Home Security 

NOTE:  Some people have commented on the dangers of sleeping with our bedroom windows open.  This doesn't worry us.  The lower floors of the house are locked up tight each evening.  Our home security system and our three dogs (an over-sized German Shepherd (at right), a stranger-hating Doberman, and an ever-so-territorial Beagle mix) - keep us feeling safe, secure, forewarned and well guarded.   

P.S.  I've created a chart to track our progress throughout the summer.  You can follow along by viewing my "AC Free Diary."

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