In Seattle, you can count on the weather being delightfully gray and cool — except for about eight weeks of summer.
One July morning we wake up to find we’ve seemingly been transported to the Arizona desert: It’s relentlessly sunny and hot. The gardens dry up, the lawns turn brown and you can almost see your house paint fading. We could retreat into our houses for shelter — except they weren’t designed for ventilation and there’s no air conditioning. Yet.
Solutions to the summer swelter range from old-fashioned box fans to powerful air-conditioning systems controlled by our smartphones. Here are some ways Seattleites and local experts are beating the heat.
To blade or not to blade?
You can buy a basic box fan for $20, but before you set one to rattling in your window, check out the competition. An oscillating fan, set on a windowsill or standing on the floor, increases the sensation of air moving across your skin and can sweep a breeze throughout a large room.
Then there’s Dyson’s high-tech, high-priced (up to $650) fan that cools without the whir or rattle of blades. West Seattle homeowner Rachael Buchanan sprung for a Dyson fan five years ago.
“It really is a marvel of technology,” she says. “It’s completely safe, as there are no exposed blades for tiny paws or tails.”
Between the fan and some new screen doors, Buchanan’s rambler was wonderfully cool last summer, she says. “I have a portable AC unit that I didn’t even connect,” she says.
The newer Dyson fans — called “purifying towers” — are even sleeker than Buchanan’s early model, and they cool your room in near silence.
Another powerful and space-saving option is a ceiling fan. As it hums overhead, you might think you’re in an industrial kitchen — or, if you get the type with wood or wicker blades, that you’re in Hemingway’s study in Key West, writing your novel while sipping a scotch and soda.
Situated and used correctly, a ceiling fan can make a huge difference in a stuffy bedroom or living room. Just make sure you know how to change the fan’s direction for summer operation. A forward (counterclockwise) spin will force air down, creating a pleasant wind-chill effect. The new “hugger” fans, which mounts flush to the ceiling, are a great choice for rooms with low ceilings.
Desperate for nighttime relief? Check out the bFan, a device that attaches to the foot of your bed and blows cool air under your sheets while you sleep. Seriously.
Creating a cold room
Banish all thoughts of the beige metal boxes roaring away in your parents’ living room while dripping condensation onto the rhodies outside the window.
Well, actually, don’t: Window air conditioners are still the most powerful things going if you need to get a hot, sunny room cooled effectively. A massive 12,000 BTU unit could cool even a great room; for most spaces, you can probably get away with something smaller.
If you don’t like the looks of a window unit, or your windows aren’t the right type for one, consider a portable air conditioner. They resemble dehumidifiers and can be rolled from room to room — office during the day, bedroom at night. But they do need to vent out a window, with a hose similar to a dryer hose extending out a slightly opened window that is then sealed.
Whether you opt for a window unit or a portable AC, check your outlets before buying. Some air conditioners require a dedicated circuit. And be sure to match the cooling capacity to the size of the room you need to cool.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Seattle comes in dead last among major cities when it comes to residential air conditioning. Just one-third of housing units (including condos and apartments) are air-conditioned.
Until recently, few local houses were built with air conditioning, so homeowners have had to retrofit their existing heating systems to include AC. That cost, according to Jamey Stephens, of Evergreen Home Heating and Energy in Seattle, runs somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.
James Siscel, a retired schoolteacher, lived in his two-story home in Lynn-wood for 20 years before adding air conditioning. Five years ago, after the large cedar tree shading the west side of the house was removed, he and his wife realized they were ready for a cooling system that was more effective than a few window fans. Taking advantage of a discount program available through their Costco membership, they had air conditioning installed.
“It was completely worth it,” Siscel says. “Those days when it’s gotten into the 80s and 90s, we really appreciate it, especially for sleeping at night.”
According to Kevin Rice, a customer service representative for air conditioning wholesaler Lennox Stores in Lynnwood, systems that include smartphone controls are very popular.
“You can turn up your air conditioning so the house is cool when you get home — or turn it down from your car if you forgot to do that before leaving,” he says.
If you want an unobtrusive cooling solution but aren’t ready to spring for whole-house air conditioning, look into “ductless mini splits.” Each small, individual fan-and-evaporator-unit handles one room and is usually set high on a wall. If you’ve traveled in Japan or Europe, you’ve likely seen these units (sometimes ones that can both heat and cool). They were developed by Mitsubishi for Japanese homeowners who didn’t want external cooling machinery disturbing the neighbors.