Hot enough for ya? Tips for staying cool when it’s hotter than hell outside

This is an excerpt from my book, Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst Case Scenarios.

One of the most critical uses of electricity is staying cool in very hot weather. Our bodies can become quickly overheated, with young children and the elderly being most susceptible. I was in Chicago during one of its worst heat waves in 1995. Employees of the Hyatt Hotel where I was staying had to stand on the roof and hose down giant air-conditioning units with water in order to keep them running. In a matter of days, more than 700 people died because of this heat wave.

image by Liz Henry

How did our ancestors survive, then, without air conditioning? I’ve spent my entire life in the American Southwest, and as you might expect, I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to staying cool:
1. Keep spray bottles of water around and spritz faces and wrists to stay cool.
2. In the earliest morning hours, open windows to let in all that cool air. Be sure to close them again, along with all blinds and curtains, once the day begins to heat up.
3. Just before bedtime, spray bed sheets with plenty of water, aim a battery-powered fan toward your side of the bed, jump in, and go to sleep, quickly!
4. Wear bathing suits around the house.
5. If you’ll be outside, wet a bandanna, place a few ice cubes down the center, diagonally, roll it up, and tie it around your neck.
6. Check doors and windows for incoming warm air and install weather-stripping if necessary. This will do double duty in the winter, when cold air is the enemy. Duct tape can substitute for weatherstripping if you’re desperate.
7. Check the western exposure of your home. If you have windows that face west, check into inexpensive blinds from Home Depot or Lowe’s. Even aluminum foil taped over your windows (gasp!) can help keep your home cooler.
8. If you need to do outside chores, do them in the morning when the sun rises or even earlier.

9. If you must, douse your naked body with water and stand in front of a battery-operated fan. Stock up on these fans and make sure you have plenty of batteries—and please close the blinds!
10. Take a slightly warm bath, as long as there is water in the hot water heater. It will lower your body temperature, making you feel cooler longer once you get out of the tub.

image by Marc Fallardeau

11. Drink those 8 glasses of water per day.
12. Plant fast-growing shade trees, particularly on the west side of your home. If they provide shade for outside windows, so much the better. Shade = cool.
13. Most of the hot air that enters your home comes through the windows. Thermal curtains may be the solution if your home has lots of windows. If that’s not an option, try using pushpins to hang blankets over each window.
14. If you long to be outdoors, fill a kiddie pool with water, sit down, and relax. Be sure to wear sunscreen! When the water gets too warm to enjoy, use it to water the plants.
15. Don’t overexert yourself. Avoid working up a sweat, if possible. Save physical labor for the cooler parts of the day. Take a lesson from desert animals: They rest in the shade or underground during the day and come out at night.
16. Fill a tub with a few inches of water and dangle your feet in it while you read a book.

My friend, Debbie, is a fanatic about keeping her electric bills as low as possible in the summer, so she follows many of the tips above, but right around lunchtime, when the most intense heat is on its way, she and her kids head for cooler locations: the public library, movie theater, mall, a friend’s house, public swimming pool, etc.

Be aware of the signs of heatstroke:

  • Strong, rapid pulse
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

Stay cool!

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

© Copyright 2012 The Survival Mom, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Survival Mom
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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 5 years. Come join me on my journey to becoming more prepared to handle everyday emergencies and worst case scenarios.

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  1. says

    When I lived in Wyoming, we had a basement in our home. A great place to retreat to when it gets too hot or too cold because it’s always comfortable underground. Out here in Central California, basements are very rare.

  2. Cheryl says

    We went to Home Depot and bought a roll of foil bubble insulation. At home, we measured and cut it into pieces that fit each window. We labeled each piece with which window it fit using permanent marker. Our windows mostly have venetian blinds which hold the foil in place when they are lowered. The bubble foil blocks the heat much better than plain aluminum foil and is not very expensive. It can be rolled up for storage over the winter without taking up much space.

  3. Michelle says

    Back in Missouri we used rolls of plastic to cover our windows in the winter to keep the heat in, this works well for keeping it out also. Just gethin strips of cardboard to line the plastic edges as extra protection then use a staple gun and go crazy. you can tell its working when the plastic starts to puff from the air coming in around your windows. its not very pretty but works in a pinch.

  4. Stealth Spaniel says

    Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, you expect temps in the 100+ every summer. My mom also made sure the house was opened up by 5am and closed up by 11am. Her trick was wet bed sheets. She would soak white flat sheets and hang them at the windows and doors. Yes, it was drip, drip, drip. But we always had tile floors and it kept the house in the low 70’s. By 5pm, which always seems to be the worst as heat builds up to the breaking point, our house was always cool.

  5. JL says

    I live in middle TN, it has been Tucson hot here this week. People do not understand how important drinking water is and keeping an eye on the kids. Also going from hot cold hot cold can make you sick. We have a water restriction and burn ban here also, things we did in Tucson but people here are not used to.

  6. jeb says

    Loose-fitting all-cotton sweatshirts with sleeves cut to elbow-length or less and(repetitively) wet to a little less than dripping work in a dry climate. I drove comfortably down NorCal I-5 one Sept with the windows open for the evaporative cooling.

    The same approach works in humid climates as well but air movement is even more important.

  7. Charles says

    I have found that putting blue ice packs or ice cubes in a rag is good to have with you to cool your neck and wrists. This is where you main arteries are that keep the rest of your body cool.

  8. jeffersonianideal says

    I am surprised there is no mention of how food affects body temperature. During the warmer months of the year, one should refrain from eating animal protein and high sodium laced foods. Steer clear of meat, poultry, dairy products and processed foods containing high amounts of salt. Fried food should also be avoided. These foods will tend to make the body hotter. A diet comprised of whole grains, raw or steamed vegetables and legumes will produce much less heat. Flavor your entrees using salt free spices. To cool the body, eat seasonal fruits and pure, tropical fruit juices. Keep away from alcoholic beverages until the cooler weather arrives.

  9. jc says

    One of the things I have discovered during heatwaves is that cool is relative. When the temp outside goes into to triple digits, we set the thermostat to 79 to 80+. At night when the temp outside drop, we lower the thermostat to keep down the humidity.

  10. 6th Sense says

    Humidity stays at 90 – 99% in June, July, Aug. Perspiration won’t evaporate. Humidity holds heat close to the earth at night so it stays hot 24-7. Evaporative coolers don’t work, humidity is too high. Planted thick bushes all around the house and trees on East and West sides (5 years ago) – can be as much as 20 degrees cooler there on a hot day plus shade cools roof. Put box fan in window on cool side of the house blowing in – blow air out the sunny side with those windows open 3-4 inches (keep bubble foil wrap out of the way). Put 1-2 inches of water in the tub and indulge – gets the perspiration off and cools you down. Damp clean cloth hung near the fan will eventually cool then is used to refresh yourself from time to time. If it gets too hot, we put on movies that focus on cold winter scenes – silly as it seems it helps psychologically. There is a special fan made for hot weather that fits under your bed sheets at the foot end of the bed – draws air up from the floor and blows it right up your legs towards your head. Really helps

  11. NotApplicable says

    Your tip about opening the windows for cool morning air is only true for drier climates. If you do that in any place with humidity, you’ll end up with more heat in the moist air, making it worse.

    • Alec says

      True, but of course it depends on how bad the humidity is. Here in New Hampshire it usually cools down enough at night to hit the dewpoint and limit how much water the air can hold (100% humidity at 59F is 49% humidity at 80F *).

      Having said that, if you start out with humidity that’s “barely tolerable”, then deliberately adding moisture to it can push it up to “miserable”, making you less comfortable in spite of the temperature reduction.

      *For the super-nerdy, look at the partial pressure of water at different temperatures to calculate humidity changes (for my example, water is 0.247psi at 59F and 0.508psi at 80F):

      Heat index charts are useful for figuring out if temperature or humidity is your biggest problem:

      90 degrees at 90% humidity (119F heat index) actually feels worse than 100 degrees at 30% (104F heat index). “Dry heat” really is better.

  12. says

    How do we tennis players and bicyclists (plus, runners/golfers/soccer players) play in 100 degree heat? Simple, we drink electrolytes and STAY IN SHAPE! We grandmother was in such bad shape, she could barely walk from the kitchen to the living room without panting–with air conditioning.

  13. Pyranablade says

    I don’t understand why you prefer “battery-powered” fans. If you had said “rechargeable battery-powered” fans I would not have objected. But let’s remember that batteries have mercury in them – the mercury pollutes our lakes and waterways, making some of our fish unsafe to eat, a very serious problem.

  14. Bonnie says

    Along with opening windows early only, for cool air, open the basement door, put a fan there to draw the cool air into the house, really helps. Using exhaust fans when cooking really helps keep the kitchen cooler. Just running any fans to circulate the air also helps.


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