It's been over ten years since I lived in a house with central air conditioning. For several of those years, I had one or more window units in my apartment, which was generally more than enough to keep me cool during the summer. A year ago, however, my wife and I moved into an apartment with barred windows. While the bars don't bother me too much, and I appreciate the security that they provide, they make it impossible for me to install window units. Consequently, my wife and I are now entering our second summer without air conditioning.
While I miss the ability to cool my home at the touch of a button, the lack of air conditioning hasn't been that much of a hardship. My apartment is well-shaded and, aside from a few particularly nasty days, we've generally found that it's possible to keep our home reasonably cool. On the bright side, our summer electric bills are very low, and we don't have that unfortunate hot-to-clammy or normal-to-melting transition that air conditioning always gave me whenever I walked in or out of the house.
If you're currently going without air conditioning, or are interested in giving natural ventilation a shot, here are a few suggestions to make the summer months a lot cooler:Cross Ventilation: Most of the cooling that you feel on a daily basis comes from liquid evaporating off your skin; as long as you can keep air moving in your home, you make it possible for that evaporation to happen. The key, then, is to keep the air in motion. The first step toward doing that is to provide air inlets and outlets. Open your windows. If you have windows facing each other in your home, this will allow air to flow across your rooms. If not, open both the top and the bottom windows, as you can create a rudimentary air flow by giving air a place to come in and a place to leave.
Fans: While most people realize that fans are a necessity for keeping air moving, a surprisingly large number don't use them effectively. The first thing to realize is that only a few of your fans should be blowing air into your house. If you have a fan blowing in at every window, you effectively halt air flow, as your fans will cancel each other out. Instead, place intake fans on some windows and exhaust fans on others. If possible, do this on facing windows, so air will flow in one side and out the other. Ideally, you should have air flow in from the shaded side of your house and out through the side that faces the sun. You can use stand fans and area fans to help maintain air flow through your rooms.
Turn off heat sources: This seems pretty obvious, but it's surprising how many people don't quite get it. If you're in the middle of a heat wave, don't cook indoors. If you need hot food, either grill out or go to a restaurant. Alternately, try eating sandwiches, salads, gazpacho, and other cold foods.
Light bulbs are another source of heat. You may not think that your incandescent lights are having much of an effect on the temperature of your house, but if you've ever used an Easy Bake oven, you know that a 100-watt lighbulb puts out a lot of heat. If you haven't already switched to CFL bulbs, this might be a good time to do so. If you want to stick with incandescents, turn off as many lights as possible!
Find other ways to cool down: If it gets really hot, try taking a lot of short showers. You may also try dabbing your face with a damp washcloth (again, evaporation is your friend!), drinking cold beverages, and thinking cold thoughts. Personally, I've found that showering with Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Magic Soap makes me feel a few degrees cooler. If you start to get really hot, go to the park (or anywhere with trees), hang out in the Post Office, or stroll around the mall. Whatever you do, be sure to drink a lot of water. Not only will it help you sweat, which will cool you off, but it will also keep you from getting dehydrated, which will help you stay alive. While you're at it, avoid sweetened drinks, coffee, and alcohol, as all of them can contribute to dehydration. In other words, save the frosty beers for when the weather gets a little cooler!
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Every time he starts to get too hot, he reminds himself that America's pioneers didn't have air conditioning. It doesn't cool him down, but it makes him too ashamed to whine!
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