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Since I am living in a century-old home off-grid without air conditioning during what is shaping up to be the hottest summer on record in the Pacific Northwest, I am learning some lessons on staying cool.
First, we need to take heat seriously. Heat can be a killer. Heat waves kill more people each year in the United States than all of the other natural disasters combined. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 400 Americans die from heat-related illnesses in a typical year. That number is more than deaths from winter storms, extreme cold, floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes put together.
So what are some low-cost, low-energy ways to keep cool– or at least somewhat comfortable – during a heat wave, off-grid without air conditioning. Here are a dozen “hot” ideas:
1. Change your activity schedule. Whenever possible, perform chores and other outside activities during the coolest part of the day. You may need to start earlier or end later, depending on when you get your cooler temperatures, but it will be well worth it.
2. Stay hydrated. Your body gets dehydrated much more quickly during extreme heat. Sweating, the human body’s main cooling mechanism, uses your body’s water. Our perspiration does not evaporate easily when the air itself is full of moisture, so we feel hotter on humid days.
To compensate, you need to drink more water in hot weather and even more in hot, humid weather. If you feel thirsty, you are already on your way to becoming dehydrated. This summer, I have gotten into the habit of taking a water bottle with me pretty much everywhere I go.
3. Use a spray bottle. And fill it with water or a damp washcloth, damp bandana or commercially-sold “cooling towels” to help reduce your body temperature. Apply them on your forehead, behind your neck and on your feet for quick relief.
4. Wear loose, natural-fiber clothing in light colors. According to Cotton Council International, loose cotton clothing allows air circulation, which helps absorb perspiration and helps keep your body dry and cool. Light colors help light to pass through the fabric instead of being absorbed by the fabric. This is one of the off-grid without air conditioning methods.
5. Use window coverings. I love summer sunshine, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing this time of year. Keep shades and curtains drawn to reduce heat in your home when the sun is out.
6. Create cross ventilation. Keep windows open – especially windows that are on opposite sides of the home – to creates cross breezes. Install screens on windows and doors to keep insects out. As the day heats up, shut some windows to retain some of the cooler air. This is a off-grid without air conditioning method for survival.
7. Use fans. Window fans, ceiling fans and room fans don’t cool the air, but they do help air to circulate and therefore, provide relief. To cool the air a bit, try making an old-fashioned “swamp cooler” by placing a bucket or pan of ice or ice water in front of a fan. Invest in some battery-operated fans.
8. Minimize use of appliances. Your oven will heat up your kitchen. Limit its use by having cold suppers or by grilling outdoors. Dry your laundered clothing items on a line to reduce use of your clothes dryer. Hand wash and let dishes air dry as well rather than running your dishwasher.
9. Reduce use of certain bulbs and lighting fixtures. Halogen bulbs, for instance, can generate a great deal of heat. LED lights and compact fluorescents will keep your home cooler.
10. Cool off in a pool or bathtub. Even a child’s wading pool can be effective in cooling you off considerably. If you feel silly sitting in a plastic pool, you can feel results by soaking your feet in the cool water for a while.
11. Eat lighter. There’s a reason we like to eat more fruit and salad during hot weather. They help hydrate us. Leafy greens, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes and watermelon are about 90 percent water, so they can help keep your body cool.
Also, you may want to turn up the heat – in your mouth, that is. Curries, chillies and other spicy foods can enhance circulation and cause you to sweat, which helps to cool the body down.
12. Let yourself build up a tolerance. Do you ever wonder how people have survived heat waves before air conditioning? By confining ourselves to air-conditioned homes, offices and stores, we have changed the way our bodies respond to heat. When you allow your body to experience heat and sweating, you can actually become accustomed to the heat. (It doesn’t mean you enjoy it; it means you can tolerate it.)
Here are some other quick tips for off-grid without air conditioning:
- Take cool showers.
- Decrease bathroom heat and humidity by running the bathroom fan after you shower.
- Let your hair air dry for a cooling effect.
- Close your fireplace flue to avoid losing cool air or introducing more hot air from the chimney.
Finally, here’s a word to all of the iced tea and iced coffee lovers out there. While the time-honored advice has been to avoid caffeinated beverages when the mercury soars, that thinking has changed.
According to the Institute of Medicine, caffeinated beverages supply us with more water than their caffeine causes us to lose. So if they help you stay hydrated this summer, drink up!
What are your tips for staying cool without air conditioning?