Here's how to stay cool this summer, even if you don't have air conditioning


Summer is only in its infancy, but already we’re seeing high (and in some cases, dangerously high) temperatures in California, the Southwest, and even the Rockies and Great Plains, resulting in wild fires and heat-related fatalities. In New York City, the average temperature in June has been 80 degrees, routinely above the historical averages, and up more than 11 percent from the average temperature since 2000 (71.71).

If you live in a city that is experiencing a June heat wave, you might be feeling like this bear:

For humans, especially those who don’t have access to air conditioning or a pool, it’s important to know how to stay cool. Here’s how you can beat the heat wave, even if you don’t have A/C.

If you have an air conditioner, make sure it’s working properly

87% of Americans have access to air conditioning, but many of those units have clogged filters and other problems that keep them from cooling you down efficiently. It’s important to make sure you’re not wasting energy while turning your house into an igloo.

The Department of Energy says that your A/C unit needs routine maintenance, including cleaning or replacing your filters every three months, and possibly more often during summer (especially if you have pets). For people in apartment buildings, this is something your landlord or super usually handles. But if you need to take filter-cleaning into your own hands, here’s a YouTube video showing you how:

You can even go a step further and buy “pleated filters” which are made of synthetic material, not fiberglass.

If your A/C unit is located outside your house, you need to clean it regularly to clear debris. Also, if you keep it in the shade, it’ll work better because the air it’s pulling into the unit will be cooler. But you need a lot of shade—think an awning or two or three big trees.

Lower those shades

Sunlight is awesome—it supplies Vitamin D, allows for photosynthesis, and cats seem to like it. But it’s also very warm. According to experts, up to 30% of heat in your house can come from your windows, especially if your house faces south or west. So lower your blinds as much as you can.

Mod your fan

Fans are great for keeping cool. But when it’s super-hot out, you need something stronger. This tip, from Apartment Therapy, is genius. Take a large mixing bowl (preferably a metal one) and fill it with ice. Position a fan to blow at the ice, which will cool a room even faster than a fan alone.

Keep yourself hydrated

You should be drinking a lot of water every day, between a half gallon and close to a gallon (experts recommend 3 liters for men, 2.2 for women). In the summer, you need to drink even more than that, especially if you’re exercising (you should drink three cups of water for each pound lost).

It’s important also to eat fruits and vegetables because not only are they nutritious and low-calorie, they rehydrate you as well. Foods like cucumber, celery, tomatoes, spinach, and, naturally, watermelon are a few options.

Also, try not to drink too much—alcohol will leave you dehydrated and in a bad place. You should sip water before bed and have some nearby in case you wake up in the middle of the night to stay hydrated (this goes double if you’ve imbibed).

Reverse the flow of your fan

If you have a ceiling fan, try reversing its blade settings so that they rotate clock-wise (most ceiling fans have this function built-in). If you turn it on and feel a breeze, you’re all set. Otherwise: make sure your fan is off before climbing a ladder or chair to flip the button or switch located on the fan’s base.

Then open the top of a nearby window. Since heat rises, this will send hot air out of the room, cooling it down. If you have a box, table, or floor fan, just pointing it toward the window will do the same thing.

Running your ceiling fan’s blades counter-clockwise all summer will actually save you some energy costs, too. They prevent hot air from accumulating in any one spot and create a wind-chill effect—it feels four to five degrees cooler than it really is.

Don’t have a fan? Hang a damp sheet or towel over the window. As the water on material evaporates, it will cool the breeze that’s coming into the room. The effect should last through the night and only have to be done once or twice during the daylight hours.

Sleep like King Tut

The “Egyptian method” of cooling down is simple—use a damp towel as a blanket. It sounds weird and uncomfortable, but according to SleepJunkies, it works.

This will keep you cool via the magic of latent heat, the same process that sweating uses to cool your body down. You’ll need some air circulation in the bedroom for this to work – an open window is fine.

Cool your pulse points first

Not all body heat is created equal. Much of your body’s heat is concentrated around pulse points, like your chest and the inside of your elbow. Pulse points are areas of the body where blood vessels are closest to your skin, so if you cool at a pulse point like behind your knee, you can cool your blood quicker. Therefore by focusing on your pulse points first, you can help the rest of your body feel cooler. Try starting by dunking your feet in a bucket of ice water, or putting a cool, damp towel around your neck or wrists.

Freeze your sheets

A cheap cooling hack is to put your pillow case and your top sheet into a plastic bag, and place the bag in your freezer. Take them out when you’re ready to go to bed, and you’ll get a few minutes of blissful cold while you’re trying to fall asleep.

Stay safe

In cases of extreme heat—defined as temperatures over 100 degrees for more than one day—you might need to go somewhere that does have air conditioning, or risk endangering yourself. Most movie theaters and museums have air-conditioning, as do coffee shops most public libraries (Last summer, Curbed put together a list of 20 New York locations with free A/C. Here are some locations in Los Angeles where you can do the same). Cities like New York have dedicated cooling centers, and chances are your city or town has something similar. Ask your friends and neighbors, Google, or call your city hall to find out.

Above all, stay safe—if you’re feeling lightheaded or exhausted due to the heat, get out of the heat as soon as possible, consume some water, and rest in a cooler room or in the shade. If your symptoms persist for more than half an hour or worsen, call your doctor or an ambulance. For more information on dealing with extreme heat, click here.

David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: [email protected]

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