Unless you live in a place that never reaches past 75 degrees, you’ve likely spent a brutally hot summer spent lounging on the couch with a fan on either side while rubbing ice cubes on your neck to cool down. That’s one way to do it.
Usually, though, once temperatures reach the 80s and 90s, many people rush out to buy an air conditioner—and while these convenient units are a great solution to suppress the heat, they’re certainly not the only option, and can pose their own problems, too.
Aside from the expense of purchasing the unit (which can cost hundreds of dollars), there’s also increased electricity bills. The machine can also be noisy and prove difficult to find just the right temperature.
So, before you invest in air conditioning for your home or apartment, consider doing it a little more naturally. There are plenty of ways to keep a room cool without A.C., and while some might seem intuitive, some may also be surprising.
Okay, so you’ve probably already thought of this option, but we’d be remiss not to include it on this list. When well-placed throughout your home (by windows and doors), ceiling fans and box fans can actually provide decent circulation of air and help you to cool down. While it may not be entirely efficient for the super hot days, fans are a great swap for A.C. during many times of the year.
With some strategic planning, fans can do more than just push warm air around in the home, too; instead, you can use fans to create your own natural system of cross-ventilation and encourage even more cool down.
First, note the are where the sun rests in relation to your home. You’ll want to try and take air from the opposite side of your house (which is shaded and thus cooler). Set up a fan on this side to blow the cool air in, and then place another fan by a larger opening to blowing the hot air out. This helps to pull in air faster and creates more of a breeze effect.
There may be some situations, though, where it’s not as helpful to open windows and doors, especially when it’s hotter outside than inside. In these situations, you can use an old-fashioned trick that will create the same type of cross-breeze: Place a shallow pan of ice right behind the fan; it will pick up the cool temperature given off by the cubes as they melt and distribute it across the room.
If you want even more fan power, consider hiring a professional to install a house fan. These large structures are placed on the ceiling, at the highest level of the home (usually the attic) where they can pull air in from open windows and doors. Accredited professionals can help determine what size and strength you would need for your home.
Roughly 30 percent of unwanted heat comes into your home through windows, but there’s an easy way to prevent this phenomenon by upgrading to some new blinds and curtains.
Window blinds—either vertical designs or horizontal slats—are an effective way to reduce heat absorption. Interior blinds are made of plastic or fabric and can be easily adjusted to control the amount of light; when completely closed and lowered on a particularly sunny window, highly reflective blinds help to reduce heat by nearly 50 percent. Exterior blinds, on the other hand, are usually made of wood, steel, aluminum, or vinyl and are mounted above the window from the outside. With side pulleys, they can be lowered and raised, either providing complete shade or allowing some air and daylight to enter through the windows.
If you prefer curtains for your home, be choosy and make good comparisons when shopping. The ability of curtains to reduce heat relies on a few different factors, including the fabric type (go for a heavy closed weave) and even the color (the lighter the color, the less likely the curtains will be to absorb the heat and then radiate it out).
During the sunniest parts of the day, curtains should remain completely closed to reduce heat exposure. You’ll also want to hang draperies as close to the window as possible, allowing them to rest on the windowsill or floor. Any space that isn’t closed off allows heat to make its way into that room. For even greater effect, use velcro or magnetic tape to attach curtains to the wall (concentrating on the sides and the bottom); this alone may reduce heat loss up to 25 percent.
If you own your home or have a really great landlord, you can make some considerable alterations to the exterior areas in order to cut down on excess heat. If you are handy, try installing roof overhangs or awnings to shade a spot that gets beaten with sunshine in the afternoons (or better yet, hire professionals to do the trick). There are many factors that are important in this scenario, including the latitude, climate, illuminance levels, and window size and type—so if you’re not experienced, trust window professionals.
Or, you can also consider some heavy duty plants.
Plants are an excellent compromise that look great, too. Large, leafy varieties and hanging trellises can effectively block sunlight. Even consider small, potted trees for balconies and porches that give more height protection, too.
When it’s hot, it can be difficult to get a good night of sleep. But there’s a remedy for that as well. Consider what type of sheets you are sleeping on—flannel and fleece are great for insulation purposes during chilly winter months, but cotton is ideal for warmer times of the year because it breathes easier and stays cooler.
Additionally, a buckwheat pillow can help prevent all the tossing and turning due to a hot pillow that has absorbed your body heat. Buckwheat hulls have naturally-occurring air pockets between them, so they don’t hold onto heat like synthetic fabrics or feathers—even when they’re packed tightly into a pillow. Here’s an extra tip: Throw a buckwheat pillow into the fridge or freezer before bed for a little extra cooling, too.
In the summer try to find fresh meals that don’t require turning on the oven, which will avoid the buildup of heat in the kitchen that can also penetrate adjoining rooms. Some ideas to consider: Try grilling meats outside, opt for hearty salads, or use a crockpot that will keep the extra heat centralized to the container. If you must use the oven, though, keep the doors closed at all times to prevent the infiltration of hot air to some of the cooler rooms.
Another effective change is making the switch to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs for short) instead of using incandescent bulbs, which waste about 90 percent of their energy in the heat they emit. Taking this measure won’t just keep your home cooler, but also lower your electricity bill as well.
If you’re still struggling to cool down, also consider some of the small things that you can do for yourself to lower your internal temperature and be less stressed by the heat.
Ultimately, keeping your home or apartment cool comes down to the right combination of the above methods. Planting a shady tree outside your bedroom window might not do much, but the addition of cotton sheets, a few fans, and curtains very well may. As can investing in a powerful house fan and waking up before the sun rises to close windows and blinds. It’s always helpful to keep in mind that there were many generations who lived without air conditioning—and so can you.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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