You might welcome the change of seasons if you’re planning a thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail after authorities warned people to stay clear of certain areas thanks to record California snowfall this year. However, you aren’t as happy if you’re concerned about your air conditioning bill. What are some tips for prepping your home for the infamous Cali heat?
While it makes it far less cumbersome to get in your car when you don’t have to shovel, summertime electric bills that top $500 aren’t a homeowner’s best friend. Fortunately, the right home improvements can ease your utility bill pain.
Here at GreatBuildz, a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura, or San Diego with reliable residential contractors, we speak to homeowners every day about planning for a residential renovation – here are seven tips for prepping your home for the Cali heat this spring.
Prep Your Windows for Solar Heat Gain
What is solar heat gain? It refers to the amount of radiation — and warmth — your windows let into your home. It’s a boon for folks in northern climates and Californians during bad winters, but it can make your home into a sauna in the summer. You could blanket your windows with blackout curtains using a curtain track, but you moved to California for the view.
Opt for a one-way window film for a more affordable solution that preserves your palm tree view. This stuff provides plenty of natural light while safeguarding your furnishings and floorings from UV rays, and dropping your indoor temperature. Although the clear film means you’ll still need curtains for nighttime privacy, you can get creative. It comes in various patterns, letting you create a stained glass look or paint a rainbow in your living room.
However, it might be time to replace your windows if you caught a draft sitting by one this winter.
Look for Energy Star-certified replacements with a solar heat gain coefficient of zero to maximize your utility bill savings. Such models block 72% of solar heat gain, keeping you cool this summer without running the AC.
Make Wise Landscaping Selections
Have you ever seen homes with a stately row of cypress trees obscuring one or more sides of the property? Pay attention to the compass direction — are they on the south side? If so, they serve a purpose beyond privacy. The right landscaping can help you beat the heat by shading your home where it needs it the most.
In general, you should avoid lawns — they cost a fortune to water and waste this precious resource. Plus, ongoing drought means California often imposes restrictions, which can impact your landscaping. Instead, opt for xeriscaping, keeping thorny plants like roses and prickly pear in front of windows as a theft deterrent.
Trees around your periphery — especially on the south side — can shade the worst afternoon heat. Eleven species of cypress are native to California, although jacaranda and Japanese maples are also sustainable choices for the climate. Palm trees are, surprisingly, not native to the state.
Service Your HVAC System (and Shade It)
When was the last time you changed your air filter? Replacing a dirty model can save you up to 15% on your utility bill — it’s well worth the couple of bucks spent at the hardware store.
Take a look at your vents while handling this chore. If you see a gray discoloration, you have dirty ducts. While you can call in a pro in severe cases, you can probably DIY. Here’s how:
- Turn off the power to your system.
- Remove the filter grate and the vent covers from each vent.
- Remove the filter to change it.
- Use your vacuum hose to sweep any visible debris from the inside of your ducts, taking care not to scrape the sides.
- Wash your grate and vent covers with hot, soapy water.
- Replace the filter.
- Replace the grate and vents and restart the system.
If it’s time to replace your unit, try placing the new condenser on the north side of your home if possible. If that won’t work, a plant-covered trellis or small wall can provide the requisite shade. Unfortunately, you might not have this option if your unit is on your roof.
Try On a Cooler Paint Shade
Did your home come with the standard California off-white to ecru-colored walls? There’s a reason why builders choose these tones beyond aesthetics. Light colors bring a touch of vibrant cheer to dark areas and make your home feel considerably cooler.
Dark colors absorb light and heat, keeping it trapped in your home. Light colors reflect it, letting your ceiling fan do a more effective job of cooling. Don’t worry — you don’t have to stick with white if it bores you. Cheerful shades like lavender and yellow can bring an unexpected touch of cozy whimsy to your living room or kitchen.
Create an Urban Jungle
Way back in the 1980s, NASA discovered the humble house plant is a powerhouse for cleaning indoor air. But that’s not all your green friends can do. Plants use a process called evapotranspiration to take in water from the soil and release it as vapor. A single tree can transpire up to 100 gallons a day, providing the equivalent cooling effect of five air conditioners running for 20 hours.
Your ficus tree and spider plant might not cool your home by themselves. However, the more plants you add, the cooler your house will stay — particularly if you use fans to circulate the air.
Add Low-Cost Cooling Alternatives
Ceiling fans are a California homeowner’s friend. Although they don’t directly lower temperature, they make your space feel cooler by circulating the air, creating a wind chill effect. Using one with your AC might let you turn the dial up a few degrees without feeling uncomfortable.
What about your outdoor seating areas? After all, you moved to California to enjoy the sunshine. You can find mister systems that can drop your patio temperature several degrees, letting you enjoy lunch outdoors. Rimming your patio roof’s periphery with these and adding a ceiling fan can make your outdoor living space comfortable at 3 p.m. in July and reduce the interior cooling needs of adjacent rooms.
Or Switch to Solar
How would you like an electric bill of $20 or less? Such a scenario is possible if you make the big switch to solar. Many homeowners delay this change until it’s time to replace their roofs to save costs.
However, be aware that in recent years, California has produced energy surpluses thanks to the proliferation of solar. If you have such a system connected to the grid, your utility bill might consist of nothing more than the various taxes and personnel fees it takes to maintain the infrastructure. That’s nearly as good as getting an unexpected check in the mail.
Start Prepping for the Cali Heat Early
You might look forward to the changing seasons after a snowy winter, but you probably don’t eagerly anticipate your summer utility bills. What can you do to prepare for the Cali heat?
The steps above will help you prepare your home for the Cali heat. You’ll do your part to protect the planet while saving more money to spend on fun in the California sun.
When it comes to home improvement projects, you shouldn’t have to go it alone – GreatBuildz can help simplify your renovation experience. GreatBuildz is a free service that connects homeowners in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura & San Diego with reliable, thoroughly screened contractors and provides project support from start to finish.
For help finding general contractors you know you can trust to do a fantastic job, contact GreatBuildz by calling (818.317.3567) or visiting our website. We’ll connect you with one of our pre-vetted professionals perfect for your project.