Summer is a fantastic season for getting outside and enjoying activities at the park, on the lake or in your own backyard. Yet summertime also means soaring temperatures and extended heat waves. Hot weather can also affect your home environment, and when summer heat barges indoors, it has no qualms about taking over your entire living space and refusing to leave.
Many people turn to air conditioning – either window units or central air – as a way to fight the battle, but what do you do if you don’t have an air conditioner or if you can’t afford to run the unit much (or at all)? Knowing how to live without air conditioning starts with finding alternate ways to stay cool. But first, we need to take a brief journey back in time.
Air Conditioning Is a Relatively New Luxury
The air conditioner as we know it hasn’t been around for long – just over 100 years. Some inventors toyed with the idea of cooling air but never managed to bring it to fruition. Yet when Willis Carrier invented the AC machine in 1902, he had only industrial benefits in mind – printmaking to be precise. Businesses of all types soon put in orders for these humidity-reducing machines. There was an interest in cooling public buildings, but it wouldn’t be until the 1920s, with public movie theaters, that the general masses could enjoy the benefits.
But Trying to Stay Cool Is as Old as Time
Before the invention of AC, people who grew warm in the summertime heat couldn’t rely on a quick fix. They had no artificially cool environment to retreat to, instead turning to whatever tips and tricks they could find. It’s one of the main reasons why houses used to have such thick walls and large overhangs, as well as breezeways for channeling the air.
People also conducted daily activities according to hotter and cooler periods, often taking naps during the hottest time of day and being productive early in the morning or late at night.
Far back in recorded history, the Egyptians would hang damp mats across doorways to cool the air entering the home. They’d also place a damp sheet across their bodies at night. Wealthy Romans made much use of ice blocks and snow from the mountains, even though the cooling was very short-lived. They’d also receive some relief with cool water circulated through the aqueducts. In ancient China, the well-to-do would enjoy an early form of ice box, with the ice stored in an ice house until needed. Others slept on bamboo mats, drank cold well water, put up woven blinds and enjoyed herbal teas.
Air Conditioning: Who Has It and Who Doesn’t?
It’s true that more and more people have air conditioning in their homes. According to the 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey, 66.8 percent of American homeowners have an AC unit, but that number drops to 36.4 percent for renters. In comparison, 7.7 percent of homeowners and 7.3 percent of renters don’t use air conditioning at all.
Yet even though many Americans have AC in their homes, they don’t like paying the skyrocketing costs; some are even seeking other ways to stay cool during the hot summer days. And according to researchers at Arizona State University, such copious AC usage is creating an “urban heat island” that can increase temperatures across cities and make matters worse.
If you don’t have air conditioning, or if you want to save money or live more sustainably, what are your options? Let’s explore.
Tips for Homeowners on How to Live Without Air Conditioning
Everything from the house structure to the insulation to the number of windows can lead to an interior living space much too warm to handle. Here are some tips for homeowners in search of how to live without air conditioning.
Install Ceiling Fans
If your home is a newer construction, chances are good that it has at least one ceiling fan. However, more fans are certainly better. Older homes may have one ceiling fan in the dining area, or perhaps in a master bedroom. But installing ceiling fans can encourage more air circulation, which offers what’s known as the “wind chill effect.”
Put in Energy Efficient Windows and Doors
How old are your windows and doors? If they’re original to the house, they’re likely not efficient at all. You’ll want to look for Energy Star windows with a low solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC), which blocks the most amount of heat from entering the home. You should also ensure the glass has low emissivity (low-e) coating or glazing to minimize how much UV and infrared light passes through the window.
Plant Trees and Shrubs for Shade
Deciduous trees are natural shade providers that also help the environment. Here is a regional tree guide to give you an idea of which species grow where. And yes, while trees to take several years to reach maturity, shrubs also help protect the sides of the house from solar radiation. Planting a combination of trees and shrubs will give you good coverage during the summer heat.
Become Familiar With Window Treatments
Install roller or horizontal blinds on all of your windows to help block the intense heat. Roller blinds are good for less-used rooms, while horizontal blinds are ideal for frequently used spaces, since the slats are easy to adjust. You can also install heavy curtains, but remember that these will block much of the daylight as well. This won’t be a problem if you are away from home all day, but if you work from home, you may want to consider other options, such as window film.
Tips for Renters on How to Live Without Air Conditioning
If you’re a renter, you will need to work with what the landlord provided. You likely won’t be able to make significant changes, but there are still many things you can do to stay cool.
Position Fans Strategically
Many apartments have windows located on just one side. This design immediately eliminates cross ventilation, which means you need to set up fans to do the work that the breeze can no longer accomplish. Place fans in several rooms, and make sure they’re set to oscillate. You want to have one fan pick up the circulated air and then pass it through to another area, much like a zigzag bucket brigade.
Shut Those Blinds
Since you likely can’t install heavy curtains or other window treatments, you need to make sure your blinds are shut tight during peak heat. If you work from home, you can monitor the sun’s daily path to determine which rooms get the most sun and at what time of day. South-facing windows receive a good deal of mid-day heat, and west-facing windows receive the hottest mid-to-late afternoon sunlight.
Apply Reflective Film to Windows
You can also put up reflective window film to block some of the heat. Make sure you check for a low solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) and verify the level of tinting, which will also affect how much sunlight passes through.
Set Up a Portable Air Conditioner
If you really feel the heat or if you have health issues, you might want something with more power. Just think of it as your own personal cooling machine. You can move a portable air conditioner from room to room, cooling the space quickly and efficiently. The best part? No installation required.
Universal Cooling Hacks
Regardless of whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, you can use the following tips to help you beat the heat.
Use Appropriate Bedding
Polyester or flannel sheets won’t do you any good when you’re overheated at night. Make sure you have good-quality cotton sheets that can absorb sweat, and wash the sheets often to keep them comfortable.
Open the Windows at Night
The windows need to stay shut during the day, but they must stay open at night to allow the cooler night air to come in. If you are in an urban area or you have a ground-floor apartment, you might be concerned about personal safety. You can easily purchase wooden dowels or a key track stop to prevent the window from opening beyond the specified width.
Switch to CFL or LED Bulbs
If you haven’t made the switch, do so now. Incandescent light bulbs emit a great deal of heat, and they use far more electricity. When you replace these bulbs with CFL or LED bulbs, you’ll also notice some savings on your electric bill.
Find the Best Fan
Which fan is best for your needs? Pedestal or stand fans are ideal for large rooms, while tower fans are ideal for bedrooms and other small spaces. Box fans have more power and are useful on windowsills. Industrial fans have high power and wide reach, and they are ideal for garages, workshops or large rec rooms. Misting fans provide the best of both worlds: air circulation and water mist. They have indoor and outdoor functionality, making them suitable for patio cooling.
Get Some Freezer Packs
You can use freezer packs, plastic drinking bottles or frozen hot water bottles to keep yourself cool; just wrap them in a towel to absorb condensation. It’s best not to put the plastic bottles in bed, since they may crack and soak the mattress.
Take a Refreshing Shower
A cool shower works wonders for providing instant relief. There’s no need to step under ice water, though. If you can, let your hair drip-dry. You’ll feel the cool effect once you step out of the bathroom.
Try Evaporative Coolers
If you’re using a variety of these options and would like a bit of a boost, consider portable evaporative coolers. These machines have a water reservoir that moistens and cools air as it passes through, releasing pleasantly cool air back into the room. They are best suited to homes in hot, dry climates.
Deciding how to live without air conditioning doesn’t need to be a challenge. You just need to focus on a few main themes: shade, water, reduced heat and natural breezes.
NewAir Portable Evaporative Coolers
- • Bring down the temperature by up to 20 degrees
- • All-natural eco-friendly cooling uses no harmful chemicals
- • Uses about the same electricity as a 100-watt light bulb
NewAir Outdoor Misting Fans
- • Refreshing mist significantly decreases outdoor temperature
- • Three fan speeds cool up to 600 sq. ft. of patio space
- • Compatible with any standard garden hose