By Kim Robson:
I live in an off-grid community and rely wholly on solar power for my home, which means no air-conditioning. During the dog days of summer, it takes some creative solutions to beat the heat. We’ve already covered this topic before, here and here, but this time we’re going to highlight some different, unconventional techniques.
Make Your Fans Work Harder
Yeah, I know fans are an obvious choice. But there are tips that can make fans even more efficient:
First, if you have ceiling fans, make sure they’re turning the correct direction. There’s a little switch on the side of the fan’s body. Select clockwise rotation for the winter, which pulls warmer air collecting near the ceiling down to the center of the room. But in the summer, switch the blades to counter-clockwise rotation, so warm air is being sucked upwards, keeping cooler air down lower.
An attic fan is a fantastic investment for your home. As soon as the sun sets, you pull a little cord, and louvers in the ceiling (hallways are best) open up, revealing a horizontally mounted fan that vents out the roof. Open all the windows and doors, and the powerful fan sucks cool evening air through the house and vents hot air out through the roof. I swear, by midnight you’ll be shivering.
The Venturi effect is a fluid dynamic effect of air’s being cooled by making it flow through a narrow space. When the air expands again after leaving the constricted space, it is significantly cooler. People in Bangladesh use panels studded with the cut-off tops of plastic bottles to reduce indoor temperatures by as much as seven degrees Celsius. It’s not a pretty solution, especially from the outside, so here’s a way to apply the same principle to a fan:
The Evaporative Effect
If it’s not ridiculously humid where you are, water evaporation is your best friend. Wet t-shirts cool your skin, and you can even drape one over your torso at night. Another technique is to hang wet sheets over the windows where air is flowing in.
Try a hand-held water mister like this one. You can even put ice cubes in the water, or add refreshing essential oils like peppermint. They also make full-size oscillating misting fans. Better yet, if you have a backyard, patio, or even a balcony, invest in an outdoor misting system. They’re amazingly refreshing.
Even hanging out near a body of water has a cooling effect. So get thee to the ocean, a lake, a friend’s pool, or run through the sprinklers with your kids!
Work That Freezer
Freeze a few of those rigid gel-type ice packs and place them in windows with incoming airflow. As long as there’s a breeze coming in, the cold packs will cool the air and you.
Have pets home alone in the heat? Take a few empty two-liter soda bottles and fill them 3/4 from the top with water, replace caps and put them in your freezer. Before leaving for work in the morning, take the frozen water bottles out of the freezer and place them standing upright in a shallow bowl or saucer in cool areas like the bathroom. As the ice slowly melts, condensation will form on the outside and collect in the saucer. Your pets will lick the cold droplets off the bottle and lap the cold water in the saucer. They will also loll around the bottles just to feel the cool emanating from them.
We all know that staying hydrated is a key element to staying cool. Adding ice cubes makes everything more enticing (hello, iced chai tea in the morning!), plus it cools your core.
Keep the Sun Off the House
When the afternoon sun creeps up to the west-facing windows, we close the blinds, leaving the bottom six inches or so open. Then we also hang dark blue microfleece thermal curtains over that. Any breezes can still flow through the bottom, and the fleece blocks sunlight and heat from coming inside.
Better yet, invest in outdoor shades or patio awnings. By keeping the sun from hitting the windows in the first place, you’re way ahead of the game. Many models are retractable for wintertime, and standard (not custom) lengths are surprisingly affordable.
Reduce Heat Sources Inside the House
Turn off the lights. Even CFLs give off significant heat. And psychologically, a dim room just “feels” cooler somehow. Hustle the kids/guests/relatives/spouse outside if possible — every human body in the room gives off as much heat as a 100-watt incandescent light bulb!
Give the oven a vacation. Focus on healthy, nutritious meals that require zero cooking. Think spring rolls, tuna/chicken salad, caprese salad, hummus & veggies, shrimp cocktail, or cold gazpacho. If you do need to cook, use a backyard barbecue grill, or order takeout for delivery! Precooked whole chickens from the grocery store are another great way to feed the family without heating the house or breaking the bank.
Are You a Hot Sleeper? Bed Sweater?
There are a number of products on the market now that claim to help you sleep cooler. There are cooling mattresses with special ventilation and gel foam layers; cooling pillows filled with buckwheat, shredded latex, or cooling gel; and even cooling sheets utilizing breathable, moisture-wicking, natural fabrics. I have not tried any of these, so if you have, let us know your opinions in the comments.