Cooling our home
Whole house air conditioner
Unlike many parts of the country, here in Central New York cooling our house in the summer isn't as difficult as heating our house in the winter.
That doesn't stop people from running their air conditioner constantly though, much of the time unnecessarily.
Like most people in our area, we installed whole house air conditioning many years ago, assuming that it was the best way to be comfortable in the summer. We've found, though, that taking some more energy-efficient steps keeps us just as comfortable.
First, of course, we had one of the area's best companies insulate our house thoroughly, and we installed energy-efficient windows. Just as it keeps the cold out in the winter, it keeps the cold inside in the summer.
Then, on hot days we lower our window shades on the south side of the house, and on some of the east and west windows.
A room air conditioner for our office, family room, and kitchen
Most of the time, we're just in the family room/office and the kitchen. On the hottest days, a room air conditioner in the family room keeps us comfortable, generally just on the fan setting.
We use the air conditioner setting only on some of the hottest days of summer. We save the whole house A/C for heat waves and only at night when we're sleeping upstairs—probably four or five nights during the whole summer.
A ceiling fan
Although we don't use it all the time, the ceiling fan in the office helps take the edge off the heat.
We sometimes use it in combination with the room air conditioner running in Fan mode.
We try to remember to turn off the fan when we're not in the room, since unlike air conditioners, they don't cool the room, they cool people by having the breeze blow on them.
(By reversing the direction of movement, it also helps push warm air down in the winter.)
Shade for the porch
The derecho (severe wind storm) that removed many of our trees taught us the value of deciduous trees on the south side of the house.
Previously, our porch was comfortable most of the summer since a huge tree shaded it. When that was gone, the porch became an unusable oven.
We planted a fast-growing Armstrong maple (Acer rubrum 'Armstrong'), and it has finally become large enough to keep the porch fairly cool.
Trees and shrubs in our front yard
We have a large number of trees and shrubs in our yard and virtually no lawn. All this vegetation and shade makes not only our house cooler, but also the yard itself.
One year, in the middle of a hot day, I measured the temperature on part of the path in the sun and then immediately afterward, on the path that was in the shade. There was a significant (about 7-8°) difference in temperature.