9 air conditioning alternatives

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | April 21, 2016

Modern ceiling fanIt's a safe bet that you have an air conditioner -- according to the U.S. Department of Energy, two-thirds of homes have air conditioning units, and we spend more than $11 billion each year to run them. In fact, a full five percent of all electricity in the United States goes to keeping us cool. That number won't surprise homeowners, who are accustomed to seeing their utility bills go up the moment they turn on the air conditioner.

What if you could get some of that money back this summer?

How to live without air conditioning

Life without air conditioning is entirely possible, and can be quite comfortable. It's a matter of planning ahead, using the natural resources you have at your disposal, and getting creative when things heat up. Here are a few great ways to keep your cool and save serious cash as summer ramps up.

  • Open the windows. It sounds simple, but the idea of funneling cool air through your home requires a bit more thought than just throwing open a window or two. Start by paying attention to the direction the wind is blowing, and open up a window that will take a direct hit of that cool air. Then open another window on the opposite side of the room to create that funnel effect. Got a skylight? Opening it up can create a 'chimney effect' that pulls air up and out, resulting in a constant breeze.
  • Utilize fans. To get more of that air in the house, use a window fan. An oscillating fan near the window will work as well. Ceiling fans are great if you have them; make sure they are turning clockwise during the summer for the greatest benefit.
  • Close the curtains. When the sun beats down, close the curtains to prevent the heat from radiating into your home and increasing the temperature. Follow the sun through the day and close the curtains of windows that take a direct hit, and open up the others to provide more indirect light with less heat. For even more savings, invest in heavy drapes.
  • Use cooler appliances. Summer is the perfect time to use the slow cooker instead of the oven, or head outside to grill rather than using the stove burners. Not only do these appliances help prevent heat buildup, they force you to get more creative with meals -- a win-win situation for anyone who loves to cook.
  • Buy (or create) an evaporative cooler. If you live in an area of low humidity, look into an evaporative cooler -- they cost about half of what a typical air conditioning unit does, and use only a quarter of the energy. Still too rich for your budget? Make a simple 'swamp cooler' by placing a block of ice in a bowl and positioning the bowl in front of a fan. It's a temporary set-up for those impossibly hot days.
  • Plan for the future. For serious money savings, install awnings on the windows that take on the most sun, invest in UV-fighting coatings on the windows, and plant trees that will eventually tower over your home and block the sun.

Cooling the house down is great, but cooling down the body can make you even more comfortable. Here's how to make that happen without spending too much cash.

  • Cool from the inside out. Cooling the individual might be more helpful than cooling the room. Have plenty of water and ice on hand at all times, and let the kids (and adults!) indulge in popsicles, frozen juice bars, and the like.
  • Stay cool at night. Most people enjoy sleeping in a room that is a little on the cool side; that's almost impossible when you are choosing not to use the air conditioning. However, there are a few tricks to try. Start by putting your sheets and pillowcases in the refrigerator for an hour or so before bed -- you will slip into cool sheets. You can also use the old pulse point trick: wrap an ice pack in a washcloth and place it against your wrist, the side of your neck, or the bend of your knee. It will make your whole body feel cooler.
  • Play in the water. When things get too hot to stand, head outside. Wash the car, fill up the kiddie pool, get out the slip-and-slide, and splash to your heart's content. If you choose to stay inside, take a cool shower to lower your body temperature and make the heat more tolerable.

These ideas can help a great deal, but you might not want to part with your air conditioning unit just yet. Instead, make sure it's quite energy-efficient and always up-to-date on maintenance. Take the time to seal up the house with good weather-stripping, too. When you do break down and turn on the air conditioning, you can rest assured that it's using as little energy as possible to create that blissfully cool breeze.

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.