Energy saving

The Walla Walla Valley’s climate is classified as hot-summer Mediterranean with average highs in July and August falling in the high 80s and high temperature records reaching well into the triple digits.

This means that we have, in utility industry parlance, a significant cooling load. During the hot summer days when fans seem futile or the A/C has to run all day, it’s helpful to recognize that there are ways we can help to stay comfortable at home, minimize the strain on our cooling equipment and reduce our carbon footprint. In the following paragraphs, we’ll explore some strategies to make your home cooler and more efficient during this hottest time of the year.

The first thing to consider is our practices at home. Behavioral changes alone can have a great impact on your comfort and energy use. Use the following bullets to guide which actions you can take:

  • Close blinds or shades to the sun during the heat of the day
  • Close windows early in the day and minimize traffic going in and out of the house
  • Avoid using appliances (cooking, laundry, dishwasher) during the hottest part of the day
  • Prepare meals that don’t require cooking or consider cooking outside on the grill
  • Use a programmable or smart thermostat and establish a cooling schedule
  • Use ceiling or portable fans to augment the effect of central or zonal (room or window air conditioners) air conditioning. Turn off fans when not occupying a room
  • Open windows at night and generate a cross breeze to bring in cooler air from outside and give the air conditioner a break
  • For homes with central air, use the fan setting at night when windows are open to help circulate air and bring in cooler outside air

When considering indoor temperatures, try not to fixate on a particular number, rather consider the difference between outside and inside temps. It will be much harder for your cooling systems to cool to 74 degrees when it is 95 degrees out than 80 degrees. Experiment with increasing indoor temperatures as it gets hotter outside.

The second thing to consider is the efficiency of your home. Use the following bullets to consider which efficiency upgrades to consider:

  • Insufficient attic and/or wall insulation, especially for pre-1990 homes
  • Poor air sealing and duct sealing (air leaks in and out of the home)
  • Broken, leaky or old single or double pane metal framed windows
  • Old, inefficient cooling equipment — outside units perform best and last longer in a shaded spot clear of debris and vegetation
  • Regular maintenance of heating/cooling equipment — including changing air filters as recommended by the manufacturer

A certified home energy audit is a great way to evaluate your home’s efficiency and receive prioritized recommendations for actions to take. Locally, the Sustainable Living Center provides low cost audits through its Community Energy Efficiency Program. Funding is also available to assist with up to 50% of the cost of qualifying upgrades. Generous rebates are also available from local utility providers and can be claimed together with CEEP incentives. Currently accepting Walla Walla and Columbia county customers to wait list for audits, for more information and to register, call (509)524-5218 or visit our website at slcww.org.

Finally, though these bullets include immediate, no-cost options and mid-term moderate investments in your home’s infrastructure, longer-term actions should also be considered. Landscaping for energy efficiency is a strategy that is often overlooked and can be employed not just for cooling, but for winter heating and wind protection as well. When building or remodeling, factors such as home orientation, overhangs, building materials and even roofing and siding colors can make a considerable impact on comfort and efficiency. The addition of solar thermal or photovoltaic generation can shift much of the needed energy away from fossil fuels. Through a generous private grant, the SLC is able to offer a rebate, up to $3,000, to customers installing solar systems. Contact us via phone or our website for more information.

Through awareness and taking some deliberate steps to reduce your “heat print,” you’ll find it easier to keep cool and save energy and money in the process!

Erendira Cruz is the executive director of the Sustainable Living Center. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Montana State University.