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Just cool it

Get those old-fashioned bamboo shades out for some natural cooling.

Get those old-fashioned bamboo shades out for some natural cooling.

With just weeks to go until we all start complaining about how warm it’s getting, Jo Caruana looks for advice on how to keep our homes cool – without the air conditioning.

If memory serves, it was May last year when I first reached, gasping, for the air-conditioner remote. It was noteworthy because I also remember that it was just weeks since I’d turned off the heater…

We all know (and love) the extremes that make up our Maltese weather systems. The nights you spend huddled in bed wearing three pairs of socks and a coat but still feeling cold. And, then, seemingly in a heartbeat, you switch to wishing you could tear your skin off just to keep cool.

At this time of the year – our short-lived and lovely spring – it is that sweltering heat that is just around the corner. And, this year, I am determined to beat it without the worry of racking up huge bills from my air-conditioner.

First things first: it transpires that a renovation could help me beat the heat.

“If you’re building or refurbishing a house then that is a really good time to think about how to keep it cool,” says Paul Hyzler, who is one of the directors at design and turnkey company Nine Yards.

“Have you ever noticed how older properties, particularly houses of character, seem to be cooler in the summer months and warmer over the winter? There are several factors that play a part in that but it is primarily those lovely, thick walls that work wonders when it comes to protecting a property from the heat (and deflecting the cold air and wind over and around your house in the colder months). Thus, if you don’t have that in your home, then insulation is definitely something to think about early on.”

Hyzler explains that, if you have the luxury of being able to design and construct your home from scratch, then you can really plan things to your advantage by adding layers of insulation to your outside walls.

And Mother Nature can be of tremendous help too. “By shaping the layout of your property to maximise sun paths and wind patterns, you are effectively allowing your home to function in a more efficient and cost effective manner,” he says. “This ultimately means that you will be using the elements, rather than the plug-and-pay mechanical ventilation systems we have become so used to, to keep things cool or warm.”

Similarly, the right ventilation system can also make a substantial difference to how cool your house feels. Cross ventilation is said to be the best option, which essentially means generating the circulation of air through openings – such as doors, windows or vents – that sit on opposite sides of the room so as to create a ‘breeze tunnel’.

“Meanwhile, never underestimate the importance of creating shade,” Hyzler continues, saying that it could play a great part in reducing indoor temperatures. There are several ways to do this, among them using black-out blinds or curtains to block the sun from windows, or planting a shade tree in an area that will obstruct the sun.

“You could also install solar screens, awnings and double-glazed windows to keep the heat out. These amenities can all be added to a lived-in home, so you don’t need to be at construction stage to benefit from them,” Hyzler says.

Reflective roof paints have also become very popular, in an effort to create cool roofs. The term ‘cool roof’ is used to describe a surface that has been modified to absorb less heat and reflect more sunlight than a normal roof. Using reflective paint is a quick and effective way to achieve this, but you could also use a sheet covering, highly reflective tiles or shingles.

“We are really spoilt for choice these days as there are all sorts of products designed especially for reducing heat, so it’s simply a case of finding the right one to suit you. If, for instance, don’t have an exposed roof right above you, then you could choose to paint your exterior walls in light colours, as this also helps to reduce the amount absorbed by the sun,” Hyzler says.

Finally, if all else fails, Hyzler suggests joining the ‘fan club’.

“Sometimes, natural cooling simply isn’t enough and that’s when fans or air conditioners become the only viable options,” he says. However you can look at other options for powering them, which would make those electricity bills less of a problems, including photovoltaic (PV) modules.”

In fact, PVs have really grown in popularity in recent years and, aside from generating electricity to power your mechanical ventilation, they are also great at providing shade and could therefore reduce heat from the area they are installed on – which solves two problems at once – lower bills and a cooler home! That really will help you keep your cool this summer.

Top tips

Worried about feeling hot under the collar as temperatures rise? Here are some quick tips for cooling.

Keep doors and windows tightly closed during the day, as this will keep out unwanted heat and humidity. Open your windows as soon as the sun goes down, but be sure to close them again as soon as the sun rises.

Think those traditional bamboo window hangings should be left firmly in the past? Think again! Hanging them on your doors and windows could keep out up to 80 per cent of the sun’s heat.

Pop a small pillow into a plastic bag, and into the freezer. Use this instead of your regular pillow to keep you cool throughout the night.

Switch your cotton sheets and pillowcases for silk or satin ones, as these will feel much cooler against your skin.

If you live in a house (as opposed to an apartment) try to spend more time downstairs. As hot air rises, the lower down you are then the cooler you will be.

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