Life seems to have a pretty twisted sense of humor this year. In the days before I began working on this article, the tail end of Hurricane Isaias tore across my home turf of western Long Island, knocking out power to my home (and thousands of others) for much the week. Thus I was thrust out of the role of casual researcher into a field research position. And hey, I was glad to do it, because keeping cool without air conditioning is much more than a matter of comfort: Every year in the United States alone more than 1,000 people die due to extreme heat, and heat-related hospitalizations far surpass that number.
Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, heat is only becoming more of a problem, with among 2020’s questionable distinctions being the good chance that it will be the hottest on record. As great as air conditioning is in the midst of the ever-hotter summer months, the base cost, higher electric bill, and/or the logistics of installation of air conditioning units or central AC make it a commodity out of reach for many people, so let’s look at a few ways to stay cool in summer without AC.
The simplest way to stay cool is to stay hydrated. Drinking lots of cool water will cool you down in the short term and help with your body’s natural thermo-regulation processes, including sweating and dilation of blood vessels.
You can also always take a cool shower or bath to bring down your temperature, or just wipe yourself down with damp towels. Just make sure you dry yourself thoroughly after bathing, because otherwise the natural process of evaporative cooling will be hampered. You can leave cool towels (or even ice packs) on your wrists, neck, or the inside of your thighs to help stay cool as well, as these areas see heavy blood flow and will help cool your core.
Finally, a smaller misting fan is perfectly acceptable to use inside, while a larger misting fan or even an entire misting system used in a shady outdoor spot can reduce the ambient temperature by as much as 15 degrees.
As soon as the temperature outside your home falls below 70 degrees, you should get as many windows open as possible and get a breeze going into your home through one window with an inward facing fan and out another window with an outward facing fan. Box fans that can fill a window frame are the best choice.
When the outdoor temperatures drop below room temperature, you can use outward only facing fans to blow some heat out of the home, but once it’s quite warm and sunny, you should shut the windows and close drapes and blinds to keep out as much solar energy as possible. Using a smaller fan set close to you can help you stay cooler even when the air is quite warm inside.
Also run fans in bathroom ceilings and in your kitchen that are designed to vent heat and moisture up and out of the home.
If you use LED or fluorescent lights, they produce little heat and turning them off won’t change the temperature much. But incandescent bulbs are essentially little heaters — switch as many off as you can. Then turn off anything else that uses power that you’re not using, from computers to kitchen appliances to stereos and so on. Also, cook as little as possible, and when you do need to cook, consider methods like quick frying over baking.
We all learned back in grade school that heat rises, but you’ll be amazed at just how much hotter it gets on higher floors in homes or buildings without air conditioning. Move down to your basement to hang out if you can, or at least vacate the upper-level of your home during the heat of the day. And even during COVID-19 there are safe places to be inside a place with AC, like a large store where social distancing is possible. Just wear a mask.
Those same super lightweight, moisture-wicking, highly breathable shorts and shirt you wear for running? Those just became your hangout clothes at home when it’s super hot out. Apparel designed to keep you cool can and will help you stay cooler, so ditch the cotton and go for polyester or even lightweight wool clothing. And get some breathable bedsheets, too — they can be life changing.
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