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The Heat is On: How to Stay Cool without Air Conditioning

How to stay cool without air conditioning [1]

It’s heatwave time again!

All across the country, the mercury is climbing…and staying there, way up at the top of the thermometer.  But running an air conditioner at full blast to combat the heat can be very expensive, and for those of us on a budget, the resulting bill can be crippling.

So what is a family with no air conditioning to do?

Avoid heating up your house.

Many of the things that we do without thinking are unconsciously adding 5-10 degrees of heat to an already uncomfortably warm house.  In the hottest part of the year, I avoid running certain appliances. Some folks say to run those heat-creating appliances at night, but I depend on the cool night time temperatures to bring my home down to a comfortable level the next day.

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In the summer, avoid or limit your use of the following:

Cool it down naturally.

Air conditioning is a fairly recent invention. It is only in the past few decades that most people decided that air conditioning was a “necessity.”  Unfortunately now, most houses are built without consideration for natural cooling.  If a new home is being built, chances are, it will have central air conditioning. While this is a nice perk, it’s important to note that in the midst of a power outage, these houses with stunning floor to ceiling windows are going to be hotter than blue blazes.  Older homes  have a lot of advantages over their newer counterparts when it comes to cooling them without air conditioning.

I live in a sweet little 100+ year old Victorian house that is perfectly comfortable in all but the very hottest of weather. The windows are placed across from one another throughout the house, for optimum cooling and cross-breezes.

Here’s the technique that keeps our home pleasant when the mercury climbs into the 90s:

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Evaporative cooling for humans

Here’s the thing – we have basically evolved ourselves right out of being able to cool down without the aid of an air conditioner.  We go from an air conditioned home to an air conditioned car and have lunch at an air conditioned restaurant. Then we drive our air conditioned car back home, suffer through perhaps 20-30 minutes of necessary outdoor work, and then go in, gasping for air, to cool off in front of another air conditioner.

Our bodies no longer know how to cool themselves because they never have to do so.  We suffer far more in the heat than previous generations ever did.  That’s why this year, my family is eschewing the air conditioner.  What is going to happen in a long-term grid-down scenario?  I’ll tell you what – people will drop like flies of heat-related illnesses.  But you can train your body to tolerate heat again.

A good friend of mine lives in the desert and has no air conditioning.  It regularly gets to 110 degrees in his home and he is barely affected. That’s because his body’s cooling system is efficient – he uses it on a regular basis

I’m not suggesting that you go run a marathon in the midst of a heatwave, but perhaps people need to stop being so uncomfortable with sweat.  Sweat is the human body’s evaporative cooling system.  Here’s the rundown on how the human body cools itself from an article called “The Physics of Sweating [5]“:

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When we sweat, our skin and clothing become covered with water. If the atmospheric humidity is low, this water evaporates easily. The heat energy needed to evaporate the water comes from our bodies. So this evaporation cools our bodies, which have too much heat. For the same reason splashing water on ourselves when it is hot feels good. Being wet during cold weather, however can excessively chill us because of this same evaporation effect.

Sweating is therefore the human body’s primary cooling mechanism. Because this mechanism uses water, we need to replace lost fluids by drinking more fluids in hot weather. This is especially true after exercising or working in hot weather.

When it is very humid, our sweat does not evaporate as easily. With the body’s primary cooling process not working efficiently, we feel hotter. That is why a hot humid day is more uncomfortable than a hot dry day.

As the air near our bodies absorbs evaporating sweat, the humidity very close to our skin increases, so our sweat does not evaporate as easily. If there is a breeze or wind, the air near our bodies is replaced by dryer air that can continue to absorb evaporating sweat. Hence a breeze on a hot day has a pleasant cooling effect. On a cold day it produces a wind chill effect making it seem much colder than it actually is.

Despite the fact that sweating can make us feel unpleasantly sticky, the principles of thermal physics make sweating a very important mechanism for cooling the body in hot weather. (source [5])

By allowing yourself to get hot and letting your body cool itself, you can build up a tolerance to the heat.  By avoiding heat and sticking to chilly air-conditioned rooms, you will be far more uncomfortable in a situation in which air conditioning is not available.

When the grid fails…

The situation that comes to mind is the Derecho storms that struck metro DC a few years back. The power was out for a week in the midst of a terrible heatwave and people died from heat-related ailments.  Many others were sick, suffering from heat exhaustion and heat strokes, and others were miserably uncomfortable.  As mentioned above, homes really aren’t built to be cooled without air conditioning any more, and humans aren’t used to letting their bodies cool themselves.

Here are some strategies to help you cool off when you can’t run fans or air conditioners:

Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic [7] adds some great ideas for keeping cool when the grid is down.  Click HERE [8] to check them out.

fan [9]

How do you keep your cool?

Do you have air conditioning at your home? Do you run it all the time?  What are some techniques that you use to keep cool in hot weather?