Adapting to climate change – at home

Right now, Seattle is experiencing the 100+ degree weather in June, something that has never happened during my lifetime. It’s blazing hot and dry outside. What I remember growing up here were summers where it was 75 degrees and breezy during the day. The air was clear and the snow capped mountains were visible in 3 directions on the horizon. It was paradise in the summer, and that was what got everyone through the other 9 months of the year. Now, if you stepped outside, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in Southern Mexico.

Climate change is here. This is not the way I want things to be, but it’s the way that they are, and we need to adapt to it. Also, focusing on adapting to change will be better for your mental health than just sweating, worrying, and feeling furious that the US congress still can’t pass any meaningful legislation concerning climate change even as the evidence that it’s getting worse grows stronger and more alarming by the day. 

With that in mind, here are some ideas for how to deal with this and future heat waves, starting with the simplest and least expensive and leading up to the more ambitious projects.

Don’t fight your air conditioner

If you have AC (and my guess is that if you didn’t you’re shopping for it now), it’s sucking up power to cool off your house. Do yourself a favor and do your best not to produce heat with any of your other appliances. 

  • Turn off the heated dry option on your dishwasher – you can just open it up and let the dishes air dry. If there’s no option for that, you can interrupt the cycle after the washing is done and just turn it off.
  • Try not to use your oven – it produces a whole lot of heat that dissipates through your house.
  • Don’t use your dryer! When it’s 90+ degrees and dry outside, it’s extremely wasteful to heat up the air and dump it outside. Instead, hang up your clothes. I hang mine up near the fan for the AC condenser on my Mitsubishi Heat Pump.

Make the best use of what you have

I’ll try to avoid stating the obvious, but here are a couple of tips for staying cool without buying anything new.

  • If you’ve got a humidifier, use it. This can both lower your electric bill by helping to cool the air and reduce health problems caused by dry air.
  • If some areas of your house are cool and some are hot, spend time in the cool places. We’ve been spending time in our basement and even sent the kids down there to sleep.

Get yourself some shade

A little shelter from the blazing sun will help a lot with your power bill.

  • The cheapest, most beautiful, and carbon negative option here are trees. I live in the shadow of some big Douglas Firs, and while the sun is blocked by them, it’s not too bad outside. If you’re going to plant trees, make sure that you follow the rules about planting  them away from power lines, and try to pick species that are better adapted to a hotter, drier climate. Big trees can include the firs, or Western White Pines. Smaller shrubs and trees can provide some relief as well.
  • The most effective shades for windows are exterior window shutters or roller shades. All shades heat up from the sun, and you’re better off if they heat up outside your house. If you can’t get exterior shades, try getting a roller shade or blinds that are lightly colored to reflect as much sun as possible. If you have blinds, close them.
  • Get yourself a retractable awning shade or a shade sail. These will provide shade to outdoor spaces near your house and perceptibly lower the temperature in the afternoon sun. 

Home Improvement

These house projects were already in the 3 year plan, but we’re probably going to do them a bit sooner.

  • Add some rain barrels. When it’s this hot, we need to water everything, sometimes more than once a day. As the planet heats up, water is going to get scarcer in summer. Storing rain is free, and untreated water is actually more productive for growing plants. I’d like to start off the month of May with a good 500 gallons of stored water.
  • When you replace your water heater, buy a hybrid heat exchanger water heater. They will cut your electricity costs in half. Not only that, but the unit actually works as an air conditioner while heating your water, and they are eligible for a tax rebate
  • Go solar. By putting panels on your roof, you’ll be generating the most electricity during sunny days, which is when we need it most. By blocking sunlight from hitting your roof, they also help to keep it cool. Researchers at UC San Diego found that solar panels may lower the roof temperature by up to 5 degrees F
  • When it comes to cooking, a unit like a Brava may do a lot of good. It can cook a meal with the same amount of energy a conventional oven uses to preheat. This means that there will be a lot less waste heat for your air conditioner to deal with.

As always, remember that what we do personally matters, but this is a problem that requires the government to take action. Vote, then write your representatives and tell them that you want a livable future. 

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