Q. I want to lower my electric bills by running my central air conditioner less, but I don't want to be uncomfortable. What are some low-cost tips to cool the house with less air conditioning?
A. Living with less air conditioning is possible without dramatically sacrificing your comfort. Once you get used to being in less air conditioning, it will be easier to adjust to the heat when you walk outdoors. Keep in mind, several generations ago, everyone survived just fine with no air conditioning at all.
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There are several techniques to keep adequately comfortable at home without running the air conditioner as much. These include creating less heat inside your house, controlling the indoor humidity level, ventilating with cooler outdoor air when appropriate, increasing air flow and velocity indoors, reducing heat transmission from outdoors.
The kitchen (from cooking and dishwashing) and the bathroom (from bathing) are areas that generate much heat and humidity in a house. Exhausting this warm humid air by running the range hood and bathroom vent fan can help remove this heat and humidity while it is being formed.
This only works to a limited extent though because when the fans suck air out of your house, hot humid outdoor air must leak in somewhere or your house would implode.
To be most effective, you must also try to reduce the initial heat and humidity generation in the kitchen and bathroom. During the summer, use small countertop cooking appliances whenever possible instead of the range top or oven. Also, use them outdoors on a table on the deck or patio.
Cover pots when boiling water to trap the water vapor and reduce the cooking times. When using the oven, plan your dinner to make several items at the same time or in succession while it is hot.
In the bathroom, taking cooler showers and baths gives off less heat and humidity into the room air. If you take a hot bath, drain the tub as soon as you are done. When showering, wipe down the walls when done so more water goes down the drain and the walls dry off faster.
On a cool day, open the windows if it is not too humid outdoors and rely on natural ventilation. A whole-house fan or a window fan can bring in cooler nighttime air, but again only do this if the outdoor humidity is low.
Using fans accomplishes two goals of cooling the house and increasing the air velocity indoors. When using natural ventilation, open the windows wide on the downwind side and just a little on the windward side. This increases the air velocity coming in for more comfort. Running ceiling paddle fans also helps.
Building and using a solar chimney vent works well on sunny, drier days. This is a tall chimney with two clear sides facing the sun. When the sun warms the inside of the chimney, it creates a natural updraft to vent your house for free.
The simplest way to block heat transmission is to install awnings, window film or shades. Stapling reflective foil under the attic rafters blocks the heat from the roof. Planting shrubs near the house creates a cool air buffer around the walls.
Q. The old flapper valve in the toilet tank did not seal well, so I bought a new one. Now I have to hold the flush lever for a while to make it flush properly. Do you think I have installed it incorrectly?
A. It is possible, but you probably installed it properly. If you bought a water-saving flapper valve for the toilet tank, it may require more careful adjustment and may always require a slightly longer hold.
Check to be sure the chain or strap connecting the flush lever to the flapper does not have excessive slack and adjust it if necessary.
Inspect the flapper for adjustable hole sizes and try different settings.
• Write to James Dulley at 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit dulley.com.