How to Ditch Your Air Conditioner Without Melting

During the summer of 2015—one of the hottest summers in recorded history—I went without air conditioning.

I don’t say this to brag: the decision was made mostly out of laziness. At the time, I was living in an apartment with big, beautiful casement windows. Big, beautiful casement windows that required a special air conditioner—one that, at least according to my Google research into the cost—was apparently hand-chiseled from Italian marble and installed by unicorns.

I hemmed and hawed. I spent weeks scouring Craigslist for a used (cheaper) model, finding it hard to justify the cost of a new one when I wasn’t sure how long I’d live in that apartment. I put off the purchase. And every day that I put it off, it got hotter. And every day, I dealt with it—until, out of nowhere, the weather cooled and fall was in full swing. I had survived! I had prevailed! I had done what no one else had done (well, except for about a third of U.S. households).

So how did I do it? Glad you I asked. Here’s how you can survive the summer without air conditioning and be smug about it just like me:

Draw the curtains.

Your plants may enjoy the sunlight streaming through the windows, but if you want to cool off, close your curtains. And make sure you choose the right ones: medium-colored draperies with white-plastic backings can reduce heat gains by 33 percent.

Close the blinds. 

Yes, between the drawn curtains and the shut blinds, you’ll probably feel a little bit like you’ve been cast in a movie about an old, hunchbacked ghost who lives in an attic. But when closed and lowered, highly reflective blinds can reduce heat gains by 45 percent.

Go DIY

Take a tip from those living in the Arizona desert in the 1920s—to get relief from the heat, people would soak sheets in water and hang them inside the windows, relying on fans to pull air in through the damp fabric, cooling the room.

Stock your freezer.

Shove those bagel bites out of the way, and make room for your undies, pajamas and sheets. Sure, the cooling effect isn’t long-lasting, but it is powerful. Putting them on after a cold shower? Even better.

Pick the right pillow.

Not only do buckwheat hull pillows offer great neck support, the hulls have air space between them that help circulate air without trapping your body heat like regular pillows.

Fan out.

In addition to setting up your fans to create a cross-breeze, some swear by getting creative with ice. The trick? Fill a large bowl with ice cubes or ice packs and place it in front of a powerful fan—the air will whip off the ice for an extra chilly effect.

Check the ceiling.

If you have ceiling fans, a small adjustment can make a big difference: most have a counterclockwise option, which creates more air movement in the center of the room, creating a much-needed breeze effect.

Find your pulse.

“Blood near the surface of your skin can transfer heat into the surrounding atmosphere, and it circulates back a bit cooler than it was before,” Stephen Cheung, Canada Research Chair in environmental ergonomics at Brock University in Ontario, tells CBC News. “The blood vessels open near the skin and that allows us to cool down deeper tissues throughout the body.” Apply ice cubes or ice packs to your head, neck and wrists to cool off in minutes.

Switch out your bulbs.

If you haven’t made the leap from incandescent bulbs to CFLs, now might be a good  time—incandescent light bulbs waste 90 percent of their energy in the heat they give off.

Of course, when you’re forgoing air conditioning, stay aware. If you have pets or live with older family members, keep in mind that they may not have the same tolerance for heat. Happy cooling!

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238 comments

Carl R
Carl Ryesterday

Thanks!!!

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Kay M
Kay Myesterday

Good evening and thank you for this article - boy do we need it now - with this heat wave- clothes in the freezer wet sheets on the windows - ice on the skin - these are new ones- will try them- right now we still have air - but when the power grind is over burdened -and crashes -we will need these tips to survive until the power comes back on -sincerely KAY M.

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Doris F
Doris F4 days ago

thank you for tipps

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LF F
LF F8 days ago

Thought I'd let ya know. It was 97 degrees today and has been in the 90s for us. Soon we will have 100s and who knows for how many days in our area. A/C is essential in some areas, one reason--we live longer than pioneers because our bodies don't succumb to the elements.

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Jetana A
Jetana A8 days ago

No a/c, low desert. But please, it's ridiculous to put undies in the freezer! Just don't wear any. In fact, a light weight, loose fitting, natural fiber dress and nothing else lets you fan the sweaty areas. The one thing I really agree with in this article is the buckwheat pillow, which is not only cooler but more supportive.

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Peggy B
Peggy B8 days ago

Noted

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Carl R
Carl R9 days ago

Thanks!!!!

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Margie F
Margie F9 days ago

I dont like air conditioners. There are ways of getting by without them. What was done 100 years ago?

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Danuta W
Danuta W9 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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rosario p
rosario p9 days ago

If you have pets observe where they lay down , that is the coolest place in your house. : -)) - Hot air rises (since it is less dense than cold air) so a layer is formed above the cool downward moving air, which goes to the lower part.It will be cooler the closer you are to ground level. Lie on the floor!!!

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