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Energy Saving: 3 Low Cost Common Sense Solutions

In my travels to Europe over the years, I often study the local vernacular architecture to see what lessons can be learned. In my observations on some age old building designs, I have learned some simple common sense approaches to energy savings. Though these are not high tech gadgets, gizmos, or apps with dazzling options, they are some common sense approaches that don’t require all that much time, effort, and money. Here, I review 3 simple options to add to your home to keep energy costs down.


The first option has to do with simply opening and closing your windows. In the shoulder seasons (in Midwest- April-May and Sept-Oct) the outside air is relatively the same as what you want your indoor temperature to be. So, rather than rely on a tightly closed building and mechanical ventilation, simply let that desired air temperature in the house.

Pressure differences on opposite sides of the building create the airflow

This is good for another reason, you can ventilate and refresh the air in your house without using energy. The best method for ventilating and cooling your space: cross ventilation. If you have double hung windows, the best way is to open the top sash on one side of your home, then the bottom sash on the other side. In this way the hot air hanging near the top of the room will be forced out and down through the lower cool side by both breeze and physics. So you get the circulation of temperatures within your space. This topic alone can be covered in whole books, but this is the general idea. The time of day matters too- opening your windows in the morning will bring the cooler air in, while the afternoon will bring the warmer air in, so plan according to needs.


Another simple add on for your house- operable shutters. Though seen as mostly decoration on houses in the US, many European homes have operable shutters, whether mechanical or manual. These operable shutters are good for a couple of reasons.

Many houses in the Mediterranean region utilize operable window shutters

First, you can block out the sun and its radiant energy that would otherwise make it into the building. Modern windows are good at blocking some of this radiation and heat gain, but the most effective way is to block it before it gets to the windows. This can also pair up with the cross ventilation trick, and a simple louvered shutter can let the breeze in while at the same time block the sun. Another reason to have shutters, in the nighttime you can keep them closed, and thus getting a completely dark space, making it much easier to catch your Z’s.


The final option takes a bit more time and patience to see a reward, but it is worth it in the end.

Solar gain is reduced in the Summer months, but increased in the Winter months

Plant some trees on the south and West side of your home. We are talking deciduous (leaf shedding) trees that develop a full canopy when mature. Trees add a tremendous amount of positives for your home, but the most important ones when regarding energy savings are providing shade (blocking sun’s energy), and keeping the temperature constant in your immediate vicinity (microclimate). The reason you want to plant deciduous trees is that during the Summer, the canopy is full and provides an umbrella like effect to your house.

During the winter, this umbrella is shed, and the sun’s energy can reach the house- which is what you want to gain some heat. On top of the energy savings, trees provide habitat for local wildlife, add texture and composition to your home, and they provide a psychological calming effect for the homeowners.


The three methods suggested here are simple ones, have been around for ages, yet are practical solutions to helping to save energy and money over time. In today’s modern architecture, we have quickly forgotten the simple time honored ways to use the building and site to our advantage, and as such rely on complicated mechanical systems to keep us thermally comfortable. Though with some easy additions and some simple planning, we can save much money over time, and be just as comfortable in these shoulder seasons.

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