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  • Cooling Your Home with Fans and Ventilation
    You can save energy and money when you ventilate your home instead of using your air conditioner, except on the hottest days. Moving air can remove heat from your home. Moving air also creates a wind chill effect that cools your body.

    Ventilation cooling is usually combined with energy conservation measures like shading provided by trees and window treatments, roof reflectivity (light-colored roof), and attic insulation. Mechanical air circulation can be used with natural ventilation to increase comfort, or with air conditioning for energy savings.

    Ventilation provides other benefits besides cooling. Indoor air pollutants tend to accumulate in homes with poor ventilation, and when homes are closed up for air conditioning or heating.

    Principles of Cooling
    Cooling the Human Body
    Your body can cool down through three processes: convection, radiation, and perspiration. Ventilation enhances all these processes.

    Convection occurs when heat is carried away from your body via moving air. If the surrounding air is cooler than your skin, the air will absorb your heat and rise. As the warmed air rises around you, cooler air moves in to take its place and absorb more of your warmth. The faster this convecting air moves, the cooler you feel.

    Radiation occurs when heat radiates across the space between you and the objects in your home. If objects are warmer than you are, heat will travel toward you. Removing heat through ventilation reduces the temperature of the ceiling, walls, and furnishings. The cooler your surroundings, the less heat you'll attract, and the more of your own excess heat you'll lose.

    Perspiration can be uncomfortable, and many people would prefer to stay cool without it. However, during hot weather and physical exercise, perspiration is the body's powerful cooling mechanism. As moisture leaves your skin pores, it carries a lot of heat with it, cooling your body. If a breeze (ventilation) passes over your skin, that moisture will evaporate more quickly, and you'll be even cooler.

    How Heat Accumulates
    Heat accumulates in homes from several sources and can make indoor temperatures higher than outdoors even in the hottest weather. Solar energy—which enters a home primarily through the roof and windows—is a major source of unwanted heat in most climates. Appliances, lights, and occupants generate heat as well. To use ventilation instead of air conditioning for cooling, you should prevent heat from entering and accumulating in your home as much as possible. Some preventive measures include installing additional attic insulation, a reflective roof, awnings, and sun-blocking window treatments.

    Operational changes—such as reducing the use of appliances, lighting, and hot water—will also reduce accumulated heat. When you've prevented as much heat accumulation as you can, develop a ventilating strategy.

    Natural Ventilation
    Natural ventilation relies on the wind and the "chimney effect" to keep a home cool.
    The wind will naturally ventilate your home by entering or leaving windows, depending on their orientation to the wind. When wind blows against your home, air is forced into your windows. Heat accumulates in your home during the day, and the cool night air can flush it out. For drier climates, this will mean ventilating at night, and closing doors, windows, and window coverings during the day. This may not apply in humid climates.

    Depending on the house design and wind direction, a windbreak—like a fence, hedge, or row of trees that blocks the wind—can force air either into or away from nearby windows. Wind moving along a wall creates a vacuum that pulls air out of the windows.

    The chimney effect occurs when cool air enters a home on the first floor or basement, absorbs heat in the room, rises, and exits through upstairs windows. This creates a partial vacuum, which pulls more air in through lower-level windows.

    Natural ventilation works best in climates with cool summers or cool nights and regular breezes.

    Using Windows and Doors for Cross-Ventilation
    You can create natural cross-ventilation by opening your windows and doors, and adjusting the size and location of the openings to ventilate different parts of the home.

    Inlets and outlets located directly opposite each other cool only those areas in between, in the direct path of the airflow. You'll cool more of your home if you force the air to take a longer path between the inlet and outlet. Use smaller window openings for the inlets and larger openings for the outlets. This increases air speed and improves the cooling effect. Air from cooler, shaded outdoor areas provides the best intake air.

    Experiment with different patterns of window venting to move fresh outside air through all the living areas of your home. This may involve leaving some windows closed if they interfere with air moving along a longer path through the home.

    Attic Ventilation
    Solar heat travels in through the roof and radiates into the attic. Attic ventilation reduces attic temperature 10 to 25 degrees and slows the transfer of heat into the living space. However, the most effective way to reduce attic heat is to prevent it from entering in the first place with a reflective roof. Also very important is having at least a foot of attic insulation.

    Mechanical Ventilation
    When you know how air moves naturally through your home, you can then optimize your mechanical ventilation.
    In warmer climates, natural ventilation can't circulate enough air through a home to provide sufficient cooling at night to remove the day's heat. Mechanical ventilation can provide continuously moving air that will keep your home cooler, day and night, with circulating fans, whole-house fans, and/or evaporative coolers.

    The quality and energy efficiency of these devices varies widely. Shop carefully—it might be best to buy from a dealer who specializes in fans rather than from a department store.

    Circulating Fans
    Circulating fans include ceiling fans, table fans, floor fans, window fans, and fans mounted to poles or walls. These fans create a wind chill effect that will make you more comfortable in your home, even if it's also cooled by natural ventilation or air conditioning.

    Ceiling Fans
    If you use air conditioning, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4°F with no reduction in comfort. In temperate climates, or during moderately hot weather, ceiling fans may allow you to avoid using your air conditioner altogether.

    Install a fan in each room that needs to be cooled during hot weather. Fans work best when the blades are 7 to 9 feet above the floor and 10 to 12 inches below the ceiling. Fans should be installed so their blades are no closer than 8 inches from the ceiling and 18 inches from the walls.

    Larger ceiling fans can move more air than smaller fans. A 36- or 44-inch diameter fan will cool rooms up to 225 square feet, while fans that are 52 inches or more should be used in larger rooms. Multiple fans work best in rooms longer than 18 feet. Small- and medium-sized fans will provide efficient cooling in a 4- to 6-foot diameter area, while larger fans are effective up to 10 feet.

    A larger blade will also provide comparable cooling at a lower velocity than a smaller blade. This may be important in areas where loose papers or other objects will be disturbed by a strong breeze. The fan should also be fitted to the aesthetics of the room—a large fan may appear overpowering in a small room.

    A more expensive fan that operates quietly and smoothly will probably offer more trouble-free service than cheaper units. Check the noise ratings, and, if possible, listen to your fan in operation before you buy it.

    Window and Exhaust Fans
    Window fans are best used in windows facing the prevailing wind or away from it to provide cross-ventilation. Window fans augment any breeze or create a breeze when the air is still. If the wind direction changes frequently in your area, use reversible-type window fans so you can either pull air into the home or push air out, depending on which way the wind blows. Experiment with positioning the fans in different windows to see which arrangement gives the best cooling effect.

    In a larger house, consider installing a window fan that blows air in through a lower-level window in a cool area and another window fan that blows air out through a higher-level window in a hotter area.

    Use exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom to remove heat and humidity when cooking and bathing. Larger, securely installed exhaust fans can ventilate homes where an open window would be a security issue. Large exhaust fans can be mounted outdoors on a wall or roof to reduce indoor noise.

    Be cautious with these large exhaust fans. If enough ventilation isn't provided, the fans can pull combustion products (e.g., carbon monoxide from furnaces or water heaters) into your living space.

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