How to Keep Cool With No Air Conditioning

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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 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, but it’s also free and it won’t warm up your house! If you have a small yard, look at one of those space-saving umbrella style clotheslines. If you live in an apartment, grab some of those inexpensive drying racks – they 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.
  • 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 lightbulb is hot to the touch, it’s adding to the temperature of your house. Look into LED bulbs or compact fluorescents 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 pull 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.

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.

How do you keep your cool?

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?

How to Keep Cool With No 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.

12 thoughts on “How to Keep Cool With No Air Conditioning”

  1. Mom and dad never had air conditioning when I was growing up. And I never had ac. Till about 20 year ago.i use to work on a roof or framing a house get in my truck with no ac. Go home to a house with no ac. But in the past 20 years I can’t weight to get done working and get in my truck with ac. And come home to my 70 degree house. It’s amazing what you get used to. Sometimes I think back and just wonder how I used to do it.

    1. wandakate robinson

      YES, me too. And you wrote…It’s amazing what you get used to…Imagine no power and NO internet, or television…OH how we want our electronics and our technology these days. I think if we have an EMP how will I keep my sanity. It would be very difficult to imagine NO computer and NO emails at all, no google hangouts either, no phones no way to communicate unless you have a ham radio. I am hearing impaired so for me and thousands of others it would be super difficult to get by not even being able to hear the radio. OMG, scary thoughts. And without AC breathing on days that are in the high 80’s and 90’s would certainly be very uncomfortable. In the winter months if you have no power your thermostat will not adjust to anything (just won’t work) so even if you have gas or propane heat you will have nothing coming out of the vents…so lots of covers, coats, mittens, hats will be needed for who knows how long…Preparation is the key…Your generators will only last so long ands the propane heaters or kerosene ones will eventually run out of propane canisters and kerosene, then what?????

  2. You touched on the cross-breezes. Might I refine that just a little?

    Take a lesson from the fire department. When they “ventilate” a building during a house fire, the goal is to make it as cool as possible for the firefighters inside who are wearing LOTS of heavy protective gear and working on a fire that may be 12-1500 degrees. Typically, they will cut a hole in the roof to let heat out (heat rises), so perhaps an attic fan will help in non-emergency situations. I had one in a house I lived in and it was amazing what a breeze it created while heat was pulled up and out.

    Beyond that, the firefighters tend to open a window or door on one end of the house and then another on the other end. They may leave everything else closed so there is a really strong cross-breeze – aided by fans. Think of a horizontal chimney – cooler air in one side – running through the house and exiting hot out the other side.

    Last thing: Heat rises and cool goes down – therefore, lower levels of the house are usually cooler.

  3. Buy a rechargeable battery operated a/c unit for extreme heat, otherwise go to basement if you have one and the suggestion above (depending on where you live), is great to sleep well with cool air, then close it off once the sun comes out.

  4. I use the furnace’s fan to bring cool basement air up, open windows and blinds at night/close them in the morning, have overhead fans in each room to use separately when I am in the particular room. A box fan in a window to create a cross breeze on really hot days/nights. Taking a quick cold shower can lower core body temps. A sharing/kind neighbor’s pool cools me down too. And always wear thin 100% cotton! T shirts are a knit…..way hotter!

  5. Also doing things like yard work in the morning is far better than trying to do so in the heat! And remember the siesta-work in the morning and evening, sleep during the hottest part of the day.

    Sorry but AC was on my must-have list when I bought my house! But with everything going up in price, I’m looking at ways to increase efficiency, ie cooking outdoors. That’s what was done in my grandmother’s day.

  6. Living in a very humid region of Texas, with night time lows of 75 to 80 degrees with 70 to 80% humidity, the above method is not sufficient. I grew up in a house that had window fans as cooling and that was it. One of the best methods was to cool down your core temperature at the end of a hot day. Immersion or a cold shower with only well water from deep underground to reduce your core temp to the point you nearly shiver or swim in a deep slow flowing creek this shaded. I have seen the lips of some kids trun blue doing this. Then do nothing strenuous after this til sleeping time. CLIMATIZING is the only way as your article says.

    1. Bill in Houston

      Precisely. Cold drinks are also a help.

      My wife’s parents lived in a house without air conditioning just north of Houston. They had an attic fan to draw air through. Cooled the place down nicely at night.

      My first week back in Houston. July of ’88. I had no power because it was a holiday weekend when I moved in. Back then power was turned on manually. I didn’t get power until July 7th because HL&P were inept. I was in an upstairs apartment. I kept the windows open at night, when it was still 88 degrees at 10PM. I had a cooler with ice that got replenished daily. One window open during the day, but curtains drawn.

  7. I recently tried a small swamp cooler (brand name is “Arctic Air Chill” or something like that). You freeze the air filter after soaking it in water, and also put ice water in the tank on top of the machine. In climates such as the desert, it does help lower the temperature somewhat for a diameter of about 20 feet. The hotter and drier the climate, the better it works. Not good for humid areas.

  8. I’ve always been all about this kind of cooling of our home, but after starting a food pantry, I worry about keeping our stored food cool. Do you do anything special for cooling your long term food storage room/space, or is it all ok despite the rise to 85ish degrees? Thank you!

    1. We have built a cold room with R 19 insulation in the walls. Living in the high desert a small A/C unit keeps summer interior temps at 64 degrees. I have lined the west wall with Styrofoam for extra insulation which I’m hoping helps during grid down. We lost power last night for 6 hours, after a heavy storm. It helped that power stopped at dinner time and that the storm cooled the air from 103 to 73, but the room was at least cool for that long and I did not open the door.
      I keep dried food on that wall and canned meat and dairy and oils on the floor and bottom shelves on opposite wall.

  9. Yes, it would be nice to leave your windows open at night to get all the cool air, but where did you say you lived? lol Just kidding, there’s no way I can leave my windows open at night ! it would be too dangerous.

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