Energy Fixer: Keeping Cool

How do you make an older house more energy efficient? This year, we’re following Sarah, a PGE employee, as she updates a 55-year-old, 1,500 square-foot, all-electric house, which she purchased in November 2014.

How’s that ductless heat pump cooling?

As we reported in the April Energy Fixer installment, Sarah had a ductless heat pump installed. She was “really excited” to also get the air conditioning that a ductless system provides because her house got hot quickly on sunny days due to large windows in her living and dining rooms.

With Portland’s warm spring and early summer, the cooling function of her ductless system has been put to the test. How’s it performing?

“It’s fabulous! I have it set at 75 degrees and it keeps the house really cool and comfortable,” Sarah said.

Although she generally follows the “set it and forget it” approach recommended for efficient heat pump operation, Sarah appreciates how easy it is to adjust the temperature, if needed, using the remote control.

She also likes the adjustable louvers on the indoor unit that allow her to point the air stream so it’s not blowing directly on her.

In the bedrooms, which still have radiant ceiling heat, Sarah and her daughters use fans to keep cool, but she’s looking forward to adding ductless units to heat and cool those rooms, too, in the future.

(If you’re interested in the year-round comfort a heat pump can provide, be sure to check our heat pump section to learn about special offers, incentives, discounts and tax credits. A new special offer will be rolling out Aug. 1.)

No air conditioning? No sweat!

If you don’t have a heat pump or air conditioning, here are a number of immediate and long-term cooling strategies you can use to stay more comfortable this summer:

  1. Do a curtain call: Sarah installed cellular shades on her windows, which helps stop the sun from heating up her home (and her heat pump doesn’t have to work so hard to keep things cool). Close your curtains or shades to block the sun and help insulate from the heat outside. In the evening and early morning, open curtains and windows to catch cool breezes and air out any heat build-up in your home. (Use caution on ground level windows to keep your home secure. Also keep small children away from open windows.)
  2. Join the fan club: Fans keep you cool by creating a wind-chill effect. On hot days, we sweat — our bodies radiate heat and humidity. A breeze from a fan blows away that hot, humid air and aids the evaporation. To save energy, remember to turn off fans when you leave the room since fans cool people and not rooms. Window fans can help exhaust hot air and draw in cooler night air.
  3. Turn on the cold water: Drinking cold water cools you down, and it’s the best way to stay hydrated in the heat. Cold water is good on the outside, too: Splash cold water on your wrists, neck, the inside of your elbows and other pulse points. Wet a bandana with cold water, wring it out and tie it around your neck. Stick your feet in a kiddie pool while sucking on a Popsicle — ahh!
  4. Turn off appliances: Don’t run the dishwasher, stove, dryer or any other appliances during the hot part of the day, if you can help it. Leave the dishes and laundry for cooler night hours. Plan no-cook meals like salads and sandwiches, or use the grill outside. And turn off the TV and computer, too, if you’re not using them.
  5. Change your light bulbs: Switch out incandescent light bulbs, which waste 90 percent of the energy they use by producing heat instead of light. Compact fluorescent lights and highly efficient LED lights operate much cooler. Until you switch out the incandescent blubs, leave them off as much as possible during hot weather.
  6. Manage airflow: Insulate and seal air leaks. Energy Trust of Oregon offers cash incentives that help reduce your costs. Or, if you’re on a limited income, you may qualify for free weatherization assistance from community agencies. Also, make sure attic vents and soffit vents are not blocked so hot air can escape your attic (which can soar to 150 degrees on hot days!)
  7. Plant trees: If you’re planning on staying in your home for a number of years, consider landscaping to shade your home. According to, shading is the most cost-effective way to reduce solar heat gain in your home. And in tree-shaded neighborhoods the summer daytime air temperature can be up to 6 degrees cooler than in treeless areas. See this Energy Saver 101 Infographic on Landscaping to learn more.

Take precautions in extreme heat

During a prolonged heat wave, like the one we experienced recently, it may be hard to keep your house comfortable if it doesn’t cool down at night. Be aware that young children and the elderly can be more affected by the heat. Know the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Check this Heat Wave Safety List from the American Red Cross. Take a break at an air-conditioned mall or community cooling center. Also check on family and neighbors who don’t have air conditioning to make sure they are okay.