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Keeping Cool Without Air Conditioning

Author: the Inkslinger

Up here in summertime Vermont, where a Canadian cold front is rarely more than a day or two away, most of my friends and neighbors don't see the need for air conditioners. Which is a perfectly acceptable strategy until those few days each year when the temperature hits the '90s. Then we get creative on ways to keep our cool.

When my house gets hot, our whole family shifts into a lifestyle designed to keep the heat away. Here are a few pages from our midsummer playbook:

  • We copy my great aunt Gladys and put cold water on our wrists and dab it on our temples -- our pulse points -- and this does seem to cool us down.
  • If it's really hot, we'll stick our feet in a washbasin of cold water, and/or wrap a wet towel around our heads and/or necks. We've even been known to soak in a cold bath, which is okay around here because water isn't in short supply.
  • We lower our shades and sometimes even close our windows to keep the sun and heat out. Our house cools considerably overnight. By sealing it up to varying degrees during the day, we lock that chill inside, especially when no breezes are blowing. As shade replaces sun, we slowly open the windows back up. Done right, it works.
  • We dress appropriately. I have been known to show up for breakfast in a swimsuit.
  • Indoor cooking is banned. Why add a hot oven to a house that already is one? It's the grill or salads and other cold dishes during heat waves. Eating cold stuff helps chill us down, too. And we aim for smaller portions and lighter foods to cut down on the body heat created by digestion.
  • It's lights out as much as possible because even our compact fluorescent bulbs give off waste heat and who needs that? So we lower the lights until temperatures fall.
  • We switch the living room ceiling fan's direction so it blows down and creates a breeze on our skin. Remember: ceiling fans cool people not rooms so aim yours at you.
  • We also use portable fans. Sometimes we'll freeze a few water bottles and set them between us and a fan to create a little low-impact air conditioning. It works better than you'd think. So does spritzing skin with water from a spray bottle.
  • We make lots and lots of frosty and reasonably healthy fruit juice ice pops.

These ideas work even if you own an air conditioner but prefer to keep it turned off to save energy.

How do you stay cool in the summertime?

photo: Ryk Neethling


mmathews1 picture
My family and I usually take advantage of the summer heat and escape to an exotic destination each year. This summer is going to be a Phuket escape and we can't wait to get there! Why wait for the heat to pass when you can spend that time relaxing on a cool beach and diving into the sea?
Southwest Florida Air conditioning picture
Southwest Florida Air conditioning
Hello, I think this is really good to read that we can stay cool without AC. But is this piratically possible or not.? I have doubt that this type of things can be successfully regularly. I mean this is practically very difficult which you say here. Thanks for sharing it. Best Regards, Southwest Heating and Cooling
Levins picture
It is difficult to find a handyman that can fix an air conditioning system in a perfect manner. Therefore, it will be much better to relay on a reputable air conditioning website a place an online order for the services. It helps in saving time and energy for finding out the right solution of installation and reparing needs for your air conditioning system.
yesiamawhitebiotch picture
I Live in West Virginia, a week ago we were hit with something they are calling a line of "Decho's" or "Dreco's" (might be spelled wrong) They are storms that are unpredictable, and show no signs or warnings before they hit. 10 days with no A/C and no Power made me realize how reliant me and my family have become on central air. The days were hell, so hot I could barely catch my breath, my animals panting heavily, uncomfortable and to the point that my older dog truly scared me. The nights were just as bad, no power to pull the cool air into the house the first few nights I lay wide awake, soaked in my own sweat. I eventually got so hot in my sleep I threw up. I decided with our home having no shade and the sun beating down right on us that It wouldnt get better, and I had to get me and my kids out. The President called for us to be in a State of Emergency, 700,000 W. Virginians without power as well and other states in the same shape.we saw no relief, no Electric Trucks, Ice, or Help for days and days. Day 5 we were finally allowed 2 bags of ice per family. omg, the first drink of cold water was amazing. A new Cabela's that was coming to our city hadnt opened the doors yet but had trucks brings hundreds of generators, so so heroic of them, they helped when nobody else did. I was not one of the lucky ones to get a generator, and people stood for hours outside in the heat waiting on the trucks. The Cabelas even fed those people, gave them water, sold propane, grills, batteries, etc. They came through for W. Virginia, it was nice to know some were okay. Still I knew I had to get out and after day 3 I grabbed my babies and we slept in the car for the rest of the days. During the day I would go to the McDonals, One of the few who had power and charge my laptop, at night I would put in a movie on the dashboard, put blankets on the seats to be more comfortable and my husband would sleep with a gun...our small town in one of the safer places though, but alot of looting was happening, and with no gas for hundreds of miles people were starting to panic. to to make this long story shorter, I now keep the air on 82, and at night turn it off and put a small box fan in the upstairs window to pull in cool air, I have to get us more used to the heat because that was brutal!!!
vcochran_law picture
I live in Southwest GA, where the humidity at night is regularly above 70% and daytime temps are frequently in the triple digits during late summer. I live without a/c unless the temp, not heat index, is in the triple digits. This includes my two large dogs. We make do with ceiling and floor fans. They get two bowls of water for the day. I also leave the balcony screen door open so they can go outside if there's more of a breeze out there. And, no, with the exception of the rare fly or bee bugs are not an issue. Sometimes I question my sanity, mostly at night trying to sleep, but it lowers our carbon footprint. We can live without air. Humans survived and lived in hot regions before the invention of a/c.
pmbb321 picture
When it gets really hot I watch how my 2 cats cope with the heat: they just lay low and don't move much. I try to do most of the physical work early in the morning or early evening to avoid exertion during excessive heat.
jr.peng picture
Benelux 2000, I also live in the desert in SoCal, where the average day-time temp is between 100-115 (sometimes hotter). I WISH I could get my husband and roommate to use the AC less, but they're both east coasters (one from MD, the other from MA), and they just won't do anything over 75 degrees. Roomie sometimes sneaks it down to 72. Personally, if it's less than 80 I'm cold. I'd love to get a solar panel system set up to run the AC off of, but we're also renters and I highly doubt our landlord would go for it. You know what else bugs me about people moving to the desert? Everyone tries to keep LAWNS. IN A DESERT. If ever I've seen a glaring example of stupid, that would be it.
Shannon picture
We bought a small pool and a few dips a day keep everyone cool and comfortable. We run around in bathing suits all day and when the Savannah heat starts getting to us we just jump in. We still use the AC but keep it 5 to 6 degrees warmer in the house than we would otherwise. Growing up in S. E. PA we had no AC but would fill an old iron tub and do the same thing, just jump in every so often to cool off or even better wallow around in the creek all afternoon.
obelwood picture
I made the decision to convert my HVAC to Geothermal 10 years ago. The A/C bills are low and I get heated water in return. It enabled me to skip using a programmable thermostat and I'm able to keep the house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer for less than when I used a A/C/heat pump and fuel oil burner. Add in ceiling fans and effective use of cross ventilation when a cool evening breeze arrives and I only need to run the A/C on the hottest humid days.
RJD-Texas picture
There are so many great ideas in this blog,Thanks. Some of my fav. things to do: *conserve on my a/c - Energy saver is awesome! *consume "hydration foods"along w/water. *outside I use mist on the sprayer.Barely uses any water.Cools people and pets too! We have high heat and humidity so the drought is making things worse. Texas is usually hot/warm,humid most of the yr. only the past couple years did we see snow/ice,cold weather. We have official "cooling centers" and warnings to take breaks to cool off. NOTE:IF U NEED A/C USE IT,SPARINGLY IF POSSIBLE. IF U DON'T need it(more $$in your pocket).Everyone has different needs.Hope that we can all do it with a GREEN CONSCIENCE :) For those of us in the drought areas,if u can handle the heat, please check on those who can't.
danielle picture
I live in a one-room apartment in Washington, DC. For the most part, the fans (including a window fan) keep me fairly cool. But I'm not closing the windows. I need that fresh air. I used to have utilities included in my rent, but that is changing. Don't know if that will include a/c, but even if it does, I'll only use it on the hottest days.
jeannev picture
I forgot to mention that people do die (literally) from the heat. The elderly and infants as well as those with certain chronic diseases are particularly vulnerable. Fans and fluids help, but can't always do enough. It's easier to become over heated than many realize. As a nurse, I would warn the older couple in Florida to be careful.
jeannev picture
I grew up in Savannah, Ga without A/C. We used many of the methods mentioned to try to be comfortable, but there were days you could barely move and nights you just couldn't sleep due to the heat and humidity. We also have problems with mold and mildew from the high humidity, so A/C is a basic necessity here. We now keep our A/C on 79 -80 when we are home, higher when we're out. Still, I would love to spend summers in VT and other northern states!
Sheryl Hart picture
Sheryl Hart
I live in the old farmhouse that was my grandparents. I do what my grandmother did; close the windows, pull the drapes. She had an advantage. The two huge horse chestnut trees hadn't started to lift the foundation yet, so hadn't been cut down. It's all in what you are used to. Baling hay in 90 degree weather with 80% humidity is no fun, but ya do what ya gotta do.
rubicon picture
While at a military academy, where we had to endure many long formations and parades in the hot sun, I learned to put my underthings in the refrigerator or freezer. Also, we would wet a washcloth, freeze it, then wear it under our hats to give us temporary relief.
Pamela picture
I use ice packs like these ( to ice my back (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off). You can use it while sitting at home or in the car, and use a belt to keep it on if you need to move around. I also keep most of my hair wet and put it in a bun. I use a spray bottle to rewet my hair throughout the day. It really helps to keep cool. The ice packs are also great to keep water bottles & spray bottles cool in an insulated cooler in your car.
the Inkslinger picture
the Inkslinger
Just to clarify the thought in my post that using a little extra H2O "is okay around here because water isn't in short supply"... I do understand the concerns that we live share a single planet and that fresh water on that world is a finite resource in increasingly limited overall supply. There's no question that when you look at the world and its total water supply in sum, you quickly realize there's scarcely enough to go around. But there's also no question that there are no pipelines in Vermont carrying our frequent surpluses to more needful areas. There aren't any tankers in our watersheds sucking up the excess and shipping it to thirsty nations. There aren't even any significant bottling operations. Most if not all of the water that falls here stays here or simply makes its way through other similarly wet regions to the sea. My situation is a perfect example. Where I live, we are literally awash in water. Until quite recently, my yard was flooded, new waterfalls had formed on the bank behind my house, my wellhead was actually overflowing in high-pressure jet, and there were literally hundreds and hundreds of gallons a minute flowing off the mountain here that weren't going any place but Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River, and ultimately the Atlantic, unless I sent them through my tap first. Watershed specifics aside, this is the case in most areas of the country if not the world. Until and unless we engineer the systems and the infrastructure needed to move mass amounts of water from region to region and nation to nation, water use and supply will, for all practical purposes, remain a largely regional issue except where rivers systems like the Colorado and the Mississippi carry water across vast distances. Since my area lacks those systems, as do many parts of the country, we exist in a kind of water vacuum as far as the rest of the world is concerned. What happens in Vermont's watersheds—drought or drenched—has little or no impact on watersheds or water supplies outside our amply wet region. And since most Vermonters get their water from private wells that draw on our current vast surplus (vs. a municipal water system that could potentially be overtaxed), I think it's perfectly okay for people in my situation to use a little extra water without any guilt or greed being involved. Unlike trees in the Amazon or rivers in Texas, there's no danger whatsoever of us running out of water here, and there are no global or national impacts created by Vermonters like me using more than we might otherwise on a hot summer day. It's always good to practice conservation in all things and be mindful of any natural resource we consume, and Vermonters generally are extremely conscious about such things. But in our case up here, at least where water is concerned at this point, we don't need to go overboard and worry to the point of personal sacrifice about conserving an ample resource that is being constantly renewed to the point of excess, one that we are presently simply unable to share with the rest of the world no matter how much we wish we could.
kim at build that green picture
kim at build that green
Is your roof dirty or dark colored? The color of your roof makes a big difference to how cool your house is inside. That's because radiant solar heat is drilling through your attic. A dark roof can reach 150 to 190 degrees in the afternoon sun. Maybe consider cleaning it - It's never too late. Also, shade is critical to preventing extreme heat gain of your roof and siding outside. Plan ahead for future years and protect (or plant) shade trees on the south and west of your house. It makes a big difference. These ideas came from this video
1potato2 picture
We need to put this in perspective. For 99.99% of human history, there was no air conditioning in any part of the world, yet we still survived. What has changed is US. We've become spoiled and careless. With A/C on, you feel uncomfortable when you go outside or in an un-airconditioned space. Your body gets used to that, so the heat bothers you more. It's a vicious cycle. What's worse is that A/C means you never have to think--if you allow yourself to get used to that, you lose the culture of knowing how to survive without it. You have to be willing to make an effort to pay attention to what's going on inside and outside your house, and think ahead. We have a big advantage over our ancestors because we have pretty accurate weather forecasts that allow us to prepare for a hot day or two coming up. What we have lost is the will to do it! I'm really impressed that many Japanese are going without A/C this summer, and offices are setting the A/C in the 80's--and if you've ever spent a summer in Japan,you know what a tropical jungle feels like. If they can do it, no one can tell me the hottest regions of this country cannot.
dwolfe919 picture
We have a whole house fan...through the day the windows stay shut and shades are down. At night or early evening when temperatures start to drop we open the windows and turn on the fan. It sucks in the cooler air and pushes the hot air out the attic vents (also cools down attic too). On average the temp inside doesnt go above 80 (thru the day) but we still have humidity. (Thats the killer.) We can generally get the inside temp down to 72 before morning as long as the outside temp isn't too extreme. One night it never went down past 77 and that wasn't a good night or good day. We do have a/c window units but haven't felt the need to put them in. I feel sorry for those in the high climate areas...I would use air too.
t4cmanning picture
Please be advised that many people have died with the "trap the cool air" system. Closing the windows to keep the hot air out.
You have some good ideas but living here in South Florida, we would die without a/c. Last year, I was pregnant for the summer. The only time I was outside is if I was in the pool. I would have killed somebody if I didnt have a/c so it not only saved my life but the lives of everyone around me. If you have been listening to the weather and news, Florida is in such a drought, we have wildfires burning up the entire state right now. Water is in short supply here. When I lived in NY, a/c wasnt a big deal. Hardly anyone had a/c. We didnt have it but we lived by the water so we always had a breeze.
emetter picture
I'd urge anyone in an arid or semi-arid state to buy/install a swamp cooler. They only work in non-humid climates (like my home state of Colorado.) They use little resources (akin to a fan and just a little water) and FEEL like an air conditioner. Much less expensive to run than AC, too. A window unit will do though one on the roof with pipes leading in is heaven.
kitten19433 picture
Folks we have not had a day below 100 ... seems like since spring started in March. It has been so hot that without A/C we would all die. I do keep it at 80 -- but without it life would not exist. We do not have basements - when we lived in Milwaukee, WI we did not have A/C and yes we spent the summer in the basement. Oh well ... IF - and again I stress IF ... U think this summer is hot ... just think of how hot it will be if you go to Hell. For me and my family I am going to be with my savior. Praise the Lord ... he will have the temp the same all year long. We will all be dancing and praising him with family and friends.
MotherLodeBeth picture
Am thinking of our 100+ heat all summer into October and friends in AZ where they have 115* temps now and for weeks to come and I envy those in cool non 100* states like NH, VT etc.
AISHA picture
I lived in an apartment for nearly two years in Houston without A/C, it was fine, I just turned on the ceiling fan and put heavy duty shades on my windows. It helps to lose extra body fat that's keeping you warm all the time, and drink lots of water.
mllechefruth picture
As much as I love the idea of not using A/C and just using water to cool off, it really doesn't work in Texas. We really haven't had any rain, so we have to conserve water. It so cute to hear in other states in the country that A/C can actually be optional. But in Texas we have hot weather 10 months out of the year, well mainly in Houston. Keep up the good work though.
Jamisonsue picture
I have 3 words. Pregnant. Texas. Summer. It's either inside in the A/C or in the pool, those are the only options :)
dan13476 picture
I enjoyed the article as so many people do over use ac. My Uncle has his set to come on hours before anyone even wakes up. But I did take offense to the water comment. We live on one planet and the "we have plenty of [insert resource] around here so I don't have to be sustainable" is what has caused the problems in the first place. Why do you think people in developing countries are cutting down rainforest? Because as far as they can see there are trees everywhere and they need money. It is exactly that attitude that needs to change everywhere if we are going to make a real difference on this planet that we all share.
browen picture
Humidity in parts of Michigan is the real killer. We use air on humid days, but keep it set at 78-80 to lower the humidity. When the humidity is 80% and above, there is so much moisture in the air that applying water to your skin can't evaporate off your skin to cool you. Otherwise we just deal with the heat. I remember driving in the car when I was young and we had no air. You felt like dying at the red lights; just couldn't wait for dad to take off so the breeze would come through the window. But, we survived.
benelux2000 picture
NO A/C here! I use fans in every room! My landlord could have helped by putting a solar panel on the AC but he didn't want to spend the cash. I decided to buy fans and stop wasting money for A/C. It gets 120F in the summer months, but I'm just cool enough with my fans. I don't do anything with water or anything. I also love cold showers and just taking a damp towel and putting it in my shirt back. I learned that trick in East Asia. I don't see why everyone is saying this is a ridiculous idea. Many warm countries don't have A/C and they use these very simple methods to keep cool. We have just become accustomed to having luxury and it's killing our planet.
patcat picture
We came to Florida from Vermont because much as we love VT, now that we are in our 80s the Vt. winters don't love us anymore. But... with the entire nation colored orange on the temperature maps... here in Florida air conditioning is a must. However, when we emailed our VT. children, especially the "greenest" one who teaches ecology etc. and told her we have our thermostat set at 84 and have 6 fans and feel cool as cucumbers, making our AC costs less than $2.00 a day, even here in Florida where energy costs are high, she didn't believe us. Here is how we do it. At around 10 p.m. we turn off the AC and open the windows. The night temp ranges between 78 and 82, "liveable" temps, so we even cool the house from daytime temps. We run 2 overhead fans pointed upward, and 4 personal fans on low all day. At night we only keep on the overhead fans. At sunup we close the windows and turn on the AC set at 84 AND STAY COOL ALL DAY.
mochaspice picture
Rain water, baby, rain water (and grey water). :)
mochaspice picture
"fresh water is a limited resource on this planet, and it is irresponsible and NOT environmentally friendly to waste it just to make yourself a bit more comfortable in the summer!!!" Ahhh, but no guilt here. We use water from our rain barrels, and we use grey water (water from bathing/ showering and washing clothes) for washing car, watering the garden. All is good.
Catherine_D picture
Giving an outline on how to live greener is noble and needed. However acting as the authority on the subject of decreasing/eliminating AC when you live in Vermont is silly and far from being the example for the rest of us. I live in Oklahoma. I'd like to see how long one would last here without AC. :) Just saying...
gingerwasabi picture
Thanks for the tips! I work for a Vermont company that makes window shades and have written a blog about my experience with the heat and how I use my shades! Check it out! Remember that skylights are one of the main entrances of summer heat into a house. Light filtering skylight shades allow you to retain some natural light and block solar gain in the summer and keep from losing heat in winter.
tallchick1966 picture
I'm smiling because I live in North Carolina, and the AC is one thing I will not give up (although I do try to live with the thermostat higher than most people). The heat and humidity here (84% today)lasts from May through October, so I will have to find other ways to be more environmentally friendly. Maybe a nice vacation in Vermont while I let my AC take a rest for a week? Sounds fabulous! Great ideas, though.
jgouthro79 picture
Relax about the water! I think he was just saying that since his family doesn't live in a drought-prone area, he doesn't feel guilty about using water as a more environmentally friendly cooling method. I concur!
jgouthro79 picture
But, sometimes its nice to just sit around and languish in the heat...Buy some rosewater to keep in the fridge, spritz all over and let the heat work miracles on your skin! Oh...and keep LOTS of plants in the house!
scwayne picture
I am really confused about your comment that water isn't in short supply. Eeven if you are not experiencing a shortage in your area, fresh water is a limited resource on this planet, and it is irresponsible and NOT environmentally friendly to waste it just to make yourself a bit more comfortable in the summer!!! I thought these tips were supposed to focus on sustainability!
NancyRose picture
I love the idea of putting frozen bottles between you and the fan. Never thought of that one. I've also walked around the house with a wet cloth around my neck. A friend of mine, who gets very hot, was moving to Florida. She bought one of this personal air conditioners that wraps around your neck. Never heard how this works out.
awakenedwellness picture
I remember watching the news the first time I traveled to North Carolina to visit my mom and step-dad, and was shocked to discover this thing called a Canadian cold front. You see, north of the border we call it an Arctic cold front, since that's where it originates. We just have to deal with it first (as we are today) before it heads south to our American friends :-). No wonder Americans think of Canada as a cold and wintery place! So, reading about the Canadian cold front in this article made me smile. We turn the fan on, from the central air, on hot summer days. It pushes the cooler air from the basement upstairs. We also make use of energy efficient ceiling fans - turning them on to provide a breeze while we are in the room, and then off again when we leave. And the kiddie pool in the back yard isn't just for the young ones. We made sure to buy a pool that was big enough we could all sit in it together to cool off on a hot summer evening.