Many homes in the Pacific Northwest still lack air conditioning. After 2009, when the first major heat wave hit the area, however, air conditioning installations soared. But many apartment dwellers and about 40% of homeowners still do without cooling during increasingly hot summers. And that’s the coolest part of the country, the rest of the nation is feeling more heat every year since 1980. Fear not, there are some simple and environmentally responsible ways to keep cool.
Summers are getting warmer, everywhere. It’s no longer unusual to see triple-digit temperatures in most of the nation and many parts of the world. A summer day in Washington can tick up to 115 degrees. Without air conditioning, these temperatures can be dangerous. Older people are particularly susceptible to heat, but anyone living without air conditioning is now at risk.
We’re used to staying hydrated in hot weather, but body temperature management is a new skill everyone needs during the climate crisis. Indoor temperatures above 90 degrees can lead to muscle cramps, exhaustion, and dehydration. While high daytime temperatures are dangerous when you are outside, the most important change in daily living during heat waves involves getting your home’s nighttime temperature well below 80 degrees to help you recover before the next day’s heat.
Keeping your home cool when it’s hot outside is essential to your health. Here are a few simple life hacks to keep your apartment or house as cool as possible without air conditioning.
Plan for 24-Hour Cooling
Set a schedule to air out your home each evening. It might help to set an alarm to do this, though times will change as daylight hours do.
Open the windows and — if possible and safe — your doors when it gets dark. Close them again just before sunrise. The air moving through cools you during the night and can improve indoor air quality all day long unless there is a smoke alert. This manual cooling routine is the easiest, least expensive, and most environmentally responsible way to keep cool.
You need clean indoor air. The rest of these hacks will make little difference if you are locked up in an apartment with stale air, which can be more harmful in warm weather. The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine reports that health risks from heat and poor air quality contribute to a 21% overall increase in death rates.
Use fans to blow air throughout your home. At night, use them in the window to get cooler air inside and move it through the spaces you frequent.
Keep blinds and curtains closed during the day. As much as natural light is good for us, it also warms up areas. If you want to avoid that, limit how much you are letting in.
Keep lights and heat-generating appliances off as much as possible. This means not using the oven or stove and keeping your lights off; if you need them on, use them at night when you can also open your windows and doors to let the heat out. If you still use halogen or incandescent light bulbs, switch to LEDs, which emit very little heat in comparison.
Water, Water, Everywhere
The wet head look isn’t just a stylish Kardashian choice, it can bring your internal temperature down fast. Try wetting your hair with cold water every hour or more frequently, to keep your head cool. If you’ve ever noticed that taking your cap off in the winter makes you colder quickly, it’s because the brain is very sensitive to changes in temperature, and the same is true with keeping cool in the summer.
Then turn a fan on yourself to improve the cooling effect. Next, set up a bowl of ice or ice water in front of your fan. It will make it so cooler air is blowing throughout your home. And be sure to have ice on hand, always. Make sure the ice tray is full so that you can cool down quickly when you get hot. Apply ice on pressure points such as your neck, back, wrists, thighs, and groin. Ice packs also work — keep enough that you can cycle through them without running low.
Dry and Wet Heat
Dry heat differs from wet heat because your perspiration cools you better when it’s not competing with local humidity. When you’re in a humid environment, these hacks should work too, but you’re going to feel hotter due to the nature of the heat.
Humid air lingers, so keep it moving around you by using fans. Also, turn on your bathroom fan and other ventilation systems in a humid environment to pull out as much rising hot air as possible. Keeping them on during the day should reduce some of the humidity in your home.
And stay hydrated whether the heat is dry or wet. Eat ice cream or popsicles; they’ll help cool you down just as much as they did when you were a kid.
Stay Cool for Your Health
Be careful this summer, as it looks like it will be hotter than anyone is accustomed to. Sadly, this is becoming a familiar refrain, something we’re going to have to get used to with global warming becoming more pronounced each year. Be prepared by familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and actions to take if they arise. And stay cool to stay healthy this summer.