"Let me get this straight. You guys made a bet to see who could make it through the weekend without using your air-conditioners?" Mary was not only surprised by her husbands announcement, but also just a little bit annoyed. How could John include his family in such a silly bet?
"C'mon Hon, it's not that bad. Look, you know those guys. Not one of them will do anything besides open a window. They'll quit by noon Saturday!" John began to outline his plan. He had been studying ways to reduce their air-conditioning bill and had found some neat ideas.
"Remember when I went around the house caulking all the doors and windows last fall? Not only did that keep out the cold air last winter, but it keeps out the moist hot air this summer. I read that in the average house those little cracks add up to a two foot by two foot hole!
"Now what we need to work on is the heat that comes in through sunlight and the heat generated inside the house by people, appliances, cooking, bathing and lights. Most of this stuff we need to do anyway even if we do use our air-conditioner."
Mary grudgingly admitted that maybe John's bet wasn't just some goofy 'guy thing'. Clearly he had spent some time researching the subject. Since she was concerned about their electric bills she figured it was at least worth listening to his plan.
John outlined his game plan. He explained that there wasn't one big solution to solving the problem. Rather, they would use a lot of little answers. "Let's begin with blocking the sunlight. It's too late to plant trees to shade the sunny side of the house. But it's not too late to close the drapes and blinds on sunny windows. I probably won't do it this weekend, but I'm going to check on some reflective window tint. I read that it's a pretty easy do-it-yourself type project."
Mary poured herself another cup of coffee. Sometimes, she had discovered, it was best to just let John get this type of stuff out of his system. This looked like one of those times!
John did indeed have more plans. He explained how he had made sure that the attic vents were open. That would reduce the temperature in the attic, which in turn would reduce the temperature near the ceiling of the rooms below.
"We'll also need to keep lights to a minimum. Especially the incandescent lights. They produce as much heat as light.
"Oh, and the showers. Not only should we keep the length of hot showers down, we need to use the exhaust fan in the bathroom, too. All that moisture makes the hot air seem just that much worse."
It was getting harder each minute for Mary to sit there silently. Finally she's had enough. "Ok, Mr. Wizard! So you're going to spend the weekend sitting in a dark room without lights and take cold showers. That's fine for you. But I have to feed this family. And if you haven't noticed, I sweat a lot in that kitchen cooking for you guys. Even with the air-conditioner turned on!"
"Wait Hon, it's not like that at all. We'll do some of the cooking outside. The rest will use ways that create very little heat inside. I figure that we can bar-b-que some. That takes care of one or two meals. I've also been working on something called a solar oven. It's basically a box covered with aluminum foil that you use to cook outdoors. Almost like a crock pot. For the meals that we need to cook inside we'll use a covered electric fry pan or the microwave oven. I figured you'd be glad to spend less time in front of the stove and oven!
"One other thing that I learned was that the dishwasher was a major source of heat in the kitchen. If we let the dishes air dry that will eliminate some of the heat. The rest of the heat is generated by the hot water. If we had a dishwasher with a timer feature we could run it in the middle of the night. But since we don't we'll just have to turn it on when we go to bed."
John went on to explain how they could use fans to help. "I've read that ceiling fans are the most efficient and quickest way to cool a room without air-conditioning. But since we don't have them we'll need to do something different.
"I bought a couple of cheap 20" box fans. During the day we'll use them to create a cross ventilation in the house. We'll put them in the windows on the warmest side of the house aimed to blow the warm air outside. That will draw air from the cooler side through the house and set up a nice breeze in every room. We've already got a couple of room fans that can help to push the air along in some of the other rooms.
"At night we'll change the process. One of the fans will be set in each bedroom window. But they'll be pulling the cooler air from outside and blowing it into the room. That should make sleeping reasonably comfortable."
Mary was ready to relent. "Ok, ok, you win! We'll try it. Just don't tell me that if I get hot to sit in front of a bowl of ice with a fan blowing over it!"
Sometimes John was like most husbands...too literal. Not recognizing her sarcasm he went on. "No, Sweetheart. That just adds moisture to the air when the ice melts. We want as little moisture as possible." He didn't even notice Mary rolling her eyes. "If you want to do something like that just fill a jar with ice. Close a tight fitting lid on the jar and then blow air over the jar to you. That way all the moisture will stay in the jar."But Mary knew that they both were really winners in all this. John actually had found some ways to reduce their air- conditioning costs this summer. And even though he sometimes went too far, she was glad that he took an interest and was willing to investigate answers to their family's problems. After all, finding and trying new solutions was what problem solving was all about. And reducing their cooling bill was a problem that definitely needed solving!
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report and he's a regular contributor to US News Money and CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+.
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