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Keeping cool without the AC

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | July 22, 2015

The heat of the summer is upon us, and with it comes humidity, discomfort, and annoyance. It can be tempting to sit in front of the AC all day, but that air conditioning can really do a number on your utility bill. Can you really keep your cool without turning on the AC? Surprisingly, the answer is a resounding "yes!"

Summer without air conditioning? It can be done. These tricks range from simple to complex, but they all give you the comfort you need without draining your bank account. Here how to keep your cool:

  1. Change the ceiling fan direction. It is such a simple thing that most of us completely forget to do it. The vast majority of ceiling fans come equipped with a directional switch. During the winter, it should turn clockwise; during the summer, counter-clockwise. This creates a "wind chill" effect, especially at higher speeds.
  2. Always use exhaust fans. The venting fans in your kitchen and bathroom can do a great job of pulling out warmer air, and that can keep your home cooler. Go a step further by taking cooler showers, and turn to convenient kitchen appliances, like the crockpot, that don't heat up the house.
  3. Time the opening of your windows. The temperatures almost always drop at night, sometimes dramatically. Take advantage of that by opening the windows when darkness falls and using small fans to create cross-ventilation throughout your home. Remember to close the windows before the sun gets high in the sky, to ensure you keep all that cool air inside.
  4. Block the sun. Speaking of windows, invest in good drapes that block the sunlight that wants to stream into your home. By keeping those rays out, you can prevent your home from heating up significantly during the day, especially during the sweltering afternoon hours.
  5. Replace the lightbulbs. Hold your bare hand up to an incandescent light and you will quickly realize just how hot they can get over a very short period of time. CFLs, on the other hand, don't emit nearly as much heat. It might seem like a small difference, but it adds up -- and CFLs are better for your energy bills anyway.
  6. Plant a few trees. Think long-term when it comes to the air conditioning and create your own natural cooling. Towering trees with broad leaves can shade your home from the powerful rays of the sun, possibly shaving several degrees from your overall home temperature.
  7. Cool the person, not the room. Personal comfort can easily be had with things like moisture-wicking sheets, cool cloths applied to pulse points, wearing light-colored and lightweight clothing, sleeping with a fan pointed in your direction, and sipping cool drinks throughout the day.
  8. Choose the right windows and doors. If you are looking for a long-term solution that will bring down your cooling costs, look for windows that are well-insulated and offer the proper coatings, such as those that have high-reflectivity films. Make sure your doors are well-insulated as well, and install screen doors to allow much more airflow throughout your home.
  9. Insulate the house. Insulation can keep you warmer during the winter, and it does double-duty during the hot summer months. It helps keep the cool air in, and is especially helpful on those impossibly steamy days when you break down and turn on the air conditioning for just a little while.
  10. Turn to the stack effect. This is an old trick that kept things cool long before the days of air conditioning - it works best if you have a multi-story house. Open one window on the uppermost level of the house, and put a small box fan there to draw out the warm air. Then open one window on the opposite side of the house on the lowest level. Soon the "stack effect" will help send the warm air out of the top window, cooling your home by several degrees.

Your particular situation might mean you need even more tricks for keeping cool, such as using gel mats on the bed at night or creating a swamp cooler with a fan and a shallow bowl of ice. And though your goal might be to never turn on the air conditioning, keep things realistic: If you are feeling the effects of the heat or your home is absolutely unbearable, there is no shame in turning on the AC for a while.

Photo credit to Myryah Shea

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.