Okay. Say what you want about George W. Bush's Energy Plan, and whether you think conservation is a civic responsibility or a personal virtue; when you look at your electric bill this summer, you're probably going to want to spend less. Besides, there's the whole idea of air conditioning contributing to the eventual heat death of the universe that makes me want to limit its use where possible.

I suspect many people blindly leave their climate control in their home set to, say, 72 degrees and never open the windows or otherwise adjust their climate. If you're willing to deal with some temperature fluctuations, perhaps it being a bit warmer in the day, and cooler at night, and live in a moderate climate, you could potentially save lots of money on air conditioning--if you live in certain areas, possibly avoid a need for it altogether. Here's how.

The shocking idea is this: Open your windows when it's cool, and close them when it's warm. Most houses will be able to resist the infiltration of outside heat so that it remains comfortable inside with the use of fans to circulate air.

A few caveats:

Here's how it works for us: We leave the windows open at night. In our bedroom we have a box fan blowing cool air in, and over the bed. Other window fans pump cooler air into the house. We find it's best to have the fans blowing in instead of out. Your mileage may vary. When we leave for work in the morning, we close all the windows. When we come back in the evening, we compare interior and exterior temperatures. Once it's slightly cooler outside (usually around 7 to 9 pm), we open all of the windows and begin blowing cool air back in. In New Jersey we frequently have days with highs in the 90s and nights in the low 70s and can keep the house below 80 degrees--which may not sound great, but when it's 95 out going into an 80 degree room with a fan blowing feels really good--and you don't tend to get frozen out like you do when you walk into a 68 degree office building in the dead of summer.

I've only resorted to the air conditioning a few times, and then, I run it in the early evenings to cool and dehumidify things down for sleeping, and just in the room I'll be in. Usually this is after the utility's peak times which are, say from 2-6 pm. Our electric bills stay pretty much the same year round.

It comes down to the idea that we should live seasonally. Summer is a time for hot days and we should try and enjoy them, instead of wrapping ourselves in climate-controlled cocoons and not experiencing the natural world. And guess what? If more people did this, cities like Houston, Dallas and Atlanta probably wouldn't be so nasty in the summer, since there'd be less pollution and in general less heat, since air conditioning produces more heat than it extracts from the area it's cooling. And I'm not saying we need to give up on air conditioning completely--obviously computers and other systems need it, and I don't mind office buildings and other public spaces being sufficiently cooled. It's just a matter of degrees, pardon the pun, and if you use less A/C at home, you're doing everyone a favor. I hope that people think responsibly about their energy use and figure out ways of using less and being able to adjust themselves to the seasons, instead of unnaturally forcing their living environments into a certain temperature unnecessarily.

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