Jan 20, 2024

As temps continue to soar, use these insider ideas to cool your home cool now and in the long term

This summer’s unrelenting heat can feel oppressive. If Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s recent emergency declaration “to focus on health and safety within the community” didn’t get your attention, the sticker shock from a sky-high July energy bill probably did. And September is expected to be hotter than usual as well.

Keeping your home cool during long stretches of excessive heat and humidity can be challenging, but there are things you can do to increase efficiency and mitigate costs now, and by planning ahead to fight future heat waves.

'Duct leaks and return leaks can have a huge impact on cooling bills, comfort, indoor air quality and dustiness of the home,' says Claudette Reichel, LSU LaHouse professor emeritus and EdD. Adding duct insulation is also helpful.

No house is perfect. But when it comes to energy efficiency, there is one that aims to come close. It’s a special kind of model home strategically designed to showcase solutions for Louisiana’s climate. The LSU AgCenter’s LaHouse Home and Landscape Resource Center is a permanent, high-performance housing educational exhibit, attraction and outreach program.

Claudette Hanks Reichel, LSU LaHouse professor emeritus and Ed.D., said testing your ducts is a good first step if you want to optimize your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system’s efficiency. But walking around with an untrained eye and a roll of duct tape is not going to cut it. Having your ducts leak-tested by a trained professional with specialized equipment, then having all leaks sealed with mastic, is a good investment — especially because a typical home could be losing 30% or more of the cooling its occupants pay for every month.

“Duct leaks and return leaks can have a huge impact on cooling bills, comfort, indoor air quality and dustiness of the home,” said Reichel, adding that duct insulation is also helpful. “And because this summer’s heat wave could be putting extra strain on the air conditioner, and it’s running longer hours, it’s extra important to change the air filter now, and more often than usual.”

Instead of waiting until a problem arises, Reichel recommends having your air-conditioning system professionally cleaned and serviced annually to keep it running as efficiently as possible.

Light-colored roofing can help keep a home cooler.

When it’s time to purchase a new HVAC system, general contractor Tripp Morris advises homeowners to look for one with a high SEER rating. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. It measures the energy efficiency of your air conditioner. Generally speaking, a SEER rating of 15 is good, but you’ll be even better off with one that has a rating over 20.

“The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the unit. But the higher the rating, the more expensive the unit,” Morris explained. “The next step up would be geothermal cooling and heating — a form of HVAC system that uses the Earth’s temperature to cool and heat. The system and the installation are expensive, but it’s an energy-efficient method to cool a house.”

How does it work? The pump moves temperature-conducting fluid through underground pipes beneath the house. In summer, it cools your home by removing heat from the air and transferring it to the fluid that circulates to the ground. Because the ground is always at a cooler temperature, heat dissipates from the fluid to the ground and then the system returns cooler air back into the house.

Geothermal systems are far more efficient than conventional central A/C because, instead of wasting electricity trying to pump indoor hot air into the already-hot outdoors, it easily releases heat into the cool underground.

Spray foam insulation in an attic can reduce energy bills.

Another way to keep your home cooler is through the roof. If you have a vented attic, it can become much hotter than the outdoor temperature. That’s why Reichel often advises homeowners to seal their attics instead, locating and filling in air leaks in the ceiling, around chimneys and any other bypasses.

Spray foam insulation is also a good solution, for attics and elsewhere, said local architect Lance Dickman, of NANO Architecture and Interiors.

“Spray foam insulation can reduce electric bills by a third and is much more resistant to mold, especially compared to fiberglass insulation,” Dickman explained. “On the exterior, choosing a lighter-colored roof or adding a reflective roof coating can reduce the heat from the sun coming through the roof.

Similar to the way light-colored clothing keeps you cooler on a sunny day, a lighter-colored roof lowers the temperature of the house. A cool roof is designed to reflect more sunlight than a conventional roof, absorbing less solar energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, less heat coming in can cut down on air-conditioning needs and reduce energy bills.

The overhang shades the outdoor living area and keeps down the amount of sun entering the home.

Whether it’s a renovation or new construction, Dickman often builds other energy-saving exterior features into his plans. “Long, deep porches help shade windows and give a barrier of shade before you pass the threshold into the home,” he said, adding that planting trees and bushes near the house can also create shade to help reduce the amount of heat coming in through windows and walls.

Inside, curtains, louvered blinds and other window treatments can help filter sunlight and heat. “Some glazing treatments can cut solar gain 40 to 50% without affecting the color of the view,” said Dickman. “And upgrading to insulated windows and doors can make your home more efficient year-round.”

Get the right size A/C unit for your home.


“If it’s time to replace your A/C, avoid the temptation or any sales pressure to oversize because of this year’s weather. An oversized A/C in normal weather will short-cycle and will not dehumidify effectively. It will also run less efficiently, wear out sooner and cause higher energy bills. Bigger is not better when it comes to air conditioning. It’s still best to right size, and use ceiling fans and sun control to feel cool and comfy during heat waves.”

— Claudette Hanks Reichel, EdD, LSU LaHouse professor emeritus


“Air and moisture often get trapped in attics and can make the air inside your home feel humid. Dehumidifiers can help reduce moisture and condensation caused by air coming in through the floors, windows and cracks. Some whole-house dehumidifiers run through the return air system, and some live in the attic. Smaller units placed in laundry rooms and bathrooms can help dehumidify moisture-prone spaces.”

— Tripp Morris, general contractor


“A lot of New Orleans homes have crawl spaces, the narrow area between the ground and the first floor that often houses wiring and plumbing. Some DIYer homeowners want to seal or plug up crawl space vents to try to keep water out in anticipation of flooding. But that can be dangerous because pressure could build up and make the crawl space walls collapse. Consider Smart Vent or similar products that help protect your foundation and crawl space by allowing bidirectional water and air flow — when water is at a certain level the vent will open or close.”

— Architect Lance Dickman, NANO LLC