The Frugalite’s Guide to Surviving Without Air Conditioning

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you’ll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course


It’s that time of year again. The mercury is climbing and staying there, way up at the top of the thermometer. But running an air conditioner at full blast to combat the heat can be very expensive, and for those of us on a budget, the resulting bill can be crippling.

So what can you do when the heat is on, while still maintaining a reasonable electric bill? These simple tips can help a Frugalite like you keep your cool on even the hottest day.

Avoid heating up your house.

Many of the things that we do without thinking are unconsciously adding 5-10 degrees of heat to an already uncomfortably warm house. In the hottest part of the year, I avoid running certain appliances. Some folks say to run those heat-creating appliances at night, but I depend on the cool nighttime temperatures to bring my home down to a comfortable level for the next day.

In the summer, avoid or limit your use of the following:

  • Dryer: Make use of the hot sun and hang your laundry outside. Not only will you have fresh, clean smelling laundry that no dryer sheet can top, it’s free and it won’t warm up your house! If you have a small yard, look at these space-saving umbrella style clotheslines. If you live in an apartment, these inexpensive drying racks will fit on a balcony and fold right up for easy storage when they aren’t in use.
  • Washer: Washing machines can also generate a great deal of heat and humidity, particularly if you wash your clothing in hot water. If at all possible, wash your laundry in cold water during the hottest parts of the year.
  • Oven: Rely on outdoor cooking methods,(solar cookers or barbecues) or if that isn’t an option, use your slow cooker. (Click HERE to learn more about hot-weather cooking methods)
  • Dishwasher: Think about how hot the dishes are if you reach in the second the dishwasher is finished running to grab a plate. Now, consider how much heat that adds to your house! It is much more efficient to wash your dishes by hand in the summer. A sink full of soapy water and one full of rinse water will add far fewer degrees to the temperature of your house. (Rinse water does not have to be hot, either.)
  • Lighting: Some bulbs, particularly halogen bulbs, generate a great deal of heat. If a light bulb is hot to the touch, it’s adding to the temperature of your house. Look into LED bulbs or compact fluorescent lights to keep your home cooler.

Cool it down naturally.

Air conditioning is a fairly recent invention. It is only in the past few decades that most people decided that air conditioning was a “necessity.” Unfortunately now, most houses are built without consideration for natural cooling. If a new home is being built, chances are, it will have central air conditioning. While this is a nice perk, it’s important to note that in the midst of a power outage, these houses with stunning floor to ceiling windows are going to be hotter than blue blazes. Older homes have a lot of advantages over their newer counterparts when it comes to cooling them without air conditioning.

Houses that are 100+ years old are often perfectly comfortable in all but the very hottest of weather. The windows are placed across from one another throughout the homes, for optimum cooling and cross-breezes.

Here’s the technique that keeps our home pleasant when the mercury climbs into the 90s:

  • As soon as it starts to cool down in the evening, I open all of the windows and blinds. There’s a ceiling fan in every room and those run all the time.
  • We also have some window fans which we turn on in the evening. These pulls in the lovely cool night air.
  • In the morning, the house is so cool that sometimes you need a hoodie during that first cup of coffee!
  • I then go around and close all of the windows and blinds. This keeps out the heat and keeps the house from passively warming up from the sun. (In the winter, I do the opposite of this in order to heat the house using the sun.) The ceiling fans continue to run all day and we have small oscillating fans to use in the rooms we are in.
  • Rarely does the temperature in my house ever rise about 85 degrees. That’s pretty warm but certainly not intolerable.

Evaporative cooling for humans

Here’s the thing – we have basically evolved ourselves right out of being able to cool ourselves down without the aid of an air conditioner. We go from an air-conditioned home to an air-conditioned car to spend the day in an air-conditioned office and have lunch at an air-conditioned restaurant. Then we drive our air-conditioned car back home, suffer through perhaps 20-30 minutes of necessary outdoor work, and then go in, gasping for air, to cool off in front of another air conditioner.

Our bodies no longer know how to cool themselves because they never have to do so. We’re sort of like those cave fish that never experience light, so they evolved to no longer have eyeballs. We suffer far more in the heat than previous generations ever did because we never allow our bodies’ cooling mechanisms to be used. That’s why my family has dramatically reduced our use of the air conditioner. Think about it: what would happen in a long-term grid-down scenario? People will drop like flies of heat-related illnesses.

But you can train your body to tolerate heat again.

A good friend of mine lives in the desert and has no air conditioning. It regularly gets to 110 degrees in his home and he is barely affected. That’s because his body’s cooling system is efficient – he uses it on a regular basis

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have many other friends who do not tolerate heat well at all. (I used to be one of those people myself, but while I definitely prefer cooler temperatures, I have managed to recondition my body to withstand hot weather with less discomfort.)

I’m not suggesting that you go run a marathon in the midst of a heatwave or endure 110-degree weather with nothing but an oscillating fan. But don’t be afraid to sweat a little.

There’s a very good reason that people need to stop being so uncomfortable with sweat. Sweat is the human body’s evaporative cooling system.  Here’s the rundown on how the human body cools itself from an article called “The Physics of Sweating”:

When we sweat, our skin and clothing become covered with water. If the atmospheric humidity is low, this water evaporates easily. The heat energy needed to evaporate the water comes from our bodies. So this evaporation cools our bodies, which have too much heat. For the same reason splashing water on ourselves when it is hot feels good. Being wet during cold weather, however can excessively chill us because of this same evaporation effect…

When it is very humid, our sweat does not evaporate as easily. With the body’s primary cooling process not working efficiently, we feel hotter. That is why a hot humid day is more uncomfortable than a hot dry day…

Despite the fact that sweating can make us feel unpleasantly sticky, the principles of thermal physics make sweating a very important mechanism for cooling the body in hot weather. (source)

So, by allowing yourself to get hot and letting your body cool itself, you can build up a tolerance to the heat. By avoiding heat and sticking to chilly air-conditioned rooms, you will be far more uncomfortable in a situation in which air conditioning is not available.

When the grid fails…

air conditioner

Speaking of those times when air conditioning is not available…what can you do if the power goes out during the biggest heat wave of the summer?

The situation that comes to mind is the Derecho storms that struck metro DC in 2012. The power was out for a week in the midst of a terrible heatwave and quite a few people died from heat-related ailments. Many others were sick, suffering from heat exhaustion and heat strokes, and millions of others were miserably uncomfortable. As mentioned above, homes really aren’t built to be cooled without air conditioning anymore, and humans aren’t used to letting their bodies cool themselves.

Go here to learn some strategies to help you cool off when you can’t run fans or your air conditioner.

How do you keep your cool without an air conditioner?

Do you have air conditioning at your home? Do you run it all the time? What are some techniques that you use to keep cool in hot weather?

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.

Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at SelfRelianceand You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Frugalite\'s Guide to Surviving Without Air Conditioning
Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is an author and blogger. She's the single mom of two daughters and credits extreme frugality and a good sense of humor for her debt-free lifestyle. She is the author of numerous books, the editor of, and is the founder of a small digital publishing company in the emergency preparedness niche.

9 thoughts on “The Frugalite’s Guide to Surviving Without Air Conditioning”

  1. I don’t use my oven during warm weather but I sometimes need an oven, so I use my toaster oven. It doesn’t add heat like a full size oven (uses less electricity, too!).

  2. Making a dirt cheap (and globally portable) solar panel cooker is easy once you see the various [how to make and use] videos on YouTube. Just run a search on “Copenhagen Solar Cooker” to pull up many how-to videos. Aluminum foil (the shiny side), cardboard or coroplast, spray glue, some shoe-strings (or better, strips of velcro cut to about 2X the shoe-string width) are your ultra-cheap parts.

    Washing clothes by hand in cold water with compatible detergent (like ALL from Walmart, or a DIY equivalent easily found online) saves on power and lengthens the life of your fabrics. [I’ve even bought a few clothes lately that surprised me at home with instructions that they are to washed ONLY in cold water.] While the really cheap laundry tools are a plumber’s helper and a 5-gallon bucket, there are plenty of fancier manual non-electric clothes washers on Amazon to offer you some interesting choices..

    Native Americans lived in North America long before it was named America and long before they were misnamed as Indians. I have a few of their flint arrowheads found in nearby farm fields left after Spanish explorers shot up one of their villages about 1600. They dressed in much less clothing in summertime than our Christian customs dictate and piled on the animal skins in sub-freezing winters as needed — during thousands of years of no electricity.

    Today we have a much wider range of fabrics to choose from. Some of them work really well to dip into water, then squeeze out whatever drips, and then sling over your neck and shoulders for evaporative cooling.

    The LUCI brand of solar lights (rechargeable by either sunlight or USB connection) are highly portable and not dependent on the power grid working. Charge them in daytime and then use them at night. Rinse and repeat the following days. I don’t feel any heat from them when in use.

    I grew up in a farm house built about 1900 which was perfectly comfortable with only fans and open screened windows in the summertime.


  3. I live in a third floor apartment, no a.c., above a parking lot. I run my fan in the window at night and close the window in the daytime. I also have heavy blackout curtains. I look at the temp and then I figure out my cooking methods. The crockpot is often used overnight. As well, I’ll eat/drink more cold items during hot weather.

  4. Our air conditioner has been on the fritz for more than a month. We have been doing all the mentioned tips above. I have been taking the laundry to the laundry mat for washing then hanging when I get home.
    One tip that we have been doing is using a wet cloth at night to help with the evaporation.

  5. If you are going to use a crockpot, air fryer, deep fryer, etc. use an extension cord and run the appliance outside.

  6. I close the windows & doors on the east side of the house in the morning; & open those on the west side. Then about 1 PM I reverse the order. Helps keep the inside much cooler. I use a couple of box fans for cooling. About 30 minutes before bed, I put the fans in the windows blowing out, to vent the warmer inside air. Then when I’m ready for bed, reverse the fans. Has kept me cool for over 11 years now.

  7. Never lived in a house with A/C until I was almost 40. Good windows, proper duct work, and insulation are key. I shut down the house before the humidity sets in – usually at least 24 hours before the A/C kicks in, some times longer. Backup power system won’t handle the A/C so push came to shove, into the basement time.
    Half the battle is not generating additional heat during the day. And keeping one’s weight down also helps.

  8. Completely agreed about the ability to restore your natural cooling abilities! There’s another piece to this puzzle that can really help also, and that’s diet. When I’m eating fewer calories than I burn, I usually don’t overheat as easily. So, eating lighter foods helps a LOT. You know how some foods just warm you up inside? It’s a good idea to avoid those. Salads, spicy foods, lots of fruit, lots of water, those can all help more than a person might expect.

    Great article! Thank you!

  9. I’ve lived many different places in the US without AC, from the CA Bay Area to the deep South to central FL to the upper Midwest. Wear breathable fabrics, run cool water over your head, back of the neck, armpits and wrists when you start to overheat, close the house in the am and open as it cools at night, run fans as you describe, and an old fashioned remedy is to put a block of ice in a washtub behind a running fan. And don’t expect to work outside between noon and 4 pm. Plenty to do inside.

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