The heat in the house

I spent the day working at home yesterday rather than venture out into the world of 43 degree temperatures and train heat troubles, though admittedly I also missed out on comfy air-conditioning at work.

My house doesn’t have air-conditioning. It does have internal blinds in most rooms, the exceptions being the kitchen and the bathroom, which get a little warmer than the rest of the house on days like that.

It’s fine if the internal temperature stays below the mid-20s. Much higher than that, and I’m not going to pretend it’s pleasant, but running a fan (and forgoing a shirt) and drinking plenty icy cold drinks is generally enough to make it bearable.

As Monday wore on, the temperature rose steadily outdoors; more slowly inside. I tried to keep track of it by checking the thermostat temperature every so often, and comparing to the Bureau of Meteorology’s observations for Moorabbin Airport, which is probably the closest weather station.

By 10am it was 30 degrees outside, but 23 inside. Outdoors it peaked at 43.4 around 5pm, but inside the peak was 32 degrees around 7:30pm — as hot as I’ve ever seen it indoors — and it stayed up that high until bed time, by which point outside it had started to drop, though not very far.

How my house dealt with Monday's heat

This morning as I write this, the BoM says it’s 33 outside. The thermostat says 30 inside, but opening up the house makes it feel like cool air is coming in, since there’s a bit of a breeze.

On my shopping list to help deal with the heat is a ceiling fan for the livingroom (the only main room lacking an antique light fitting), and having seen how external blinds have made a huge difference at M+J’s house and also at my mum’s (and they’re quite cheap, even professionally fitted), I’m considering those too for the NW-facing rooms.

Air-con? I doubt it; for a few hours of a few days a year it doesn’t seem worth it. Evaporative cooling? Maybe.

And I’ll keep the icy cold drinks coming.

How did your place cope?

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28 Replies to “The heat in the house”

  1. We used our external blinds and closed the windows fairly early on. The temperature still got to 32 inside. I work from home, in the dining room and the very largest window which faces west is right at my back so this was also the warmest room in the house.

    The power went off at 8:30pm and didn’t come back until 3am leaving a machine beeping every 60 seconds outside out bedroom during that time.

  2. We had kept the house shut up during the day which seemed to work OK until around mid-evening as you’d found. We have wooden floors, so I experimented with opening everything and spreading a wet towel on the floor blown with a 60cm floor-mount fan for some evaporative cooling, which seemed to help a bit, but I didn’t have a thermometer to confirm this …

    Our house came with an old Hitachi air con unit that only serves one room. As it’s our spare room/office, we do have a futon couch bed in there so at around 12:30 this morning we gave up trying to get cool by any other method and then found it almost as difficult to get any sleep due to the noise of the thing … *sigh*

  3. We have aircon in the living/dining area. Closed off the rest of the house, dragged the mattress out and that’s where we slept on the lounge room floor. Don’t worry though, I paid the price this morning when all our trains were cancelled and I had to catch a very badly airconditioned tram into work. It was probably all the aircon’s in Hawthorn that caused the Metro Power disruption.

  4. I’m in a ground floor flat with no aircon but very good through breeze if I open front and back doors. On Sun night I left the doors open all night to allow cool breeze through. I left the doors open overnight on Sun night, and then battened the hatches all day yesterday. My temp pattern similar to yours – it’s generally fine if we get an overnight breeze, but with no cool change last night we are suffering today.

    The back of my flat faces NW, so gets all the direct afternoon sun, and my two back rooms tend to heat up more than the front.. I have no external blinds; yesterday I tried hanging soaking wet towels on the outside of my back windows and glass door. They dried out completely at least 3 times in 24 hours, but the evaporative cooling effect was significant!

  5. We have an aircon in the living room but, being an open plan house, it takes the edge off the heat rather than conquers it. We closed up all the windows and curtains early and that worked for while. Although it got to to 44.2 at Laverton (our nearest weather station) it stay just below 30 inside the house.

    Even with three fans and the airconditioner, it still felt a bit airless. I was happy to open up the house this morning and let in some new air. Now it’s 30 out there and 28 in here. It’s not cool or especially pleasant, but it is fresh air and I’ll take it.

  6. We just fitted laminated low energy glass to a west-facing bedroom. Previously on a day like yesterday that room would have hit about 38 degrees, but yesterday it was the same as the other rooms on the south side of the house – about 29. If you can get windows re-glazed then do it.

    I’ve had a quote for some window tinting on another west facing set of doors and the tinters reckon their product is better than the glass I’ve got. If it is, I’ll be very impressed. It’s cheaper than the glass too.

    But on days like yesterday, with a hot night like last night, it’s impossible to keep a house cool without some kind of mechanical assistance. You need to replace the air in there at some stage and when you do, the air coming in is over 30 degrees so it’s never going to be good. Our air conditioner keeps half of the house cool and the other half gets by on fans. I highly recommend a refrigerated air conditioner for days like yesterday. Ours does only get about two weeks of use each year, but it wasn’t that expensive really.

  7. We have a double storey house with evap cooling upstairs only. Unfortunately we don’t have window coverings for two of the larger back rooms just yet, but some outdoor plants provide some shade.

    We can generally manage to keep the house in the low to mid 20s until later in the day, but we peaked at 29 downstairs and stayed there most of the night.

    I don’t think we would manage without the cooling upstairs, we would probably have to consider relocating downstairs to sleep.

    Evaporative in a single storey house works reasonably well and it’s relatively inexpensive to install/run…doesn’t work so well when it’s humid.

  8. We have quite a small house with a split-system air conditioner in the living space. We’ve got by with it and fans in every other room on most hot days.

    For the last couple of days we’ve borrowed a freestanding air conditioner and put it at the other end of the house, and its helped. Its not exactly comfortable in here, but not quite as soul-destroying as outside.

    Wife and I slept on the couch in the living room last night, so we had the benefit of aircon+fan rather than fan only. We slept fitfully, but probably better than we would have otherwise.

    Right now its pretty horrible, but I’m kinda used to it.

    A friend has ducted evaporative cooling and it really does seem to be the best thing on extremely hot days. It still struggled but at least the house maintained a fairly constant temperature. Unfortunately its not an option for us at this time in our little rental.

  9. We’re renting a big old italian (brick) place oriented East-West (front-back). I pulled the outside blinds half-down (to still let at least some light in) on the western wall a couple of weeks ago, which definitely helps keep things cooler overall. The most westerly room is easily separated from the rest of the house (it was obviously an add-on) and since it’s just the laundry and storage room it’s ok to let it heat up, since it keeps the rest of the house from heating like mad. The extra-high ceilings – 3.2m? more? – mean that it’s a bugger to heat in winter but on hot days it definitely helps slow the overall heating. Tile floors help too. My thermometer never seems to register above 30 in the main living room whatever the heat outside and yesterday was no exception. The bedrooms get hotter, even though they’re more easterly, because they are more enclosed.

    That said, it also has ducted evaporative aircon so when I got home at about 7:30pm I turned it on for about two hours because although the house was cooler than outside it was very very stuffy, so it needed a good flushing, which evaporative does really well. I turned it back on about 2am when I got too hot again. The main bedroom has a fan, so sleeping with that is usually fine (but last night didn’t cool off enough for that to be enough). Otherwise, decamping to the living room works well.

    Usually we use the aircon for only 3 to 4 days a year.

  10. Ducted refrigerated air conditioning is the ultimate, but I would never consider it unless I had enough solar panels to run it.

    A strategically placed split system refrigerated air conditioner is the best and most responsible cooling approach in my opinion (after shading the house properly of course). One needs to learn to live in the rooms that are cool and shut off the un-coolable rooms.

  11. I have a cheap (but not noisy) ceiling fan (with remote control so easily adjustable in the middle of the night) in my west facing bedroom and it keeps me happy a lot of the time. But I’m in an upstairs solid brick flat and once the afternoon sun gets in the window, it takes days to cool down. Was well over 30 when I got home from work last night, but I’ve also been camping in the lounge room with my split system air con – worth every cent! Currently investigating replacing the bedroom windows with double glazing and tinting…

  12. I’m not a believer in evaporative cooling (I don’t think it suits any coastal area in Australia), so we installed proper aircon (split system) in a single room. It’s nice, quiet, and given that we set it to 27deg or above, it doesn’t use a lot of power.

    Did anyone see the humidity figures? 97% at 7:00am Monday! No wonder I was feeling stuffed. That’s one thing I’ve noted about Aussie weather, the humidity varies widely within 4-6 hours.

    Similar things happen in Brisbane: 30deg/40% at midday, which feels quite good, but then at 5pm you feel stuffed, then you find out it’s because it’s changed to 30deg/70% [quoted as temp/humidity].

  13. we installed two split system inverter air con units since we live in a weatherboard house and had a baby in june. I remember how stifling it was last year being home all day during the heat wave. Supposedly inverter units are more energy efficient. The larger one has a 6 star rating and the smaller one, installed in baby’s room is 5 stars.
    I had all the curtains closed and ran the baby’s one only during his nap time and overnight. The main one was run at 25C on and off throughout the day. At 7pm when I switched on the baby’s unit, it was 31C in his room.
    One reason why we had them installed is that the only sources of heating is a column heater in the kitchen! and a terrible gas fireplace in the lounge that really does nothing. So the units we installed can provide proper heating as well.

  14. Kiwi Nick: If by “coastal” you imply “humid” and therefore evaporative not being suitable, well, you’re ignoring the total lack of humidity that occurs most of the time in large parts of Melbourne. In Melbourne, or at least my part of Melbourne away from the shore, it *IS* suitable, because it is SO dry the vast majority of the time. I know, I grew up inland, spent time in the desert and on tropical coasts, and can feel the difference, acutely. Give me hot and dry any day.

    I think that aircon should be a last resort, and I use it accordingly. Split systems with a dual-purpose like Donna describes are even better, especially with respect to energy use. Even better than that is insulation, shading the house properly and designing it so that it can use passive cooling e.g. take advantage of prevailing breezes etc. Not that that’s likely to be offered in the age of Little Boxes, but we could live in hope…

    One last thing: morning humidity is nothing to be concerned about; it’s a natural consequence of it being cooler then. You’ll notice that as temperature goes down, relative humidity increases – but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel as bad as if it was humid and hot. This page is very informative: http://www.theweatherprediction.com/habyhints/83/ , as are others linked to it.

    97%??! The BoM only had the humidity at 7:30am Monday as 83%, and at 19.5 degrees it actually “feels” colder! Heat Index charts typically only start at about 24C.

  15. I have a big old stone house (in Adelaide) which takes some time to heat up, and with big trees on the west side and blinds on the north and east sides, we can control the inside temperature to some extent if the heat only lasts a couple of days. Yesterday was the 4th day over 40 and the 5th over 35, so the heat has really built up inside the house. When I woke, drenched in sweat at 3.00am on Monday morning, the temp was 30 degrees under my pergola and so the refrigerated air-con went on in the bedrooms and we all got a few hours of comfortable sleep. I try to only put the air-con on during the day as a last resort and to zone the house to minimise usage, and bring all the dogs and other pets are brought into that room, except the chooks, who I squirt down quite regularly. We had lots of rain overnight and this morning but the house is still very hot! I have every door and window open and fans on moving the air around with the hope that the house will cool overnight before the temp heats up again next weekend. Dry and hot – gotta love Adelaide summers…..

  16. my husband installed roof insulation a few months before the government rebate! But we also have a grape vine on the north side of the house for summer shade and winter sun. This does help a lot but the air con is only required for extended periods of hot weather. What I would love is some way to retrofit proper wall insulation into the house, like I’ve seen in ‘Grand Designs’. One technique was to blow some sort of fluffed up paper into the wall cavities. My neighbour is putting in an enormous extension to their weatherboard home and it’s costing a fortune. The extent of wall insulation is that thin foil like material.

  17. Weatherboard house with 3 roofs, double insulation in ceiling, closed up early and it still got to 30+ inside.
    Have started putting outside blinds on the house and they make a huge difference ( creates an atmosphere between the blind and the window surface which the heat is not able to easily penetrate, etc).
    Have tried evaporative coolers on and off over the years and they usually just add to the humidity. Got fans.

  18. Our house faces east/west with the main open plan living area at the back (east). We’re fortunate that living near Fremantle enables us to (usually) take advantage of the Freo Doctor or I open it up to flush out hot air so the house remains relatively cool through heatwaves. We do have a split system in our bedroom which we use at night but other than that it’s fans all the way! I was in Exmouth over the new year and it reached 49 one day. We reckon that it was over 50 in town (where we decided to go for lunch on that particular day). Love that hot weather!

  19. I’m one of those people that evaporative doesn’t work for – walk into a evaporative cooled room and all I feel is the heat (which is still there) and chronic icky moisture.

    We’ve had four scorching 40+ days in Adelaide and my home coped really well until the third day – by then the heat build-up in bricks, inside the ceiling, etc was too much and the house was cooking. Had no choice but to quite heavily run our (refrigerative) aircon to get the temp down.

    I’m going to install a heap of whirly winds on the roof so that the build-up of heat can vent out, amongst a number of other ideas. Also thinking whether draping shadecloth over my tin roof might help keep the heat off?

    For us here in Adelaide we go through a number of these scorching heat waves a year – this is our second for summer so far (though technically the first slipped through right before summer commenced in November), there will be a couple more to come (most likely in February, which is our hottest part of summer).

  20. Thick maxi-sized brick walls with double-glazing on all the windows and an attic that helps to buffer the two floors below it from any heat. No cooling system whatsoever, but didn’t find that we needed it last night. In fact, the heating was going all night with the radiators nice and toasty this morning. I guess the half a metre of snow lying on the roof provides extra insulation. Mind you, I did have to clear the the stuff from driveway and the footpath, which took a long while and kept me warm, even though my toes got quite wet and frozen. Had to bring in the dog and let him sleep in the garage as the temperature dropped to something like negative twenty in the middle of the night. There was a problem getting the car out in the morning to drive the little one to kinder as the snow plow hasn’t been down our street for a couple of days and we don’t have a 4-wheel drive. It seems like I have spent much of the last few days helping various neighbours when their cars got stuck in the drifts, also.
    Everybody has a story.

  21. I live in a double brick St. Kilda flat built in 1961 and my unit is on the ground floor facing south. While it can be a bit chilly sometimes in winter, the inside teperature stays remarkabley stable during hot weather if I keep the windows shut during the day. It will be a bit stuffy (about 70 % RH) when I get home but the temperature will be about 74 to 78 F (about 24 to 26 C). I have and use a portable evaporative cooler which I have by the window with some cheap plastic panels cut to size and placed so that it only draws in dry outside air. It is a fairly large Convair Coolmaster (made in Australia!) which I found for free in the rubbish behind a restaurant in Chinatown. It needed a good cleaning and I replaced the aspen wood fiber water pad which cost about $70 new from the Convair factory. I had previously found in the rubbish and tried two different cheap evaporative coolers bothn of which had a tray in the top to place ice cubes. They could barely cool the air at all (adding ice made no difference) and I would have really been mad if I had actually bought and wasted my money on one. When it is hot and dry outside the Convair can lower the air temperature from over 100 F-38 C to 74 F-23/24C. The trade off is of course that the cool air is about 75 to 80% humid and while I find this a bit sticky my aparment is cool and the cooler is cheap to run at only 200 watts on high speed. It slurps up quite a bit of water and every hour or so I will add another full bucket. If I left it on all night it would run out of water and blow hot air. This morning I knew it was quite humid outside because the cooler would only cool the air a few degrees to about 78 F-26 C from the 88 F-31C outside air. From what I have read evaporative cooling only works effectively if the outdoor humidity is below 60%. At these humid times I miss the ducted refrigerative A/C I had in Miami which is always effective no matter how humid it is outside. In the US we refer to this system as “central air” as the refrigerative split systems common here in Australia are extremely rare in the US. Many American homes and practically all newer American homes have ducted refrigerative A/C and heating as standard. Evaporative cooling is rare as it is too humid in most of the US to use it. It is only seen in the arid areas of some southweatern and western states. I love my electronic indoor/outdoor thermometer and hydrometer which I bought at the Australia Geographic store. I have it set to read in Fahrenheit temperatures as I can understand and extrapolate the Fahrenheit scale better than the Celcius one.

  22. Well now that would be a nice thing now up here in the great white north.
    I have and do travel for my job and spent some time in the state of GA the use the swamp coolers in outdoors areas and I must say they work. outside.
    Here in PA we run the AC some years from may to september. last year not much at all.

  23. Thanks flerdle for the link. Maybe I should keep an eye on Dew Point instead (paraphrasing from link: 15degC dew point uncomfortable for some, 21deg uncomfortable for most).

    But I’ll stick with genuine refridgerated conditioning. I do want it to work in all circumstances, but I use it frugally. I was looking at the Scoresby figures http://www.bom.gov.au/products/IDV60901/IDV60901.95867.shtml – that’s where the 97% came from.

    I think the Americans (+ a certain family in Forest Hill) will have to change their ways. The days of cheap energy are going/gone, and much smaller systems for one or two rooms (or none at all) will become normal.

    Nick.

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