I remember the hot, humid summers of my Massachusetts childhood – lying on top of the covers, with a fan blowing directly on me as I tried to sleep. We had one window unit air conditioner, but mostly we survived the heat with fans and fresh breezes.
As an adult, I spent my summers either on islands (teaching marine biology), or in Oregon, where the summers are mostly hot and dry. But our Missouri summers are often unbearably hot and humid. Many people rely on their air conditioning to stay cool and comfortable. But, let’s face it – paying electric bills for a summer’s worth of air conditioning is pricey! And in our solar electric home, we cannot use air conditioning.
So how do we stay cool without air conditioning?
Here are my top five tips, and I’d love for you to share yours in the comments!
1) Smart design
Our house was designed with passive solar principles in mind. That means that in the winter, we get a wonderful amount of sunlight streaming into, and warming our home, while in the summer, the roofline of the house shades our windows from direct sun. We also built our home slightly recessed into the tree line, so large oak trees to the east, west, and north shade our home from late spring to early fall.
Of course, you probably don’t have the luxury of re-designing your home, But there are many ways you can alter your space to keep cool in the summer. Shade cloths, screens, or fabrics can be rigged up to create shady outdoor nooks that can feel quite pleasant. Or consider:
- Building a covered porch
- Erecting a pergola and grow trellising plants up the sides and top to create shade
- Placing hammocks or chairs in the shadiest part of your yard
- Setting up a temporary tarp, or a pop-up tent to create a shady retreat or sitting area
2) Strategic window opening
We like to keep our windows open as much as possible, both for fresh air flow, and also so we can hear the kids when they are playing outdoors. But the most strategic way of keeping your home cool is to only keep your windows open as long as it is cooler outside than it is inside. That is usually in the mid- to late-afternoon. On the hottest days, we close the windows up mid-day, and then open them again in the evening.
Depending on the layout of your house, you might have better results by opening only windows on the shady side of your home, or opening windows on the shady side of the lower floor, and the sunny side of your upper floor. My suggestion is to simply experiment and see what works best for you and your home. You might find that your house would really benefit from drapes to keep sunlight out.
3) Cooling mists
Our neighbor turned me onto this trick – when you’re feeling really hot and cranky, mist yourself with a cooling essential oil spritz. I like to mix up this recipe:
1 oz water
1 oz witch hazel or rubbing alcohol
5 drops Peppermint essential oil (buy it here)
Combine the ingredients and store in a 2 oz mister bottle. Simply mist on your body when you need to cool off, avoiding the face and eyes. I like to spray on the back of my neck, the insides of my wrists, and behind my knees.
Some days, the outside air temperature is so high that we drip with sweat even while sitting still. It’s easy to forget how much water we need to drink to make up for our body’s water loss. So, on hot days, I start the morning with a huge glass of water, and drink lots more every time I come indoors.
We are so fortunate to have a homestead pond, and we take at least 2-3 swim breaks on the hottest days. If you don’t have a pond, you can try the following tips:
- Wet a bandana and wear it around your neck.
- Wet your hair or your shirt.
- Dip your hands, up to your wrists, in cold water (same goes for your feet up to your ankles).
- Take a quick shower at the coldest temperature you can tolerate. We rinse off in our outdoor shower immediately before bed.
5) When you need it, a fan!
This year we bought ourselves a fan – well, technically, a circulator. We are really loving our Vornado, which plays well with our solar electric system, has a timer so we can set it to turn off as/after we fall asleep, and really moves air! On the hottest days, it has made all the difference in making our small house feel like a cool refuge.
What are your favorite ways to keep cool without air conditioning?