Innovative ways to beat the heat

Worried about the dog days — and nights — of summer? Put your fears on ice. This season, companies are promoting products with cool new technology designed to help you beat the heat and conserve environmental resources.

The innovations also can help you save some cold, hard cash.

That's no small thing. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Americans spend more than $22 billion a year and use more than 183 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to cool their homes with air conditioning.

"Any day you don't run your air conditioner, you save yourself money," says Starre Vartan, founder and editor of, an environmental Web site. "There are simple low-cost or no-cost changes you can make in your daily routine that will keep your home more comfortable."

Vartan, who also is the author of "The Eco Chick Guide to Life: How To Be Fabulously Green," suggests changing lightbulbs to cool-burning compact fluorescents or LEDs (incandescent bulbs emit heat), running dryers and dishwashers in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are lower, pulling shades and curtains during the hottest part of the day to keep heat out, and using fans, which cost little to operate.

"There's some cool-looking fans on the market that are very energy-efficient," Vartan says.

New options available this summer let consumers trade old boxy window models for fans disguised as decorative accents, sleek European designs, overhead fans with built-in stereo speakers and free-standing fans for decks and patios.

For many, summer nights without air conditioning can mean sleeplessness. Bill Angel, owner of Relax the Back stores in Connecticut, offers another low-cost tip: Change your mattress covering.

"Often, people are sleeping on a nonbreathable polyester mattress pad that traps heat," Angel says. "By switching to a Gore-Tex or cotton covering, they'll be a lot more comfortable."

Todd Youngblood took the idea of a cooler mattress pad a step further. He created the Chili-Pad, a mattress pad with both heating and cooling functions. Using an electronic semi-conductor chip and a system of silicone tubes and water, Youngblood's creation cools to 48 degrees and heats to 118 degrees ($399 to $649 at

"Instead of cooling the whole house to get a comfortable night's sleep, folks can just cool the bed," Youngblood says. (He says he was inspired by his uncle, Charles Hall, who is credited with inventing the modern water bed in the 1960s.)

Angel also suggests inexpensive gel inserts for pillows. The Chillow, for example, can be placed in the refrigerator, then slipped between your pillow and pillowcase for rapid relief on hot summer nights.

One of the more unusual products to hit the market is the Bed Fan, a unit that attaches to the bottom of a mattress and blows cool air up under the sheet ($89.95 at

When it comes to outdoor activities, perspiration was the mother of another frosty invention — the Cool Pouch. Stay-at-home mom DeeAnn Bower and two friends came up with the idea for a combination towel/neck wrap with a built-in pouch that can be filled with ice. As the ice melts, the wearer stays cool.

"We'd wet towels and put them around our necks when we were gardening or playing tennis," Bower says. "The Cool Pouch was a natural extension of that."

Vartan offers a final suggestion for beating the heat this summer.

"Don't turn on the stove," Vartan says. "When the temperature rises, switch to salads, cold soups and other non-cook meals. The house will stay more comfortable and so will you."

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