Fighting outside temperatures is one of the biggest drivers of your electrical bill. Six months ago, I wrote an article on how to stay warm when you’re keeping your house cool. Now that the temperatures are rising and the days get longer, I want to deal with the opposite problem: how to stay cool when you don’t want to crank up your AC (or don’t even have it!)
For a lot of us, tolerating cold is a little easier than tolerating heat. In cold weather, you can always put on more clothes, curl up under blankets, or cuddle up with someone snuggly.
There’s only so many clothes you can shed in the heat, though.
The good news is that there are things you can do to tolerate heat better. Whether you’re trying to save some money by nudging the thermostat higher or lacking a functioning AC unit, if you Adjust your house, clothes, and behavior just a bit, you’ll be comfier even as the heat rises.
Acclimate to the Heat
Summer seemed a lot cooler when I was a kid. Now maybe that’s due to global warming, but I think a lot of it was due to the fact that I spent all day outside. Now that I’m an adult, I spend a lot more time in air conditioned spaces all summer.
You may not have much control over the temperature at work, but your warmer house will feel more comfortable if you spend less time in air conditioning. Run the AC less in your car. Spend time outside during the summer, at least during the cooler parts of the day. If you’re using air conditioning in the cool of the morning, your body is going to have a much harder time with the noonday heat.
Dress for the Weather
There’s a time for tank tops, sundresses, and bare feet, and it isn’t January (at least north of the Tropic of Cancer.) As your house warms up, though, it’s time to take off shoes and socks and expose a little skin, at least when you’re out of the sun.
In the summer, fabric matters. Wear lighter clothes instead of heavier, looser clothes instead of tighter, and natural fibers instead of synthetics. If you’re going to be spending time outside, try to avoid dark colors that absorb heat.
Make sure your shoes are appropriate for the weather, too. If you can’t go barefoot, try sandals or ventilated shoes.
Don’t forget to change your bedding, too. The sheets and comforters that felt so cozy in winter may not work for warmer weather. Lightweight cotton or linen sheets work best, by themselves or with a very light blanket. You may even want to pick up a buckwheat pillow, which absorb less heat than most.
Use the Drapes
The warmth of the sun can raise the temperature in your home a lot. That’s great on a winter’s day, but not so great in July. Use drapes, blinds, and curtains to keep the sun out and to help insulate your windows so that cool air doesn’t escape.
When the sun goes down, though, consider opening up the house, especially if you have screens. You’ll feel better if you can circulate some fresh air into the house when the temperature allows.
You can also keep your house cooler for less by shutting off rooms you don’t use. And if you haven’t already switched out your incandescent lights for CFLs and LEDs, go ahead. Incandescents generate heat as well as light, while LEDs and CFLs burn much cooler.
A fan in a really hot house is only going to blow hot air around, and won’t make you that much more comfortable. But a fan can help you move cooler air where you can best use it in the house, and that makes it a valuable resource for keeping your cool.
We use ceiling fans, window fans, and an oscillating floor fan in our home at different times and for different purposes. Our ceiling fans move air around constantly. Turn them on at a low speed, and they’ll keep the air moving in the house. (Just make sure you’ve switched them from your winter settings.)
A window fan works to bring cool fresh air into the house during the evening or early morning. Finally, we use an oscillating fan to augment our AC in our family room while we watch TV.
One thing we’ve talked about but haven’t done is install a fan in our attic to draw the hot air out. While it’s a little more of a project, it would help keep the house a lot cooler.
Drink, Drink, Drink
If you want to stay cool, you need to stay hydrated. That means drinking plenty of cold water. There’s also evidence that warm drinks like tea can help you stay cooler. Either way, as long as you drink plenty of fluids, your body should be able to better regulate its temperature.
Stay away from carbonated drinks and alcohol (or at least alternate them with water.) Due to the sodium and alcohol, they’re unlikely to contribute much toward hydration and may make you feel worse.
Eat for the Weather
Fruit and vegetables are often at their peak in summer, so take advantage of all that seasonal goodness to eat more produce. You’ll feel better with lighter fare like salads and grilled fish than you will with heavy foods like stews and casseroles.
Use your grill. Cooking inside generates a lot of extra heat in your kitchen. Cooking outside means less heat for your AC unit to have to counterbalance. You can also generate less heat by eating more uncooked foods, cooking in your microwave or convection oven, or using self-contained appliances like rice cookers.
On the other hand, you might try chilling foods a little more often. Popsicles are a fun treat, but frozen grapes and berries can also be delicious frozen treats. You can try making banana ice cream by pureeing bananas and freezing them for a healthy treat. You can even add your cold leftover veggies into salads.
Eat less, too. Eating too much will tend to warm up your body temperature and make you feel sluggish.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid to add a little spice to the mix. There’s a reason so many equatorial cuisines tend toward heat…consuming hot peppers makes you sweat, which cools your body.
Take a warm shower to feel fresher and cooler.
What? Not a cold shower?
A cold shower will shut down your sweat glands, so while you might feel briefly cooler, it won’t help for long. A warm shower, though, will rinse you off without compromising your body’s cooling system.
Other things you can do to cool off (besides hitting the pool) include soaking your feet, using a cool wet towel on your face or back of your neck, and putting ice in front of a fan to build a makeshift air conditioner. Even wetting your clothes a bit can help make you feel much cooler.
If you don’t want to crank up your own AC during the hottest parts of the day, consider going somewhere else to cool off. Going to the pool is fun and good exercise. You may also find those really hot hours of the day a good time to go to the library, do your grocery shopping, or check out a second-run movie house.
No, it won’t work forever, but it may give you some breathing space to keep you comfortable. Remember, your AC works hardest during the hottest days, and if you can turn the temp up a little bit then, you’ll save more money and not be taxing your system when it is least efficient.
Hot weather is coming, and it’s time to start preparing yourself and your living quarters to help you stay cool. But you can go too far.
When Jon lived in Orlando, he managed to get pretty acclimated to the heat. He didn’t even run his air conditioning very much Even his neighbors noticed. One of them told him ” You’ll never get a wife if you don’t turn on your AC.”
As his wife, I can tell you that’s true. At least for me, there are some days you need some air conditioning even if you have to go somewhere else to get it.
Remember, too much heat can cause serious health issues. Do what you can to stay cool safely with minimal air conditioning, but if all else fails, turn on the AC.