Home improvement projects often ramp up in the warmer months, and for good reason. With longer days and fewer chances of inclement weather, summer is the perfect season for renovations, from replacing windows to installing shading devices and optimizing your home’s energy efficiency. Get started with these three options, which can raise the value of your home while also cutting cooling costs.
Thermal transfer: If you noticed any draftiness during the winter, you’d be wise to consult with an architect about thermography, which is infrared scanning of your home. This process will discover areas of thermal transfer, i.e., the places where your house is leaking air. The most common areas of thermal transfer are apertures such as windows and doors, but it’s also crucial to check the exterior cladding of your house to ensure that there aren’t leaks that may otherwise evade easy detection. The more thermal transfer your house has, the more energy you’ll consume in attempting to cool it in the summer months and heat it in the winter months; imagine a freezer door left ajar. Measuring your house’s baseline energy consumption and thermal transfer is key to potentially reducing long-term energy costs.
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Windows and doors have variable lifespans according to what materials they include—wooden frames can last up to 30 years; aluminum frames last about half as long—but it’s important to check them regularly to ensure that seals remain tight to prevent the escape of heating or cooling. At doorways, weather stripping often takes the brunt of the elements and should be replaced as soon as it begins to show signs of cracking and other wear that can contribute to thermal transfer.
Shading devices: As much as you might appreciate views from expansive walls of glass, you might also notice during long summer days that your house is too bright and too hot from solar gain. Consider the addition of exterior shading devices; your architect can select the right shading device for you, based on your home’s specific geography, to take advantage of seasonally varying sun angles. For some regions, the approach might be over-window shading devices that block high-angle summer sunlight while still admitting low-angle winter sun. In other regions, perforated shutters that block midday sun but can be opened to take advantage of softer evening tones might be the better option.
Cutler Anderson Architects used the latter approach for a Pennsylvania Farmhouse (above), a recipient of AIA’s 2017 Housing Awards. Barn doors might seem like an obvious choice for a farmhouse, but those installed at the Pennsylvania Farmhouse serve as shutters for the south-facing, double-height windows, providing nighttime privacy for the occupants and reducing daytime solar gain. When the sliding shutters are closed, slits allow ample daylight to reach the interior but temperature reductions are in the range of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, according to anecdotal evidence provided by the contractor.
Insulation: If you’re reluctant to change your home’s outward appearance, another method of increasing energy efficiency—and long-term cost savings—is through additional insulation. Many people think of attics when they think of insulation, but it’s important to remember that walls and floors can also benefit from extra insulation to prevent heating and cooling loss. Increasing the amount of insulation doesn’t necessarily mean tearing down your walls or ripping up hardwood floors; expanding foam and loose-fill insulation can be added through minimally invasive methods.
Keeping your house cool can be simpler than running your air-conditioning system all summer. By adding exterior shading devices, you can keep some of the daytime heat out; when you plug up leaks in your home, you can make sure the cool air stays in. Improving your home’s insulation can also reduce the amount of heat that sneaks through the walls. And if any of the renovations above seems too daunting, you can always consider adding a ceiling fan; your architect no doubt has a few favorites.
About the author: Deane Madsen, Assoc. AIA, is a writer and architectural photographer based in Washington, DC. He is the founder of Brutalist DC and the former associate editor of design for Architect Magazine.