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Keeping Your Cool through the Hot Desert Summer

Embrace Your Environment

One of the joys of living in the desert Southwest is the ability to expand our living space beyond the walls of our homes and into the outdoor environment almost year ’round. During the hottest months of the year, though, it can be tough to imagine going out more than absolutely necessary – who wants to bake in the sun when the temps are skyrocketing above 100°! These days we can take refuge in our artificially cooled homes during the hottest parts of the day, but don’t let the daytime temperatures discourage you from getting out and enjoying those beautiful summer evenings. Back in the day, before the advent of air conditioning, increasing the use of outdoor space during the summer months was one of the most reliable ways to beat the heat. In fact, a hot, dry climate such as ours is actually one of the easiest to keep cool using passive, design-based methods. Many of the same techniques used during those pre-A/C times can be recreated in your yard today, helping your space cool faster once the sun starts setting so you can enjoy your outdoors even more.

Hardscape and patio walls are probably the singular most significant factor in how hot your outdoor space becomes, and stays, during the summer months. Paver or concrete patios and solid masonry walls absorb the sun’s rays throughout the day, then slowly radiate energy back into the environment at night. A yard full of hardscape will be a hot yard. However, there are ways to mitigate this effect. One of the simplest but often overlooked ways to do this is to use lighter colors in your hardscape. Lighter color in hardscape materials equates to a higher degree of solar reflectivity (albedo), which means that the energy is being bounced back into the atmosphere rather than being absorbed by the hardscape. Materials such as travertine or porcelain pavers can assist this effect thanks to the light colored options available, as well as light or natural colored concrete. Concrete pavers made with white concrete are also available on the market. The combination of light colors in the hardscape and increased permeability of materials such as pavers will contribute even more to helping your outdoor space release any stored thermal energy quickly.

Another great way to reduce temperatures in your surrounding landscape is through the use of plants and of course, trees. Trees provide a multitude of benefits, with the most obvious benefit to most of us being shade. Did you know a shaded surface can be between 20°-45°F cooler than an adjacent surface in direct sun? Properly located trees on and around your property can not only help create cozy shaded retreats from the dog days of summer, but can also help to lower your cooling bills if planted to shade the east and west sides of your home. Anything worth having in life takes a little work and maintenance, and trees are no exception, but you’ll likely find that the value of having your own shady oasis is worth it. Plants and shrubs can also help cool the space, both visually and literally, as the evapotranspiration process can help cool local temperatures 2°-9°F. Planting vines and shrubs on the west or south faces of those hot walls mentioned above will help mitigate the thermal energy being absorbed by those surfaces as well – but take care to ensure the selected plants are tough enough to handle the heat in those exponentially heated microclimates, because they are going to get h-o-t! Incorporating a green roof on a shade structure is another great (and gorgeous) way to maximize the cooling abilities of plant materials in the yard or garden.

In addition to the suggestions above, there always more modern options such as misters, outdoor fans, and course the ubiquitous swimming pool. Cooking outdoors on the grill is a time tested means of helping to keep the house cool in the summer, increasing the usability and enjoyability of your outdoor space even more. Even in the heat of summer, keeping cool in the desert is not only possible, but is one of the best perks of living in the Southwest!

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