An inside look at Chicago real estate

How to keep your cool when choosing a new home

How to keep your cool when choosing a new home

You think you have been hot lately? I have a friend who lives in South Florida without air conditioning – by choice. His home is well shaded, is full of ceiling fans, and also features high transom windows to shuttle hot air off the ceiling and out of the house.

Most home buyers in the Chicago area are likely to ask if a home has air conditioning, but that’s not the only thing to look for if you’re hoping to keep your cool in the summer months.

Here are some things to look for:

  1. Sunny-side trees. A tree close to a house can save you money on air conditioning, especially if it’s in the right place. Trees cool the air by evapotranspiration – giving off water vapor. That sounds like it might make the air even more humid, but the effect is actually cooling.

    When it comes to your future home, trees or shrubs on the east side will block morning sun, and those on the west will block the hottest afternoon and evening rays.  Trees that lose leaves in the fall will let in more sunlight during the colder winter months.  You can find out more about how tree placement affects the warmth or coolness of a home here.
  2. Vines. Ivy-covered walls look cool, and they also are cool. The vine’s leaves perform the same function that a tree’s leaves do, and they do it close to the building, providing extra protection from the sun. On the down side, some types of vines can damage the masonry, so you should talk that over with your home inspector.
  3. Brick and stone exteriors. Masonry exteriors will keep heat outside longer on a hot day. Because brick and stone are slow to warm up, they don’t collect heat until evening, by which time the air is (hopefully) cooling off.
  4. Ceiling fans – or the ability to add them. If the home you’re looking at already has ceiling fans, you’re in luck. Running fans costs a lot less than running an air conditioner, and fans can also be run while you’re air conditioning to keep rooms cooler. If the home does not have ceiling fans, they can often be added. If the room already has a ceiling light fixture, it will be faster and cheaper to install a fan.
  5. A whole house fan. Installed in the upstairs ceiling in a hallway, a whole house fan is a great asset whenever the air outside is cooler than it is inside, such as a cool evening after a warm day.  When it whooshes to life, hot air rises up and out, and cool breezes rush in through every open window.  If you can find them, exterior transom windows that open have a similar effect. Heat rises up and out the high windows.
  6. Awnings.  You’ll find window awnings in some neighborhoods and suburbs, where they’re an economical alternative to running the a/c all the time. Awnings over the top of the window stop the rays of sun from reaching the inside of the house when the sun is at its higher summer angle. In the winter, low sun rays may sneak under the awnings and warm the home.
  7. Location within a multi-unit building.  Because heat rises, the third floor of a three-flat is going to be warmer than those below.

Finally, don’t forget that tried and true Chicago saying – it really is cooler by the lake.


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