The mercury’s rising and summer’s in full swing. It’s the season to cook outdoors, camp under the stars, and drive off into the sunset for a bit of time out. It’s also the season when water usage, electricity and fuel bills can soar as we try to keep cool, keep the garden alive, and travel about in holiday mode. But with some thought and a bit of planning, the impact of summer living can be kept at bay.
Beating the heat
As the temperature rises, so does the temptation to crank up the air conditioner. But there are ways to reduce the summer heat in your home before resorting to mechanical cooling. There are lot’s of ways to save energy and leave more dollars in your pocket.
Direct sunlight on windows can produce as much heat as a radiator so shade exterior windows (especially north and west-facing ones) with blinds and windows inside, and awnings or pergolas outside. Deciduous trees, bushes or vines outside windows and walls will also provide heat protection in summer.
Close windows and curtains during the hottest part of the day to keep out heat and save on cooling costs. When it cools down outside, open your home up to the evening breeze to lower the temperature inside. Create airflow by opening windows or doors on opposite sides of the room.
If you haven’t already insulated your home, you could be wasting up to half the energy you use to cool your house by allowing cool air to leak out and hot air to enter. And don’t forget to draught-proof your home by sealing gaps around windows and doors – this helps keep cool air in and hot air out. Weather strips are a cheap and easy option. Check out gift shops for some funky new versions of the traditional sand-filled ‘sausage’.
Electrical appliances and lighting can pump out heat too so turn off lights, computers and televisions when not in use and try to use the dishwasher or washing machine in the morning or evening when it’s cooler. Avoid using the oven in the middle of the day. Even your choice of light globes can make a difference to the heat in a room. Compact fluorescent light globes (CFLs) not only emit less heat than older style globes, they are far more energy efficient and can last 4 to 10 times longer.
If you decide to use electrical cooling, consider using fans. They use a fraction of the energy an air-conditioning system uses and create a breeze to make you feel cooler. Remember, fans cool people, not rooms, so turn them off when you leave the room.
If you have an air conditioner, use it only when you have to and don’t over-cool. Set the temperature between 23 and 26°celsius. Setting the thermostat to even one degree cooler can save you up to 10 per cent on your bills. Consider buying a programmable thermostat for your air conditioner so that you can set it to suit your schedule and needs. If your air conditioner has a component such as a compressor that sits outside, try to provide it with some shading – if it’s sitting in full sun it has to work harder than it needs to. You might be able to use shading plants or an awning over a window. Don’t forget to clean the filters regularly to help your system work more efficiently. If you’re thinking of buying appliances like air conditioners, look out for the energy star rating labels, compare the efficiency of different models and choose an energy efficient model.
Keeping cool in the tropics
Keeping cool in summer is challenging, especially in tropical areas. Because of the high humidity, the natural process of sweating is inhibited so maximising air movement through the house is the key to cooling. Natural ventilation is much less wasteful and cheaper than flicking on the air conditioner.
Learn where breezes come from during the day and open up windows to make the most of the flow. See if you can open up at least two or three windows in every room to maximise flow – both to outside and other internal rooms. If you have double-hung windows, open the top and bottom. Ceiling fans will also assist air movement.
Ways to cool down
Our bodies can adapt (acclimatise) to summer temperatures in around two weeks. With a slight shift in the daily routine and a few simple tricks, you can keep your body temperature down and reduce reliance on costly mechanical cooling.
Take it easy during the middle of the day’s heat and avoid heavy chores and exercise. There’s a reason why so many people in hot parts of the world have a midday siesta when the sun is at its hottest and take advantage of the cooler mornings and evenings.
Adjust your routine so that you can spend at least part of hot days in public spaces which are cool. Perhaps you can do your shopping or go to the movies in the middle of the day rather than the evening.
For an instant cool-down, spray yourself with a mist of water or drape a moist towel around your neck. You could even try the same trick with a cloth bag filled with frozen rice – summer’s alternative to a heat neck roll. Wet your wrists and other pulse points – constantly cooling wrists will also cool the body. Try wetting your sleeves at the end throughout the day. Don’t be afraid of a little sweating – it’s your natural cooling system. A quick sponge down will also make you feel cooler instantly.
Clothes make a difference to how you feel as well. Opt for loose and light-weight clothing in light colours. Cottons and breathable fabrics can make you feel more comfortable.
Summer time can be the perfect time to take off and escape for a while from your normal routine. Some modes of transport are responsible for significant carbon outputs, but there are ways you can minimise your travel impact.
Before you leave, don’t forget to turn off your storage hot water heater, whether it be electric, gas or solar. Check that electrical appliances like microwaves, kettles, televisions, home entertainment systems and gaming consoles are turned off at the wall so they’re not drawing electricity while on standby.
If you’re flying to your holiday destination, you can opt to pay a little extra to offset your air travel’s carbon emissions with most Australian airlines. This means the money you pay is directed towards projects which reduce carbon emissions. You can find out about the carbon offset projects from different airlines from their websites. They may include energy efficiency projects, wind or hydro energy projects, either in Australia or overseas. The National Carbon Offset Standard trademark indicates that a business is committed to achieving genuine carbon emission reductions.
If you take to the road in summer, make sure your vehicle is well-maintained and that the tyres are inflated to the correct air pressure. Driving efficiently can make a big difference to the fuel consumption of your vehicle. For a medium-sized car, good maintenance could save up to 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, compared with a poorly maintained vehicle. If you’re renting a vehicle, choose the smallest one that suits your needs to minimise fuel consumption.
Camping and bushwalking holidays are a great way to take in the great outdoors and leave a minimal carbon footprint. Stick to the ‘leave no trace’ philosophy and don’t leave behind any rubbish, and use bio-degradable soap (or none at all) for cleaning up. The same applies at the beach – be considerate of other users, marine life and animals, and help keep our beaches clean. Take your rubbish home with you and pick up after your pets.
If you have some spare time on your hands during the summer holidays, you could join the 5 million other Australians who volunteer and donate your time to some environmental activities. Greening Australia, Volunteering Australia, Clean Up Australia and Conservation Volunteers are just a few of the non-profit organisations dedicated to improving the world we live in and who welcome help from community members. You can help at tree planting events, clean up our bushland and waterways or spend time at community nurseries.
You can even take your holiday with some volunteer organisations - getting a unique holiday experience and making a real difference to the environment at the same time. For example, Conservation Volunteers offer small eco-tour experiences where the holiday maker actually gets to participate in conservation activities while on holiday and discover areas often not accessible to other tourists.
There’s lots of sun in summer, so turn it into an ally.
Give your clothes dryer a rest and use the sun as your dryer. Even if you live in an apartment, you may be able to use a clothes rack on your balcony. Otherwise find a sunny spot inside. The sun also has natural bleaching powers so bring out your stained whites for some natural lightening. Nappies will be especially appreciative. Take advantage of the extra hours of sunshine to wash and dry bulkier items like blankets and rugs, or just give them an airing on the clothes lines to freshen them up.
Most regions in Australia get lots of sunshine so consider using the power of the sun to provide energy for your home by installing solar hot water system or installing solar power. A solar hot water system can provide up to 90 per cent of your hot water needs.
Summer’s also the perfect time to give your pets’ bedding a good wash or airing. Dogs may need a wash too as they can get itchy and smelly in the summer heat. An occasional wash will keep them smelling fresh and will help keep fleas and skin irritants at bay. Use a bucket and a trigger hose on your lawn so it gets a drink at the same time. Look for soap or shampoo with low sodium or phosphate as this will be kinder to your lawn.
Summer is the time when we do a lot of living outdoors. Take advantage of cool evening breezes and fire up the barbie and eat outside. Use a natural repellent like citronella candles or lemon eucalyptus oil to keep the mozzies at bay, or use a large mosquito net to enclose an eating area. If you’re outside during the day, use umbrellas and shaded areas to protect you from the sun’s rays.
If you’re having a party or barbeque, or you’re out and about at picnics or outdoor events, avoid disposable plates and cutlery and help reduce waste. Carry a re-usable drink bottle rather than buying lots of drinks in plastic bottles on the hop. If there are no recycling facilities where you’re picnicking or camping, bring your recycling home with you, including food scraps which you can compost at home. Your garden and worms will love you for it. Whether cooking indoors or outdoors, plan your meals before you shop and store your food properly. This will avoid food waste in the heat of summer and reduce rotting food going to landfill.
Pools and spas may be refreshing, but they can lose vast amounts of water through evaporation, sometimes up to 30,000 litres a year. They can also use a lot of energy for cleaning and heating and are chemical-intensive. Some pools and spas have heaters, pumps and salt chlorinators that account for up to 30 per cent of the household electricity bill. If you have a pool, a well-fitting pool cover is a must – this can reduce evaporation by up to 90 per cent. Having a rainwater tank to capture rainwater is a great way to top up a pool when necessary.
If you’re considering installing a pool, check water restrictions for your area and talk to installers and suppliers about energy use and the different types of filtration systems on the market, including natural pool designs which use biological filters.
Creating a greener garden
Gardens can really suffer in the summer heat, especially if you live in an area with dry conditions or where water restrictions are in place. By creating a water-smart garden, you can reduce labour, save water and help your garden to flourish under dry conditions.
Mulching is one of the most efficient ways to maintain your garden through summer. It helps smother weeds and reduces moisture loss. There are lots of mulches to choose from such as pea straw, sugar cane and wood chip. Don’t water mulched gardens too often as this brings roots to the surface.
Water efficiently. Work out which plants do well in which spot and group plants together according to their need for water and sun – this way your intense watering can be confined to one spot. Only water the plants that need it and do it early in the morning or in the evening. Water deeply – a good occasional soaking is better than several light sprinkles, and water slowly to ensure good penetration. Adhere to water restrictions in your area.
Get to know your soil and what you can do to keep it fertile and improve its water retention. Talk to your garden centre about ways to test your soil, or research online – this will help you to know what your plants need to thrive.
Help improve the health of your soil by making your own organic mulch by starting a compost heap or keeping worms, the new age pets. Composting your kitchen and garden waste or keeping chickens will also prevent food scraps and garden waste from rotting in landfill and releasing greenhouse gases.
A greywater system is a good way to re-use water from the bathroom basin or laundry and redirect it to your garden. There are a few types of greywater systems. Consult your plumber and local council about regulations and options in your area. Rainwater tanks are a popular way to harvest water.
There’s a range of rebates and assistance available to assist with planning and establishing a water-smart garden. These include assistance to offset the initial costs of rainwater tanks and greywater systems, free workshops on water-smart gardening and other rebates. You can also talk to your local nursery or garden centre about the most effective way to care for your garden in summer.
Grow your own kitchen garden
Planting a vegetable garden and growing culinary herbs are great ways to help cut grocery bills and reduce food waste while burning off those post-Christmas calories while you’re digging, planting, weeding, and harvesting. And they taste great!
When you grow your own produce you can pick your food at its peak of ripeness when the flavours and nutrients are at their best. Have you ever tasted a tomato straight off the vine? Even if you don’t have much space, it’s possible to grow almost any vegetable in pots, such as dwarf beetroot and carrots. Herbs are tolerant of many growing conditions and you can grow them in pots in the smallest of apartments. They’ll add a refreshing kick to your cooking.
It can be really gratifying to know that you’ve sown a seed and cared for it while it grows. You can also give children a hands-on experience of where food comes from – and they’ll love running out to the yard to hunt and harvest their own dinner.
By growing your own produce you also know exactly what goes into your food. You can minimise the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides which are pollutants that can get washed or blown into stormwater drains and local waterways. Keep in mind that pesticides don’t discriminate between good insects and bad pests. Try out some organic pest remedies instead, like placing saucers of beer near plants that are susceptible to snail attack – snails are attracted to the smell of beer. Boiling water will kill weeds if you pour it directly onto them but take care to avoid your plants. This method is especially good for weeds in paving cracks. Vinegar will kill couch grass. Once you have identified which pests you need to control, you can surf the internet for many more organic remedies that you can make at home.
Work out what grows best in your local climate zone and check out gardening websites to help get you started and work out a summer timetable.
Lawns can make gardens look great and feel cool under bare feet, but the reality is they are thirsty drinkers and require quite a bit of maintenance. But with a bit of care, you can keep your lawn healthy in the heat and minimise its water needs – or consider some alternatives.
Summer often gives lawns a beating, especially in drier areas and if water restrictions apply. Don’t despair if they turn a bit yellow or brown – this usually means that your grass is just dormant and will return to green when the weather cools down and rainfall increases.
It’s important not to cut your grass too short. Longer blades of grass are less stressed and provide shade to keep the soil moist and overtake weeds.
Over time the soil in lawns becomes compacted and needs to be aerated – this will allow water to be absorbed more effectively. You can use a garden fork for smaller areas (press a fork into the soil and lever it back and forth a couple of times) or hire a coring machine for larger areas. Wetting agents may also help lawns absorb water if they have become dried out.
Over-fertilisation with chemicals makes the soil too acidic for the lawn and pollutes our waterways. You can make up a batch of organic fertiliser by combining equal amounts of ‘blood and bone’, ground chicken manure and river sand and sprinkle it onto your lawn two or three times each year.
Mowing, leaf blowing, fertiliser production and other lawn-tending activities produce more greenhouse gases than your lawn can absorb. Try switching to a push mower and garden rake – this will reduce carbon emissions and keep you fit at the same time.
Talk to a lawn expert about suitable grass choices for your area and the best way to care for lawns and minimise water use. They will also be able to advise you on other ways to help keep lawns healthy.
You can also talk to garden and landscape experts about alternatives to replace or reduce lawn areas, such as drought-tolerant flowering plants, ornamental grasses or tan bark. There are also porous paving options which prevent water run-off from paved areas.
VIA: © Commonwealth of Australia (Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) 2009.