How to Beat the Heat in without Air Conditioning

It is hot, very hot, all over the planet.

Here are a few examples:

  • The heat waves of 2021 have caused temperatures as high as 116 °F in Canada.
  • In the US, the Northwest is having a critical situation with people collapsing from hot weather.
  • Sodankyla, a town in Finnish Lapland just north of the Arctic Circle, which has an average annual temperature a little below freezing, recorded at 89.8°F, the highest since records began in 1908.
  • Wildfires have killed at least 80 people near Athens.
  • Sweden has suffered a rash of forest fires, sparked by unusually hot and dry weather.
  • Britain and the Netherlands look more parched than they did in 1976, one of the driest summers on record.
  • Some 80,000 hectares—197,684 acres—of forest are burning in Siberia.
  • Japan has declared its heatwave to be a natural disaster.

Extreme heat is dangerous to the human body.

Here are a few of its effects:

  • The effects of extreme heat on the body become more dangerous the longer the heat persists.
  • Acutely, heat can cause dehydration and heatstroke. Even mild dehydration has been linked to a range of effects on cognitive ability and mood.
  • Over the course of several days, extreme heat affects the functioning of the internal organs and puts extra strain on the cardiovascular system.
  • The kidneys, liver, heart, brain, and lungs are all affected by extreme heat, which can result in renal failure, heart attack, and stroke, among other potential causes of mortality.
  • Existing asthma, emphysema, or other lung disease conditions can be exacerbated by heat and pollution, potentially resulting in death.
  • According to the US National Institutes of Health, when the body’s natural cooling system—sweating—doesn’t cool you down, there’s an increased risk for heat-related illness hyperthermia, which leads to heat cramps, heat edema,  and heat stroke.

In the US, it is not uncommon to have air conditioning, which insulates us from the dangers of exposure to the heat. But even here, air conditioning is not universal, and in Europe where it is less common, the heat waves are catching entire countries unaware and unprepared. Of course, there are many places in the world where air conditioning doesn’t even exist and the effects on the body mentioned above are commonplace and disastrous.

What to do if you don’t have air conditioning 

Here are some ways to stay cool:

  • Take a cold shower or bath—This helps cool your body by lowering your core temperature. For an extra cool blast, try peppermint soap.
  • Use cold washrags on your neck or wrists—Place cold washrags or ice packs on your wrists or drape them around your neck to cool your body.
  • Use box fans—Place box fans facing out of the windows of rooms you’re spending time in to blow out hot air and replace it with cold air inside. If the weather in your area tends to fall between 50 and 70 °F in the mornings and evenings, opening the windows on both sides of the house during those times can facilitate a crossflow ventilation system. Just resting near a fan would reduce your body temperature as well.
  • Close your curtains or blinds—If you have windows that face the sun’s direction in the morning through afternoon, close the curtains or blinds over them to keep the sun from coming directly into the house and heating up the inside. You could also install blackout curtains to insulate the room and reduce temperature increases that would happen during the day.
  • Sleep in breathable linens—Cotton is one of the most breathable materials, so cotton sheets or blankets could help keep you cool through the night. The lower the thread count of the cotton, the more breathable it is. That’s because higher thread counts have more weaving per square inch.
  • Sleep in the basement—Try sleeping somewhere besides your bedroom if that’s an option. Heat rises, so if you have a lower or basement level in your home, set up a temporary sleeping area there to experience cooler temperatures at night.
  • Don’t refrigerate or freeze blankets or clothing—Because of the amount of energy they can absorb from your body that night, they will be warm in just a matter of minutes. And then you’d have damp bedding that would create mold in your mattress.
  • Close the doors of unused rooms—If no one’s using a room that doesn’t have vents or registers, close the door to that area to keep the cool air confined to only occupied areas of the house.
  • Use the exhaust fan in your kitchen and/or bathroom—Flip the switch for the exhaust fan in your kitchen to pull the hot air that rises after you cook or in your bathroom to draw out steam after your shower.
  • Install energy-efficient light bulbs—Incandescent light bulbs generate a higher temperature than LED light bulbs do. Slowly replace the bulbs in your house. Focus on switching the bulbs in areas you sit most often.  
  • Cook in the morning, with a slow cooker or outside—Oven heat can spread throughout your house. Keep the heat centralized in one area, such as a slow cooker. Or cook outdoors on a grill to keep the heat outside.
  • Enjoy frozen treats—Eating an ice pop or ice cream to cool down may help for a moment. But don’t go overboard on the sugar if you’re overheated or at risk of being overheated. Sugar would run your metabolism up and you’d start feeling internally hot.
  • Research what your state offers—Look online for any local programs that are offering ductless air conditioners. Some cooling centers—air-conditioned public facilities where people might go for relief during extremely hot weather—may be open and are a good alternative to becoming overheated in your home. Start by checking with your local utility offices, as they would know who is offering certain programs.
  • Drink Before You are Thirsty—When you are feeling thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. Therefore, drinking water constantly to stay hydrated is an important step to make sure we do not get affected by the heat.
  • Switch Up Lunch with Lighter Meals—If you know that you are going to be out in the sun that afternoon, try not to fill up your stomach with food that will need a lot of energy to digest. Instead, have balanced meals with enough protein and fiber to keep yourself balanced for the day.
  • Keep Your House Ventilated—Try to keep two windows, front and back, open if you are using a fan or not using any air conditioning. Keep the air in your house circulating by opening alternative windows that are vertically aligned or using a boxed or ceiling fan to keep the fresh cool wind flowing.

This is not an easy time, but climate scientists tell us it is not going to get any easier. Climate change, global warming—whatever we call it—is here. Evidence is all around us. The weather we have known in the past is neither today’s weather nor what we can expect in the future. There are parts of the world that are expected to become uninhabitable. We will have to learn to adjust to the “new normal” and keep ourselves cool. The above suggestions are a way to begin.