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How to Stay Comfortable Without Using a Lot of Electricity This Summer

Lars Henrikson is a Residential Efficiency Program Manager in Seattle City Light’s Customer Care and Energy Solutions business unit.

Earlier this year, the Seattle area was lucky with mild weather. But heat waves are a real threat due to climate change. We aren’t immune to heat domes, smoke, and other conditions. Heat is the leading weather-related cause of death in the U.S., surpassing floods and tornadoes. Even if the heat isn’t deadly, it can be uncomfortable and cause illness, reduced productivity, and trouble sleeping.

But we don’t have to deal with it. Proper planning can help you stay comfortable and reduce health risks from high temperatures. Try these tips to help you prepare for current and future heat waves without using a lot of electricity this summer.

Tomorrow is going to be hot. What should I do?

1. Avoid adding extra heat to your home. 

Electric appliances and lighting give off heat when they’re working, so use them sparingly. Try a no-cooking-required meal or use appliances that produce less heat – a microwave produces a tiny fraction of the heat that a stove or oven does.

2. Cool yourself. 

Drink cool, hydrating liquids. Wipe your face, neck, and wrists with a cool wet cloth. If you get really hot, a cold shower will feel good and bring your core body temperature down quickly. Be sure to check for signs of heatstroke if you’re feeling ill.

3. Go downstairs, if possible. 

Warmer air usually rises, so if you have the option, downstairs is likely to be cooler than upstairs. 

4. Use a fan to cool you. 

A fan doesn’t cool the air, but moving air helps your body’s natural cooling processes (perspiration) work better. Fan motors put out heat, so only use them when you’re in the room to benefit from the moving air.

5. Pre-cool your home. 

Open windows on the night before a predicted hot day to let natural airflow cool your home down. If the nighttime air is calm, or you’re in an apartment without good cross-ventilation, put a fan in the window to draw in cool air and push out hot air. 

6. Trap that cold air. 

Before the day starts heating up, close your windows and draw the blinds on windows that are exposed to the sun. Try to keep windows or doors shut when it’s cooler inside than outside.

7. Sleep comfortably. 

Your bedroom might not be the coolest room. Consider moving to where it’s cooler to sleep more comfortably. You can even try sleeping in light, loose cotton pajamas on top of the covers.

8. Visit a cooling center. 

The City of Seattle maintains a heat safety webpage that updates during events. Bookmark this page so you can know which community centers, libraries, and other public spaces have air conditioning for hot days.

I have a day to plan for hot weather. What else can I do to better prepare?

1. Find and fix air leaks.

Gaps around windows, doors, and structural cracks in some older homes let in hot air and smoke too. Caulk the gaps where you’ve noticed air coming through and install weather-stripping and door sweeps to help year-round.

2. Make some extra ice.

No one wants to run out of ice for their drinks on a hot day. Store ice you’ve already made in a plastic bag or freezer container and start making more to stock up.

3. Shade your home. 

Put up bamboo shades or hang light-colored cloths on the outside of your house. These can keep the sun from getting to your house in the first place. Look for where the heat has come in the most in the past and focus there first.

I’m ready to make some big changes to help with the heat and smoky air in the future. What can I do? 

1. Insulate and air-seal your home. 

The same insulation that keeps the heat inside in the winter can keep it out in the summer. Get three contractor bids to upgrade your insulation. Your heating bills will be lower, and you’ll be more comfortable year-round. Air sealing will also help keep out smoke.

2. Upgrade your windows. 

Better windows provide year-round benefit by reducing heat flow along with the air leaks that can make a home uncomfortable.

3. Install awnings over south-facing windows

Like with the shades mentioned above, keeping the sun off your home is better than trying to get that heat out after it’s already in. Old photos of Seattle show that many of the older apartment buildings in town originally had awnings over the windows – it’s timeless technology, and it might be time to bring it back.

4. Install a heat pump. 

The installation of heat pumps that also provide air conditioning is rapidly rising in the Seattle area. About two out of three new heating systems in Seattle are heat pumps. Ductless heat pumps provide super-efficient cooling and heating for the most-used areas of your home. If you decide a whole-home solution is better, replace your furnace with a ducted heat pump for cooling in the summer and efficient heating in the winter.

  • Two bonuses! With City Light’s carbon-neutral electricity, your electricity use won’t be contributing to climate change, and with a heat pump you can keep doors and windows closed on smoky days so any smoke can be kept outside.

5. Plant shade trees. 

It may be a few years before they do much, but thinking ahead is always helpful. Deciduous shade trees on the south and west side of your home can help keep out the summer sun and let the winter sun come through once the leaves have fallen. Learn more about picking the right tree for your space in “The Right Tree Book.”

  • If you’re in an apartment or rental home, you might still be able to advocate for trees in your yard or street trees in your neighborhood.

For more tips to keep your home energy efficient and lighten your load, visit