Summer Electric Bill Saver: Your Basement is an Air Conditioner!


Last winter I moved into this beautiful 1920s-era house in a nice neighborhood. It has two floors and a big empty basement. All for 500 bananas a month! I was thrilled.

Nice house or not, summer came and the temps soared up over the 90’s. The heat has gone right through the nice walls of this nice house. It’s hot!

I was thinking about cranking up the air conditioning (AC). But before I did, I felt a pang of guilt… I know now where the power for my AC comes from: my local coal-fired power plant, which pollutes both the sky and the ground. I wrote about this serious pollution issue here. There was no way I wanted to contribute to this already out-of-control problem by turning on my AC.

So, how could I get “free” air conditioning, or at least some kind of AC that wouldn’t gobble loads of power? Soon after asking this question, I noticed something that made me stop in my tracks: the basement was a cool customer. It was even actually livable!

While I was sweltering upstairs, whenever I’d go into the basement to do laundry or grab a tool out of storage, the air was placid and cool. This gave me an idea that has kept me cool enough up to now. Here’s what I did…


Now knowing I could use the basement somehow to help cool off my home, I thought about several ways to get that cool air upstairs, or at least on me and my sweaty skin.

I suggest you read through each of these to see what scenario applies to your home…

1. Move into the dungeon: My first thought was to move downstairs. Hmmm, doable in some homes, especially the newer ones. In my home, the basement has thick concrete walls (that’s a good thing) that help conduct heat and shed off cool air. Since the basement has a couple “crawl-through” windows leading in from the outside at ground level, it also had the potential for good air circulation.

The only thing that has kept me from moving into the basement (at least for sleeping in) is that the ceiling loaded with a messy array of electrical conduits, and water and sewer pipes. Not a nice scene to relax with.

POSSIBLE HEALTH ISSUE: Additionally, the “ceiling” above me in my basement is made of wood. As old and as well-intentioned as this wood may be, it been through at least 90 years’ worth of seasonal wear and all the humidity and dampness that wood can be susceptible to for that long a time. Simply put, it smelled a bit musty. I was concerned about eventually developing a respiratory or similar condition, assuming there may be some ancient mold or mildew growing in that old wood. This would especially be of concern for folks currently suffering from respiratory ailments.

If your basement is made of pure brick, yet you still have a concern over whether it may be moldy (it may very well be), then make sure the brick has been disinfected. This is easily done with a large (carry-along) pressurized weed sprayer filled with a mixture of bleach and water. Spraying the brick down several times will kill the surface mold and mildew, and the chance of it coming back is reduced if you paint the brick over with a paint made especially for water-proofing underground or basement brick. This will provide a chemical and physical barrier for any further mold growth.

For logistical reasons (I won’t explain), painting the wood downstairs is not an option for me. So living in my basement was out. But, I still wanted to get that nice cool air upstairs somehow. Next thought…

2. Use the AC on “fan only” mode: This seemed a great idea at first because the pickup vent for my air conditioner is located in the basement. All I had to do was turn on the “fan only” (leave the air conditioner pump turned off) and let the AC blower fan suck up all that cool air downstairs.

This was a great idea, but my AC control doesn’t allow “fan only”. AC on or AC off, Tarzan! No middle ground! Oh well. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. Try it if you have “fan only”.

ASH VENT idea: Some older homes have ash vents that allow inhabitants of upper floors to dump their fireplace ashes into a vent and have it fall down to the basement, where they are collected and disposed of. If you are currently not using the ash vest and have cleaned it out (don’t want ash blowing all over!), one possibility is to use this vent as a pathway to transport cool air from the basement upstairs.

While leaving the basement and upper floor vents open, try propping a powerful fan up to the basement vent to blow the cooler air upward through the upstairs vent. You may want to prop a box fan next to the upstairs vent to help suck the cooler air up the vent shaft.

My house has an ash vent system. But all the doors are welded shut. So, I struck out again.

3. Use fans for general air circulation: This is what worked for me. I left a small window in the basement open to allow fresh air in. A small fan blows air around in the basement so it would hit the walls several times to cool off (see the PICTURE). Then, because I had a pair of window mounted fans blowing air outward on the 2nd floor, the cool air in the basement was slowly drawn upwards through the house.

My basement has a stairway that leads up to the kitchen. I assume you have a similar or same arrangement. There is no door at either end of my stairway, so air can get up or down as it pleases. As cooler air gets drawn into the kitchen, I use a box fan set on “LOW” to help the air get along into the living room, where I am.


I ended up reducing the overall temperature in the first floor of my home (where I spend most of my time) by about 10-15 degrees F. The neighbor next door, who shares the other half of the house, pays upward of $90 per month on his electric bill using his AC. I keep the AC off and pay about $28 (bachelor pad). When it gets pretty hot, hey I break out another fan and have it blow that cooler basement air making its way upwards on me. Windy, but pretty comfy!

The effect is subtle but noticeable. You don’t need to have a hurricane of air blowing around the house as you have with an air conditioner. You need just enough air to come upstairs to help cool off the overall ambient temperature. Keep in mind, having too many fans ends up generating heat, though. Those electric fan motors can get hot and yield an adverse effect.

Of course if you have an oven going frequently, kids running in and out of the house, a hot TV blaring, and a computer or two with older (heat producing) monitors, this is a different scenario.


If you must use the AC, at least try having a fan or two in the basement blowing air around to hit the walls a few times. This may serve to pre-cool the air before it goes into the AC for further cooling, thus reducing your electricity consumption and hopefully reducing your bill!

Have fun!

– Johnny

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