As summer hits its hottest days, you can stay cool without seeing energy bills rise as quickly as the thermometer. Conserving energy saves money while helping stem global climate change and the warmer summers it brings. Through simple actions and low-cost improvements many buildings stay quite comfortable, needing only fans or low-energy appliances during occasional heat waves.

Open-and-shut simplicity

Larry Giardina, city conservation analyst, said one of the simplest and most economical tactics is to close windows, shades and doors in the morning to keep out hot air, and open them at night to bring in cool air. Giardina said, "I consulted with a homeowner, Fred Gant, who does this and needs only a single fan for cooling."

The Gants rely on a thermometer showing indoor and outdoor temperatures. "When the outdoor temperature gets warmer than the indoor temperature, we close the house up. When outdoor temperatures drop lower than indoor temperatures, we open the house up again." The Gants also have a fan in the window at the top of their stairs to help push out hot air, making way for cooler air. "Our home is an average of 15 degrees lower than outside temperatures in summer. We're very comfortable and we don't use air conditioning," Gant said.

This tactic works best in homes that are well sealed and insulated. The city of Ashland offers partial to full rebates on leak checks, weather-stripping, efficient "low e" windows and other features that help tighten up the house. Where insulation is needed, choose cellulose, made of recycled newspaper.

Gant said window placement is important. He designed his home in 2005 using passive solar principles, such as putting most windows on the south. Eastern-facing windows let in morning sun, bolstering indoor heat early. Those on the West invite the afternoon's scorching rays. In buildings without the benefit of passive solar design, external shades and awnings make a big difference, repelling heat better than indoor shades or blinds, according to the Chamber of Commerce's Earth Smart, Money Wise. Want to maintain your views? Gant retrofitted his east-facing windows with a "solar shade" that reduces sun intake by 80 percent but maintains their vista.

Growing cooler

Adding trees, shrubs and vines brings shade and beauty while helping absorb CO2, the leading villain of climate change. It's important to select trees of the proper height and plant them the recommended distance from a building to beat the heat without blocking solar access. The city offers a list of "solar friendly" trees that meet these criteria and can advise on placement. Choosing deciduous trees that lose leaves in winter will shield summer sun while letting winter's rays through to warm your home.

Shrubs and vines add additional protection. Grape arbors are simple to build and provide a great spot to rest and enjoy a few grapes after the vines start producing. Other creeping plants work well. Standing Stone Brewing Co. grows hops to shade their outdoor patio and evoke a connection to a central ingredient in their brews. Grapes and hops die back in the winter to make room for winter's sun just like deciduous trees.

Low-energy appliances

If these measures leave you hot under the collar, regain your cool with energy-wise appliances. Start with well-placed fans, which use a fraction of the energy needed for air conditioning. The Earth Smart, Money Wise guide advises locating them on the downwind side of the building where they work with natural air flow to pull in colder and send hot air up, up and away. Try whole house fans or attic fans for more impact.

Swamp coolers and heat pumps, which function as cooling devices despite their name, offer energy-efficient ways to lower temperatures when fans leave you sweating. Swamp coolers, also called evaporative coolers, put a damper on hot air by pulling it though moistened pads. They do use water, which impacts water bills. However, you can catch the water that drips off the unit in an appropriately placed rain barrel and use it for landscaping to mitigate costs.

If air conditioning is necessary, get your unit tuned regularly. The city of Ashland provides $25 rebates for checkups and covers $25 for some repairs. When replacing or installing an air conditioner, scope out an Energy Star model and compare energy use to find the most efficient choice.

Keeping cool and green is no sweat. If all else fails, take a dip in the swim reservoir of creek. For more information about eco-friendly techniques, energy audits and rebates, pick up the Chamber of Commerce's Earth Smart, Money Wise guide or a Conservation Division brochure, visit the Ashland Conservation Division's Web page at ashland.or.us or e-mail Larry Giardina at giardin@ashland.or.us or call 488-5306.