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If it’s really hot out and you want to stay cool, you need an air conditioner. There’s no getting around that, and you’d want to keep your home at optimal temperatures while using the least amount of energy.
But if you don’t have an AC, can’t install one, or want to reduce AC usage as much as possible, then you’ll be happy to know that options do exist for staying cool.
Just remember to temper your expectations. If it’s 100F outside, these methods won’t bring your house down to 75F. But if you’re okay with a livable temperature (as opposed to a comfortable temperature), then you’ll find these alternative solutions useful.
1. Increase Air Circulation
Window fans are your best friend when air conditioning isn’t an option. They don’t cost very much, they don’t use much energy (a few dollars per year), and they can be surprisingly effective at bringing down temperatures.
These days, you’ll want to spend at least $50 on a window fan. If you go much lower than that, you’ll likely end up with a loud hunk of plastic that’ll annoy, frustrate, and soon break down. Trust me, a reasonably quiet fan is worth the extra few dollars!
Other reasons to buy a mid-range window fan:
- Dual fans: Some of the cheaper models are basically miniature box fans that are too small to circulate enough air. A good window fan has at least two side-by-side fans.
- Reversible airflow: Make sure you get a window fan that can reverse directions with the flick of a switch. Sometimes you’ll want to suck in cool air, sometimes you’ll want to expel hot air. You don’t want to flip the entire unit just to switch directions, do you?
- Multiple fan speeds: Although a one-speed fan can be fine if it’s powerful enough, some days may fare just fine with a slower speed. It’s nice to have that flexibility.
- Remote control: Not a necessary feature, but certainly useful on hot days when you want to tweak the fan settings without constantly getting up and moving around.
- Durability: Buying one $50 fan every five to eight years is better than replacing a quick-to-break-down $20 fan every summer.
Using a Window Fan Properly
The best way to use a window fan depends on the situation.
If you only need to cool a single small room, and if the air outside is cooler than inside, then close the door and blow inwards. Not only will the cool air bring down inside temperature, the circulation will promote evaporation and cool your body down further.
If you need to cool down multiple rooms, then close all windows except one and blow outwards. Ideally, the window fan should be set up on one end of your home, and the open window should be on the opposite side of your home.
When a window fan blows air outwards, it reduces air pressure in that room almost like a vacuum. Air from elsewhere in your home rushes in to equalize the room’s pressure imbalance, then air from outside rushes in to equalize your home’s pressure imbalance.
In other words, blowing air out of one end causes air to be sucked in through the other end, creating circulation through your entire home.
You can add additional window fans to the mix as long as you make sure to maintain a single flow of air throughout the home. All the fans on one end should be sucking in, and all the fans on the other end should be blowing out. If you mix the flow, the warm air will stay trapped inside.
If you live in a multi-story home: Set inward-blowing fans on the lower level and outward-blowing fans on the upper level. Hot air naturally rises, and you don’t want to fight against that.
Stop and close all windows as soon as the outside temperature begins to rise. Hopefully your home is insulated enough that it will stay cool throughout the day, at least until the outside temperature drops again. Then you can reopen your windows and circulate again.
You Can Also Use Standing Fans
Standing fans are excellent when paired with air conditioners because they’re so good at circulating internal air. But if you have one and don’t want to buy a separate window fan, you can use it in a similar way.
Simply open two windows—one at each end of your home—and point your standing fan directly at one of them. Set it on highest power. This should push out enough air to create a pressure differential. If you have multiple standing fans, place them at chokepoint locations (e.g. a doorway) and use them to create a stronger one-directional flow.
Pro Tip #1: If you’re really hot and need immediate relief, take a cold shower and then stand in front of the fan. The evaporative effect will cool you down.
Pro Tip #2: Don’t have time to shower? Dunk your wrists (and feet) in a basin of cold water (or run them under the faucet) to pull heat from your veins and circulate cool blood through your body.
2. Humidity Control
Here’s something you may not have known: it’s not so much the heat that makes you uncomfortable as it is the humidity (the amount of water vapor in the air).
As humidity increases, it becomes harder for your sweat to evaporate. If sweat can’t evaporate, your body can’t regulate its temperature as well, so you feel clammy and hot. In fact, the difference between “normal” and “humid” air can make you feel up to 20 degrees hotter.
And not only is humidity is the reason why you feel uncomfortable, it can also cause health issues and property damage.
Is Your Home Too Humid?
Ideal humidity for summertime temperatures is somewhere between 45 and 55 percent. However, some people can still be comfortable with a humidity between 30 and 60 percent. Aim for 50 percent.
If you aren’t sure where your home falls, get a hygrometer (a thermometer for humidity). They’re very cheap—usually around $10—yet provide so much value. Humidity control is one of the best ways to maximize comfort, prevent mold growth, improve sleep, and mitigate property damage. It’ll pay for itself several times over in the long run.
What to Look for in a Dehumidifier
A dehumidifier is the fastest and most efficient way to reduce humidity and increase comfort. If your home is regularly above 50 percent humidity, you should consider getting one. If your home is regularly above 70 percent humidity, you need to get one.
Check out our guide to buying a dehumidifier for in-depth tips:
- Get a compressor dehumidifier. Dessicant and thermo-electric dehumidifiers are too slow for summertime home use.
- The “size” of a dehumidifier indicates how much water it pulls out of the air per day. It has no relation to its physical dimensions or tank capacity.
- Buy the largest dehumidifier you can afford. The larger it is, the faster it pulls out water. A fast dehumidifier means quicker comfort, less energy used, and longer lifespan.
3. Evaporative Cooling
Swamp cooler, desert cooler, and wet air cooler are all terms for the same device: an evaporative cooler. An evaporative cooler is basically an enclosed water basin with a fan built into the side.
When water evaporates, it does so by absorbing heat from the air and shifting states from liquid to gas. This causes the air above the water to drop in temperature. Blow out the chilled air, suck in ambient air, and you now have a mechanism for cooling down a room.
Commercial evaporative coolers are expensive—some can even cost more than an air conditioner! So we recommend trying a DIY solution first, which can be very cheap:
- Fill a large basin with lots of cold water and ice.
- Place it directly in front of a blowing fan.
You can make it more sophisticated by creating an actual box with a built-in fan and a way to dump the warm water and refill it with cold water and ice. But I’ll leave that up to you and your creativity.
A Big Caveat for Evaporative Cooling
Evaporation speed depends on humidity. If your home is already humid, the water in the evaporative cooler won’t evaporate as quickly, reducing its effectiveness by quite a bit.
Furthermore, the water in an evaporative cooler doesn’t just disappear—it ends up in the air itself. This means it adds to humidity, and humidity can actually make you feel hotter even as the temperature drops.
Therefore, evaporative cooling is best in dry climates, ideally deserts. As a rule of thumb, if your home is naturally under 40 percent humidity all the time, an evaporative cooler could be a viable solution. If your climate is extremely dry, the extra humidity might even help you sleep better.
4. Window Blinds or Curtains
In addition to reducing indoor temperature, you should do everything you can to prevent heat from entering your home. Unfortunately, the sun is a big and strong adversary, that’s not easily defeated.
If you want a cheap and easy solution, get thermal blackout curtains. These are curtains made of a material designed to block as much sunlight and heat as possible. Lighter colors are better than darker colors (white reflects light while black absorbs light).
Other Tips for Staying Cool in the Summer
Cold showers are great for cooling down, and they’re even better with the U by Moen smart shower. With it, you get perfect temperature control, smartphone notifications, and the ability to prepare, start, or pause the shower with an app.
Incandescent bulbs generate a lot of heat, so consider switching them out for cooler summer nights. While compact fluorescent bulbs are the standard, LED bulbs may actually be a better option.
Lastly, adequate water intake is crucial! Your body’s cells need to be well hydrated in order to regulate body temperature. And dehydration doesn’t just make you feel hotter—it can also lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
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