Monday, June 6, 2011

Homemaking 101: Comfortable At Home

I believe every home should make the people who live there every bit as comfortable as they can be.  This is the one place in the world that we should feel perfectly.... at home!  The past three weeks have been very hot here in my home state.  My AC has been working hard to try to cool the house down.  It's around this time of the year that I try to dress the house 'cool' just as I myself tend to wear cooler clothing.  I think it's important to remember that a home should suit whatever season we're in.

Don't you think the above picture personifies being Comfortable at Home?  The awnings keep out the sun, the comfortable seating near good working light, the cushion in the chair.  And nearer the front of the picture a light shawl thrown over the arm of the rocker...

Because it's hot and summer is on my mind, let's start with that season and I'll share how I try to keep things cool.  Because the chairs in our living room are upholstered with nice rough textured fabrics, this time of year, you're likely to find two or three chairs sporting a cool cotton throw.  Just bed sheets really, folded and tucked over the back and seat of the chair.  I plan to make some slipcovers in cool muslin to put over the chairs but until I do those cotton throws certainly do make our furniture feel cooler to sit upon.  As well it prevents perspiration and the natural oils in our skin from staining and darkening the upholstery. 

I fashion window panels for the windows on the sunny sides of the house.  This does darken the room considerably  but it also keeps the heat outside and makes the room feel cooler.  I do have chocolate colored drapes at the windows which also helps.  Because I need some sunlight I choose to keep the curtains and shades open on the side of the house that faces away from the sun.

We lived many years without air conditioning in our home.  Truth was we simply couldn't afford it in the rambling places where I lived, but our central unit here is so efficient that it costs half what I paid 20 years ago to stay cool.  However, we do try to keep the AC at a higher temperature.  I usually turn it up to around 78-80F when it's as warm as it is now.  We use oscillating fans and ceiling fans in the rooms where we spend the most time to keep the air moving.  Moving air feels cooler.

I avoid cooking from midday to evening if at all possible.  I prefer to cook in the morning and reheat in the microwave.  Even if I use my crock pot, I tend to cook in the morning hours and then turn on LOW about an hour before dinner to warm the food.  I serve many cool or cold dishes but balance is required.  Too many cold foods and you'll find snacking never ceases.  You'll want to find the right formula of hot and cold to keep diners satisfied.  Try to make lighter foods.  Roasts are delicious but a roast beef dinner is pretty heavy even if smaller than usual portions are served.  So a roast beef with a salad and another summer vegetable followed by fresh fruit might be a better idea for a 'big' meal.

Something cold to drink is always welcome.  A big pitcher of iced tea, even cool water with ice cubes and a slice of lemon or mint sprig is welcome.  I try to have a variety of drinks on hand (juice, soda, tea, water) because even if you like water it starts to pall after you've had six or seven glasses in a day's time. 

We avoid using lighting unnecessarily.  I use a standard bulb for reading but I can find a seat nearer the window to read in the daytime.  Those bulbs put out more heat than you would think!

Clothes are line dried if at all possible...and often dry quicker than they would in the dryer.

At night, the cooler the house is the better we sleep.  Cotton sheets and mattress pads are a must.  We have a small window unit AC we plan to use for our bedroom and we use both an oscillating fan and ceiling fan to drop the temperature still further.  Lightweight cotton gowns or  pajamas are cooler than nylon nighties.

If I had tile or hardwood under my carpets, I'd take them up in the summer months.  Chance and I were reminiscing how much cooler the rooms seemed in our childhood homes where hardwood and tile floors dominated.  The only disadvantage to this is that noise tends to bounce more, which means people sometimes speak louder or turn up the volume in order to hear television or radio better.  I'd be sure to have plenty of soft furnishings in a room where there was no carpet and a TV set.

While air conditioning is a lovely thing, we lived without it for many years.  Learning the art of dressing cool, keeping a cool damp cloth in the freezer to drape around your neck, cool showers (not cold) or soaking in a cool tub will all lower the core body temperature.  Moving air feels cooler so invest in fans.  Open windows on the shady cool side of the house to draw cooler air in.  And in the afternoons use fans to pull the hot air out of the house on the sunny side, with windows on the cooler side open.  If you have an attic fan that is also helpful.

Come the cooler months of autumn, I cozy up the house.  Putting on layers of comfort in the form of rugs, throws and pillows and additional rugs, even on top of the carpets. 

We added a small ventless propane heater to our home several years ago after a power outage one icy winter week.  We often use it to warm the rooms.  The flames look so cozy!

I'll keep a pot of water on the stove to add moisture to the air in the fall and winter.  Moisture makes the air warmer.  That's why many homes in the South use a dehumidifier in the summer months to draw out the moisture.  I also tend to add more potted plants to my home in the autumn.  For one thing, my eye needs to see that greenery, but the plants also add moisture value to the air.  Many plants also act as natural air cleaners and remove toxins.

Beds are just like people.  Several light layers are bound to keep you warmer than one heavy layer.  I dislike flannel sheets but many people swear by them as an additional layer of warmth.  I love Vellux blankets.  They have a wonderful ability to trap heat next to the body without feeling bulky.  A quilt atop one of those blankets is usually all the cover we require, but I do keep a folded microfiber blanket at the foot of the bed in case it feels especially chilly.

In cooler weather we heat the dishes before plating food.  It insures the food is hot when we get to the table.  Long slow simmering dishes that warm the kitchen are welcome this time of year.  Now is the time for stews and soups and such.  And as the temperature cools we try to keep hot beverages handy.  Cocoa, warm cider, coffee are always welcome on chilly days to warm hands and insides as well.

If the cold is especially bitter or the wind blowing hard, we'll often pull shades and drapes to help cut down on drafts.  A blanket over the inside of exterior doors will cut down on drafts as well.  In one of the older homes in which we lived, we often kept only one room really warm and used heavy drapes over doors to other rooms to keep that warmth contained.  I'm reminded of a home I once saw featured on TV.  It was in England and they called the room The Snug because it was an interior room in the house where they sheltered during winter blizzards.

These tips on keeping the home comfortable by seasonal standards are also good thrifty ways to keep the home comfortable.  And comfort fits right in with function and beauty.  You'll find that most of these posts will interconnect much like puzzle pieces, as we go on through the series.

1 comment:

Deanna said...

Good tips! I just asked my husband if we could purchase slatted wood blinds for the South-facing picture window in our family room. I'm sure that will help with cooling costs.

You mention the heat from a light bulb. Have you tried CFL bulbs? I haven't had good success with them in ceiling fans because of the vibration but they work really well in table lamps. You can buy them in different colors and wattage so you should be able to find one pretty close to an incandescent. Halogens are another option. Not as energy efficient (which equals less heat output) but they are 25% more efficient than a traditional bulb.