The Heat is On: How to Stay Cool without Air Conditioning

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It’s heatwave time again!

All across the country, the mercury is climbing…and staying there, way up at the top of the thermometer.  But running an air conditioner at full blast to combat the heat can be very expensive, and for those of us on a budget, the resulting bill can be crippling.

So what is a family with no air conditioning to do?

Avoid heating up your house.

Many of the things that we do without thinking are unconsciously adding 5-10 degrees of heat to an already uncomfortably warm house.  In the hottest part of the year, I avoid running certain appliances. Some folks say to run those heat-creating appliances at night, but I depend on the cool night time temperatures to bring my home down to a comfortable level the next day.

In the summer, avoid or limit your use of the following:

  • DryerMake use of the hot sun and hang your laundry outside. Not only will you have fresh, clean smelling laundry that no dryer sheet can top, it’s free and it won’t warm up your house!
  • Washer: Washing machines can also generate a great deal of heat and humidity, particularly if you wash your clothing in hot water.  If at all possible, wash your laundry in cold water during the hottest parts of the year.
  • Oven: Rely on outdoor cooking methods or crockpots (Click HERE to learn more about hot-weather cooking methods)
  • Dishwasher:  Think about how hot the dishes are if you reach in the second the dishwasher is finished running to grab a plate. Now, consider how much heat that adds to your house! It is much more efficient to wash your dishes by hand in the summer.  A sink full of soapy water and one full of rinse water will add far fewer degrees to the temperature of your house.
  • Lighting: Some bulbs, particularly halogen bulbs, generate a great deal of heat. If a light bulb is hot to the touch, it’s adding to the temperature of your house. Look into LED lights or compact fluorescents to keep your home cooler.

Cool it down naturally.

Air conditioning is a fairly recent invention. It is only in the past few decades that most people decided that air conditioning was a “necessity.”  Unfortunately now, most houses are built without consideration for natural cooling.  If a new home is being built, chances are, it will have central air conditioning. While this is a nice perk, it’s important to note that in the midst of a power outage, these houses with stunning floor to ceiling windows are going to be hotter than blue blazes.  Older homes have a lot of advantages over their newer counterparts when it comes to cooling them without air conditioning.

I live in a sweet little 100+-year-old Victorian house that is perfectly comfortable in all but the very hottest of weather. The windows are placed across from one another throughout the house, for optimum cooling and cross-breezes.

Here’s the technique that keeps our home pleasant when the mercury climbs into the 90s:

  • As soon as it starts to cool down in the evening, I open all of the windows and blinds.  There’s a ceiling fan in every room and those run all the time.
  • We also have some window fans which we turn on in the evening.  These pulls in the lovely cool night air.
  • In the morning, the house is so cool that sometimes you need a hoodie during that first cup of coffee!
  • I then go around and close all of the windows and blinds.  This keeps out the heat and keeps the house from passively warming up from the sun. (In the winter, I do the opposite of this in order to heat the house using the sun.)  The ceiling fans continue to run all day and we have small oscillating fans to use in the rooms we are in.
  • Rarely does the temperature in my house ever rise about 85 degrees.  That’s pretty warm but certainly not intolerable.

Evaporative cooling for humans

Here’s the thing – we have basically evolved ourselves right out of being able to cool down without the aid of an air conditioner.  We go from an air conditioned home to an air conditioned car and have lunch at an air conditioned restaurant. Then we drive our air conditioned car back home, suffer through perhaps 20-30 minutes of necessary outdoor work, and then go in, gasping for air, to cool off in front of another air conditioner.

Our bodies no longer know how to cool themselves because they never have to do so.  We suffer far more in the heat than previous generations ever did.  That’s why this year, my family is eschewing the air conditioner.  What is going to happen in a longterm grid-down scenario?  I’ll tell you what – people will drop like flies of heat-related illnesses.  But you can train your body to tolerate heat again.

A good friend of mine lives in the desert and has no air conditioning.  It regularly gets to 110 degrees in his home and he is barely affected. That’s because his body’s cooling system is efficient – he uses it on a regular basis

I’m not suggesting that you go run a marathon in the midst of a heatwave, but perhaps people need to stop being so uncomfortable with sweat.  Sweat is the human body’s evaporative cooling system.

By allowing yourself to get hot and letting your body cool itself, you can build up a tolerance to the heat.  By avoiding heat and sticking to chilly air-conditioned rooms, you will be far more uncomfortable in a situation in which air conditioning is not available.

When the grid fails…

The situation that comes to mind is the Derecho storms that struck metro DC a few years back. The power was out for a week in the midst of a terrible heatwave and people died from heat-related ailments.  Many others were sick, suffering from heat exhaustion and heat strokes, and others were miserably uncomfortable.  As mentioned above, homes really aren’t built to be cooled without air conditioning any more, and humans aren’t used to letting their bodies cool themselves.

Here are some strategies to help you cool off when you can’t run fans or air conditioners:

  • Channel your inner Southern belle.  Slowly fan yourself with a handheld fan. Mint juleps are optional.
  • Keep hydrated.  Your body needs the extra water to help produce sweat, which cools you off.
  • Change your schedule.  There’s a reason that people who live near the equator close down their businesses and enjoy a midday siesta.  Take a tepid shower and then, without drying off, lay down and try to take a nap. At the least do a quiet activity.
  • Play in the water.  Either place a kiddie pool in a shaded part of the yard or use the bathtub indoors. Find a nearby creek or pond for wading or swimming. (Note: Playing in the water isn’t just for kids!)
  • Soak your feet.  A foot bath full of tepid water can help cool you down.
  • Avoid heavy meals.  Your body has to work hard to digest heavy, rich meals, and this raises your temperature.  Be gentle on your system with light, cool meals like salads, cold soups, and fruit.

Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic adds some great ideas for keeping cool when the grid is down.  Click HERE to check them out.


How do you keep your cool?

Do you have air conditioning at your home? Do you run it all the time?  What are some techniques that you use to keep cool in hot weather?

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Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • we go from heat to ac…..have allergies so it is either pay for the ac or pay the doc while being so ill I can do nothing but sit….

  • On these hot summer days, I really appreciate and use my sun oven. We have a nice hot meal, without turning on the oven and heating up the house. 🙂

    I have fixed many different meals – homemade soup, pinto beans, stew, cake, cupcakes, corn bread, BBQ, chicken, etc.

    Afterward, cleanup is easy. Food doesn’t seem to burn onto the pans.

  • When it’s time to turn on the window fans, have them blow out, not in. Also have windows in all of your rooms open. This pulls cool air into all rooms, not just the room with the window fan.

  • It is difficult for evaporation to work efficiently when the humidity is high as it is currently here. The animals are not happy. They seek shade, and are given plenty of cool water, but are hot. Apparently a hurricane is coming up the coast. While we are not going to get blasted this time, the humidity is here.

    We have over head fans, as well as other fans. I cook stove top quick meals. We drink plenty of water, and cool down. Lower areas in the house are cooler than the upper rooms, so we spend more time there. We do run the ac only cooling off what we must and then it is turned off. It works until the heat climbs in the morning.

    I grew up when most houses did not have ac. Or schools. Or when I was very young, stores, either. My sibling and I were not allowed to sleep anywhere but our rooms that happened to be in the attic. It was hot. I spent most of my time during the summer sewing in the basement. We ate dinner in the basement as most families at that time.

    Cars did not have AC, either. You used the bucket windows. By the end of the trip, you were glued to the seat one way or another and you looked it. Keeping the windows open wrecked your hair, and the heat wrinkled those non permanent press clothes. If you had a special event to go to, you kept your hair in curlers, and carefully packed your outfit, preparing and changing when you arrived at your destination.

    If desperate, a cold or cool bath can help. Ice packs works as well.

    Sleeping at the shore can help; many years ago we had a *really* old boat, but then you dealt with the dampness. By evening, puddles of water formed on the cabin roof, and all bedding was affected by the humidity. It wasn’t terrible, but it was what is was. There was a breeze.

    There are many things that made those years better than today, but the lack of AC wasn’t one of them.

    In my opinion, AC is a blessing. We use it sparingly, but my husband works in the heat all day. He needs his rest.

  • The open the windows at night to bring in the cool air, close them in the morning to keep it in thing works pretty well, but I would offer a caution for folks in humid climates. We created a dreadful mildew problem in our house one summer when we drew in all that cooler but still humid air, trapped it in inside, and had no way to dry the air. In that case, it wasn’t worth the AC money that we saved.

  • This is fine and dandy for those not living in the southwest. When the temp gets over 100 degrees…for days…without break? There has to be an alternative. In the mean time- I try to do all my bill-paying, chores, shopping, etc. in the morning. After noon? It’s lock up the house, close all drapes and even our sky-lights are blocked- crack a small opening in most windows for easy flow (I have an evap. cooler- won’t work very well over 100 degrees)and turn cooler on. Not much else to do. If too bad- then we HAVE to go to the library or the mall. They have refrigerated air. Part of everyday life in the deep southwest.

  • …so, if somebody(s) gets really sick, you may need to cool him, or them down…if your ac is out, you may need to resort to emergency methods…you’ll be money, maybe lives, ahead, if you take a look at this…American ingenuity never ceases to amaze me…several different designs for similar apparatus is available. This is but one:

    Homemade Air Conditioner

    …let me add, that if the grid is down, using dc motors on the fan and pump during construction is perhaps not a bad idea either….I’m working on how to make and keep ice in an easy, simple, and lasting manner…ain’t there yet…any ideas?

  • If you have no air at all and you need a break for infants and elderly, and esp. someone ill, the car a/c is one alternative.

    Leave your water heater off or on extremely low to stop heat in that closet. AND it helps on the power bill. Trust me on this. Need a shower? Turn on 110° 15 minutes before showering.

    I have a battery operated fan for grid down, but it takes 8 D batteries and haven’t checked it yet. Use with the a/c plug in that I’ve tried ain’t much pumpkin, but better than nothing.

    • Cool showers are something you can get use to in summer. We had a broken hot water heater so we took the plunge. It’s like ocean water, and it won’t kill you.

  • Strategically placed shade trees.

    Light colored siding and roof.

    Location along the mountain stays 5-10 degrees cooler.

    We also have a house with a stone foundation basement. The oil furnace is not used for heat since we have a wood and coal furnace, but it has a “blower only” setting. When switched on, it blows cool air through the ductwork and is like a central air system for a couple days. After that, the stone warms up and defeats the purpose.

    The shop is half buried in a hillside and is masonry. It stays 20 degrees cooler than the outside. I go out there and work.

    When all else fails, I break down and put the window AC in. The most it gets used is 2 or 3 days a summer.

  • The above ideas are great for areas that aren’t 75 degrees with 90% humidity at night and 98 degrees and 65% humidity during the day.

    EVERY day.

    From May through September.

  • Wow could write a book on this…21 years army (ret) sometime spent in the desert[s] as some background.
    Been off grid 5 years now, solar w/ back up gen-set. [no grid tie]
    We run the ac on the hottest days 90+ but only during daylight hours [free solar] BUT we only have one window unit and keep one large room cool with it, insulated doors and 2×6 walls. The rest of the ranch house is cross vent with fans and walls that stop about 10″ from the ceiling. And at the hottest end of the house we installed a thermostat controlled ceiling vent fan to exhaust some of that hot air. We also practice proper window use open at night & closed during the day till we can’t take it anymore then open around 1:30-2p with fans for a breeze.

    I need to install a hood vent over the oven to help reduce that issue. but I’m working on it [a little bit everyday].

    When I am working outside with this high humidity, I work for about an hour maybe a bit more then get under a fan to cool down for about 20-30 min then back at it outside. The wife and kids think I just get off on being sweaty lol “I don’t btw” but I know what its for right. and when the day is done just strip down to the skivvies and a quick hose down with the outside shower head wow is that awesome!! Anyway that’s what we do here back in the woods!
    y’all take care and keep cool.

  • Oh reading through some of the comments I noticed something…
    If there is an emergency [a heat injury maybe or a sickness] the fastest way to cool someone is shade and rubbing alcohol and a gentle breeze, no kidding! I mean a gentle breeze will feel like a dip in a frozen lake. Be careful they do not get hypothermia, seen it happen in the service when a medic was not paying attention. The poor guy went from a heat injury to a cold injury on the same day.

  • Great article. I haven’t run my central A/c for 4+ years and central Ohio in the city does get toasty and sticky in the summer. Some added ideas I have done:
    1) INSULATE the attic is critical! R-30+ but more important,
    2) RIDGE VENT and GABLE VENT to keep the hot air following out the attic. This is the #1 if anything else. I also added:
    3) SOLAR POWERED ATTIC VENTS. However, use these without the ridge vent as the air flow will not properly circulate.
    4) ON SOUTH SIDE OF HOME, I created a “lattice system” that blocks the sun in the summer, but the angle of sun in winter will penetrate the home for heat. Building in the middle east (desert) do this with a 2-3 feet lattice around their building. The heat creates a draft that pulls up and away from the building. My lattice have ivy and in the winter, it became a bird haven when the temps were -10F here. Even had a Red-Tail Hawk enjoying the “hotel” to stay warm.
    5) AWNINGS: My west side upper windows have AWNINGS and the sun is blocked from penetrating in the home. I am fortunate have a large front porch so my lower windows get no sun penetration in the summer.
    6) Position LEAFY TREES around the home and note the sun positions in the early morning and late evening in the summer (NE sky and NW sky). I am lucky the trees have grown to create this natural blocking. When the leaves drop, the sun can now “heat” the home in the winter!
    7) BOUGHT an A/C CEILING UNIT (I enjoyed them when I lived in both Asia and Europe) and installed in the upper level of home. Cool air falls and actually central A/C units are counterproductive as heat rises and cold falls. A previous home I owned I recruited the HVAC system to reverse the air flow in the summer.

    I realize there are more ideas but the need for A/C is comical. Actually, living with A/C is less healthy as your body is going from one extreme to another. I hate hotels and offices that don’t have windows that open. My office in the summer was so bad I wore a hoodie to keep warm as the HVAC system was so messed up.

  • My wellhouse is cooled by radiant barrier and 2500 gallons of water. It’s 110F outside but inside the well house it’s the high 70’s. The water in the tank comes from the ground at about 65F. Those 2500 gallons of water will absorb an enormous amount of heat. The wellhouse is 14x14x8 (1500 cubic feet). The water tank takes up about 400 cubic feet. Even if the water is not refilled the water alone at 65F will keep that room in the 70’s for a few days by itself. With constant replenishment, it never gets over 80 in there till the very latest days of the summer.

  • some people can adapt to heat and some can’t; it depends largely on one’s genes. most of my ancestors evolved in the cool mists of the british isles. i love humidity, but can’t tolerate heat. 20-30 years ago, when long island summers were hotter, i spent most of my outdoor time on the verge of heat exhaustion as i did gardening, chores and recreation. now i live in an apartment with two windows, both on the same side–west–so i run an ac all the time. no apologies; for me this is necessary!

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