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Dog Days of Summer! -- Keeping Cool Without Air Conditioning

Dog Days of Summer!
Don't want to turn on the A.C.? Fans use considerably less electricity than air conditioners and can do a pretty good job of making sure you don't get dogged by the heat.

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Earth Talk

Keeping Cool Without Air Conditioning

From E/The Environmental Magazine
with comments by the Editor

Dear EarthTalk:
Summer's going to be a scorcher this year, and I'd like to know how I can keep cool indoors without just running my energy-hogging air conditioners all the time. Any tips?

-- John McGovern, Cohasset, MA

According to Harvey Sachs of the non-profit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the movement of air over the skin is what's key to keeping the body cool. So instead of turning on that A.C., see which direction the breeze is blowing outside (no matter how minimal it may be), and then open a few windows strategically to try to get it flowing through the house from end-to-end or side-to-side.

If the breeze alone isn't enough, apply some fan power. Even small tabletop fans, which can be had for $30 or so at Amazon, can really whip the air around. Placing one facing in by the window where air is coming in, and one at an opposite window positioned to blow warm air out, can create a nice "wind tunnel" effect in pulling air through the house.

Editor's Note: Personally, I've found metal Cyclone fans (or what I call hurricane fans) really push the most air and provide better relief from the heat.

Insulate Against the Heat

This strategy can be especially effective at night when it is cooler. But then it's important to shut the windows when you leave for the day in the morning (around 5:00 a.m. is best) to keep the cooler air in and the warmth of the new day out. Keep blinds shut and curtains drawn, too, as sunlight pouring into the house only creates more heat. And remember that lights left on are not only wasting electricity — they're creating heat, as well.

Editor's Note: In very hot areas, window quilts are helpful in blocking out the heat of the sun. You can buy them as specialty window covering shops or make your own (These patterns are easily sized for your windows). Use any fabric or design you like for the inside, make the outside of a heavy light colored muslin cloth. Fill with batting and sew it all together.

Ceiling fans also do a nice job of circulating air in the rooms you occupy most, and though they do require some up-front costs for installation they use only about 1/30th the electricity of a room air conditioner.

Water Keeps You Cool!

Beyond moving the air around to keep cool, the website WikiHow lists several tips for using water to keep cool sans AC. One tried and true method is to wet your wrists and other pulse points with cold water, and then keep those spots cool by holding an ice cube wrapped in a face cloth against them. The relief is immediate, and this method will cool down the entire body — by as much as three degrees Fahrenheit — for upwards of an hour.

Editor's Note: As a previous ice cream truck driver, the best method for keeping cool is to wet a terry cloth hand towel or large wash cloth with cold water, wring it out well. Holding opposite corners, whip it around a few times, until it rolls up, then form a nice U-shape out of the towel and store in the freezer, until needed. Once the cloth is frozen, place around the neck for cool comfort. Keep two or three frozen for those really hot days.

Another WikiHow suggestion: Wear a short-sleeved shirt and keep the sleeves wet with cold water (from a squirt bottle, faucet or hose). Keeping the pant legs of long pants wet is also a good way to keep your legs cool. Add in a breeze or a fan, and you can actually get cold.

Editor's Note: Peppermint oil on the back of the neck will help keep you feeling cool, but will also smell peppermint most of the day. There is just something about that smell.

Air Conditioners, Swamp Coolers & Evaporators

Of course, if you just can't live without air conditioning, there are greener options out there. For starters, a single window unit that keeps one room cool is far less energy intensive and polluting than central air conditioning that keeps all the rooms in the house (including those you're not using) cool. Look for new models sporting the federal Energy Star label, which marks units as energy efficient.

Editor Note: A small 5,000 BTU air conditioning unit can cost as little as $20.00 a month to operate, if used responsibly. If you own your own home, with central air, don't rip it out if it's Energy Star compliant, install individual room thermostats, so the air can be shut off in those rooms of the home not being used.

Another option for those in hot, dry climates is an evaporative cooler, which cools outdoor air through evaporation and blows it inside the house. These units make for a nice alternative to traditional central air conditioning, as they cost about half as much to install and use only one quarter of the energy overall.

Editor Note: One of the most efficient and cost effective ways we've found to cool the home during these hot summer days is to install a swamp cooler. They move a great deal of air, over cooled water. Not only do the work terrific, they are cheap to run as well.

A mister is yet another cost effective way of cooling your home by as much as 20°. They are inexpensive to purchase, costing less than $50 in most cases. They use little water, and can be set to use less than ½ gallon, per hour. If you hang plants nearby, they can serve double duty. Best of all they require zero electricity to operate. Simple to install and can be easily moved, for those living in a rental unit. We have one outside the patio door, on our deck and a large hurricane fan on the floor in front of the door. The cool air comes in, the water stays outside.

Additional Summer Cooling Ideas


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Updated: June 21, 2016

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