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6 Ways to Cool Off Without Air Conditioning

07/08/2015 12:38 EDT | Updated 07/08/2015 12:38 EDT

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Having an air conditioner is a near-must in climates where months-long heat waves are a summer norm. (We’re fanning our faces with you, Houston and Atlanta!) And with that comes an equally scorching energy bill. Even in regions with gentler climates, homeowners can still experience enough hot days in a row to nearly go mad.

It doesn’t have to be so hard. Whether you want to save money by running your air conditioner less or brave the heat without one, here are six steps that will help you stay cool.

1. Block the Sun From Reaching Your Windows

Energy-efficient houses depend on well-designed shading systems, because the best way to avoid summer heat is by blocking the sun’s rays from ever reaching the windows.

It’s a simple concept that we regularly employ with beach umbrellas to protect our skin and carports to shade our cars. Yet when it comes to houses, for some reason people tend to believe that interior drapes are as effective as exterior shading. It’s simply not true.

The more shading you can include on the outside, the better. If you can’t afford a new matching set of shutters, consider a simple overhang made with brackets and timber slats to block your windows from the intense summer sun.

Solar-control window films can also offer UV protection and reduce the amount of heat gained from solar radiation. Compared with some elaborate shading systems, these could be a less expensive alternative.

See more on window films

Even simple and very inexpensive bamboo screens can block a good portion of sunlight without completely sacrificing daylight.

When you’re planting trees for shade (or installing any kind of shading), think about the sun’s path through the sky. It may help you to check out an app called Sun Surveyor (or a similar one) that can help you track the sun’s path and how its rays hit your house.

See 7 great shade trees

2. Add Interior Drapes, Blinds or Shades

Once the heat from the sun’s rays passes through the glass of a window, that heat is in the house and will need to be ventilated to escape. To keep your floors and walls from soaking up that heat from direct rays and emitting it throughout the day, it can help to add another layer of protection between the window and the main thermal mass of your home.

Sheer drapes are a nice way to mitigate direct sun rays to the floor but maintain soft, natural daylight. Plus, white reflects sunlight better than colors.

See 7 window treatments that can lower your energy bills

There are a couple of tricks that you can employ with sheer drapes that you can’t pull off with interior blinds or shades.

My favourite thing to do is throw my sheer drapes in with my laundry the night before a really hot day. (They don’t take up much room, because they are super thin, but you could just as easily dunk them in a bucket of water and ring them out.) I set my machine to finish about the time I get up in the morning, and I put four or five drops of tea tree oil in with the load. When I get up in the morning, I take the drapes directly from the washer (still damp) to the rod and clip them in place. The open windows let the morning breeze pass through the drapes, cooling the air before it reaches me and filling it with the fresh smell of tea tree oil.

By the time they drapes have dried out, it’s about time to shut my windows anyway, before the intense heat of the day starts. You could do the same routine in the evening, but I wouldn’t recommend the washing machine version because of the heat it generates (see No. 4).

3. Get the Air Circulating

Air will flow only if it is forced (via a fan of some sort) or if there is a large temperature difference with a neighboring body of air.

Night cooling is a great way to naturally decrease the temperature in your house and exchange hot interior air for cooler outdoor air. You may need to do some testing to see what works best for you, depending on your climate and the orientation of your house toward the sun. For this to work, there needs to be a substantial difference in temperature between the inside of your house and the outside. Once the outdoor air starts to heat up, I close my windows to try and keep as much of that heat out as possible.

Ceiling fans and standing fans placed near windows at night can help force the air movement when there is no breeze and a small temperature difference. During the day the added air movement from fans can help the perception of heat, which is tied to humidity.

Another evaporative cooling tip, borrowed from history, is to set a big chunk of ice (or ice packs) in front of a fan with a tray underneath to catch the water as it melts. It makes for a really cheap and fairly effective DIY air conditioner for small rooms. I recommend closing off the space as much as possible, so you don’t lose that great cool air.

4. Turn Off Major Appliances During the Day

To help maintain those cooler temperatures during the day, reduce anything that generates heat in your house or apartment. For example, don’t use the dryer or oven and try not to open the fridge too often. The more you open it, the more the motor has to work to cool it down again, and the heat generated from that work will be released back into your apartment.

Try fresh summer salads to avoid using your oven and stovetop.

5. Transition Your Bed Into Summer Mode

I don’t know about you, but I feel summer heat the most when I’m trying to sleep. Reduce the amount of bedding you have and stick to natural fabrics like linen or 100 per cent cotton. Synthetic blends don’t breathe enough to release all the heat we generate during the night.

Also, keep your sheets fresh. An old trick from the southern U.S. is to sprinkle some baby powder or talcum powder on your sheets. It will absorb sweat while you’re sleeping and keep your sheets feeling fresh and clean.

Depending on your apartment and security concerns, you may have a little exterior screened-in space that can be used like a sleeping porch. You could have a little daybed with light linens for nights when it’s comfortable enough to sleep in open air.

Or, hey, forgo the linens altogether and sleep in a hammock for the summer!

6. Stay Hydrated

Everyone knows that staying hydrated in summer is extremely important. But did you know that drinking water also helps regulate your body temperature?

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