It was a record breaking 114 degrees in West Texas, and as luck would have it, our air conditioner broke! Pregnant, and living paycheck to paycheck, I had to find ways to cool down and QUICK!
What I remember the most about that time is how my family managed to stay comfortable at night. With the fan blowing on high, we’d cover ourselves in our beds with wet bath towels. Unbelievably, we’d wake up cold.
Fast forward 10 years later, and my family is handling another heatwave, this time in central Texas. With more than three months in a row of nonstop 100 degree weather, we were sapped of energy. I call that period in time, “the year I didn’t garden.”
It was the year I also took a good look around me and realized that I did NOT want to be caught unprepared during a heatwave with no power.
We naturally have an air conditioner, and plenty of fans, but I wanted to make sure my family would be able to keep our cool, even if we didn’t have electricity.
Lessons from the Past
While volunteering at Pioneer Farms on sweltering days my family would get asked lots of questions.
“Aren’t you hot in that long dress?” People would ask as they stood around in their tee shirts and shorts.
“How do you stay cool when there’s no air conditioner?” Another asked.
“Where do you get ice?” A child piped.
Those were the types of questions I enjoyed answering the most, as I wasn’t just repeating what our ancestors did, I was actually living through the experience!
I explained that believe it or not, the long cotton dress I wore, actually kept me more comfortable and cool, than if I were wearing shorts. Not to mention, the full skirt and sleeves protected me from sunburn, and bug bites.
Light and loose flowing clothes, in natural fibers like cotton, or linen, will actually draw moisture from the skin, evaporate, and cool a person down.
During extreme hot weather, we’d water the garden, and save the hard work for early in the mornings or late evenings when things cooled down. We also made sure to check on the animals to see if they had plenty of shade and water.
Cold Beverages versus Room Temp
As for ice, there was no refrigeration. A respite from hot weather would be to walk inside the underground root cellar where temperatures could be 40 degrees or cooler than what is outside. This is where food was stored and preserved. Kept in darkness, the root cellar felt like a cave year round.
At first, I couldn’t imagine drinking room temperature water when my family first started volunteering. I had thought that in order to “cool down” my beverage needed to be cold. I have since learned that staying hydrated with lukewarm water is actually preferable. Not that I don’t enjoy a nice glass of ice cold tea on a hot sizzling day, but it is nice to know that we can survive without ice!
I also find it interesting that some studies have shown that athletes that drink cold water show a decrease in performance in comparison to those who consume room temperature.
Years ago, homes were built with no artificial air conditioning. Back then, people gravitated to their front porch to stay cool, or to enjoy the breezeway. Called a dogtrot, there would be two cabins built side by side, and the connecting hallway between would pull in the air currents, causing a cooler breeze.
Today, as I look at homes, I wonder about the lack of front porches and how families would stay cool during a heatwave with no air conditioning.
Keeping Cool, Without Electricity
Here are a few ideas for keeping your cool when there’s no air conditioning. Coolest of all, no electricity needed.
My first priority for preparing for hot weather without power, was to purchase plenty of battery operated fans. Just like in my experience in West Texas, I wanted to make sure I had moving air to circulate around wet clothes or towels.
I also make it a priority to have plenty of spare batteries, including batteries that can be recharged by solar power. There are solar powered battery chargers that you can purchase online, as well as pocket sized mini solar panels that you can hook up to battery chargers or cellphones.
Another benefit to moving air is mosquitoes and flies! That’s right, mosquitoes and flies find it hard to zero in for the landing when air is blowing. I learned this first hand while backpacking in Israel.
Cooling towels are a wonderful invention! My experience is with the Frogg Toggs, which come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Initially they feel like cardboard, but once wet, they stay cool and rubbery until they dry again. These towels are perfect for those times when you don’t have moving air.
I keep these in my car for road trips where I could potentially break down during hot weather. Just pour bottled water over the towel, and presto! Instant coolness. One day, I took my Frogg Togg out for a trial run when my air conditioner went out on my Jeep. With suffocating temperatures inside the vehicle, I drove across town with a wet Togg around my neck. Life was bearable!
I’ve touched base on battery operated fans, but there’s also battery operated spray bottles on the market where you can have a fan blowing with water. I especially like using spray bottles, battery operated or not, with essential oils.
Essential oils like mint cool the skin on contact. Another reason I love spray bottles and essential oils is for those high humidity days. Imagine your house baking in extreme heat, with people and pets moving about. My favorite spray is lavender and water. I add about 20 drops to a small spray bottle and spritz the house. This not only makes your home smell wonderful, but the calming blend soothes the nerves and it’s healthy to breathe and natural!
How do You Keep Cool?
Again, these are ideas for keeping your cool when there is no power and air conditioning.
Please keep in mind that the elderly and young are more susceptible to heat injuries and need to be looked after.
Stay hydrated everyone, drink lots of water, wear natural fiber clothes, don’t overwork when it’s hot outside, wear a hat, and if you have any additional COOL ideas, please share here for everyone!
Please comment and share any other products you have used that work!
Latest posts by Helen Ruth (see all)
- Keeping Your Cool When There’s No Air Conditioning. - June 27, 2017
- How To Prepare For A Power Outage That Lasts A Long, Long Time - June 15, 2017
- 5 Uses for an Indoor Tent - November 24, 2014
13 thoughts on “Keeping Your Cool When There’s No Air Conditioning.”
dealt with plenty of power outages in heat and cold, but most memorable story is being 8 months pregnant in a multi family unit with no access to breaker box and all it was needed a reset. someone overloaded…laid on a lawnchair in backyard watching battery powered tv and went in and slept on our waterbed with sheets removed…
I live in Florida and grew up without air conditioning, so being without it doesn’t bother me, even though most people consider it impossible. My mother put on a swimsuit, dosed herself with the hose and did housework, staying cool as a cucumber. Then we’d jump in the car and ride 12 minutes to the beach (Daytona) and swim in the ocean and enjoy the breeze. Our neighbor had a pool which would fill in 2 hours with deep well water, which was 72 degrees, which we’d consider shockingly cold. At night we slept with one thin sheet. If it got really hot, we’d turn on a fan, and REALLY hot, we’d go next door and jump in the neighbor’s pool at 10 PM and sleep like a cold watermelon later. With the windows open, of course, listening to whipporwills.
Unlike the newer houses which are treeless concrete boxes made without porches or windows that normally stay open, I still live in a house with open windows. The breeze flows through the house, but most important, WE DIDN’T CUT DOWN OUR TREES. Lots of shade here and it makes a huge difference. My house has central AC but I hardly ever turn it on. Maybe for guests. During the summer, it rarely gets above 81 inside the house with no AC. I live 2 miles from the ocean. Today was the hottest day of the year and it briefly hit 85 inside. Tonight at 1 AM it is 82 inside and 79 outside. I’m sitting on a screened porch in 79 typing this.
Next, don’t get fat. I’m 6 ft. and 142 pounds. I feel cold if the temp gets below 80. I just turned off the fan because I felt cold. My house has electric hot water, lots of lights, electric stove and microwave, TV, fans, pump, power tools, computer, the usual, and my electric bill runs between $18 and $26/mo. during the summer. $23 in July.
My house is concrete block which tends to hold heat at night, But a wood house, like my vacation cottage, cools off even faster at night. On really hot nights I sleep with a fan, but it has to be turned off at 3 AM to keep from getting cold.
Your advice about the wet towells is definately the most effective way to cool down and can be a life saver if you get broken down in the heat someplace like Texas. Sorry to insult Texas, but if I was there, I wouldn’t drive anyplace without towells and the water to pour on them any more than taking a trip in Montana in the winter without blankets and an emergency heat source!
We have a small pool that I used to fill up and put in the shade for the kids to play in when it was really hot. It didn’t matter how hot it was if they were playing in that pool they were cool. Inside we used to use fans and spray bottles of water to keep cool. We’d spray ourselves in front of the fan to get cool. Napping at the hottest part of the day was a good way to escape the hottest temperatures. We all napped in the cool basement on the floor on mats.
A cautionary tale of the essential oil use. Power was out after a summer storm, humidity and temperature were high. I cooled down with some mint oil. Too much, in fact. The oil does make you feel cooler, but only feeling, not really cooler. Too much of the oil, and I actually started shivering — big problem: shivering helps your body to warm up. Which was the last thing I needed right then! Afraid of overheating, I had to try to remove the oil in the shower. Unpleasant to say the least.
I have a garden misting system that I put together on my deck and on top of my garage. It is simply a soft PVC hose that you puncture with garden misters. An attachment adapter hooks the garden hose up to the soft PVC hose. I also have the garden hose on a valve so I can control the flow going to the misting system. I affixed the misting system on my deck handrailing. I also affixed it to the top of my garage and each system is separately controlled by individual garden hoses. My garage will easily get up to 150 degrees by late afternoon because the shingles retain so much heat and transfer that to the roof and inside wood of the ceiling of the garage. When I turn my mister system on, it always stays cooler because the garage shingles are water cooled and never get hot. My deck will almost be 20 degrees cooler than the rest of the outside as the water mist droplets evaporate by absorbing heat from the air. My garage and my deck are attached to my house, so with my misting system my garage doesnt warm my internal walls and my deck misting system doesnt warm up my siding as much and not only is it cool and comfortable but my air conditioning bill goes down much more than my water bill goes up so I end up saving money and I can always control the flow with the valve. Works great…
Along with drinking beverages that cool the body, the food one consumes when the the mercury rises can directly effect the body’s ability to tolerate high temperature extremes. Avoid animal based food products because protein from non-plant sources will tend to elevate body temperature. Please know that my post is not a call for vegetarianism, it is simply an informational addendum related to what to do when the air conditioning goes out. Along with staying away from animal protein, avoid high sodium foods and fried foods. Try this test during the next heatwave: Eat some animal protein, a salty snack or a deep fried food. Notice how your body feels. Now wait a day and while the ambient temperatures are still unbearable, eat a plain salad, some unsalted nuts, a piece of tropical fruit or a raw or steamed vegetable. Are you able to handle the heat with greater ease?
When we moved into our home in Eastern Colorado, the big tree was mostly dead so we took it down. The next summer we found out how valuable that tree was! Not wanting to install central air we put 3M tint on our windows, installed an attic fan, and one in-room AC unit in the kitchen, the hottest and most popular room in the house. And we planted a new tree. I’m glad we didn’t go the installation route; we better understand the air flow, sun pattern on our property, and passive solutions to keeping cool. And we may not have a front porch but we have benches by the shady trees to sit and visit outside! (okay we do that even when it’s not unbearably hot). So if we were stranded without power, we’ve got a head start in understanding what we’re in for.
Another low tech habit is to take showers in the afternoon, cools you off and energizes you for the rest of the day. (we don’t have a pool option).
John and I were truck drivers and carried Boogs, our cat, with us. Once the a/c went out in the truck when we were driving across Death Valley in the middle of the day. Boogs was laid out on the passenger seat. We had wet towels. I sprayed his fur with water and lightly rubbed. We all had fans blowing that hot dry air on us. My poor kitty welcomed the water and we all survived that trip. In the wild, an animal will find a cool spot or make one. Dogs dig holes and crawl inside. Animals stay in the shade during the day. Remember your pets in hot weather.
Some older homes have gas burners near the top of their home. The idea is to open the windows and turn on the heat. Since hot air rises, the hot air leaves the house pulling cooler air in lower windows. I applied a passive form of this when I insulated the metal roof of my barn up to a ridge opening. There, I had about 18″ of uninsulated tin heat the air below it and move cooler air into the barn.
I have several battery powered fans. Do you know how to make an air conditioner with one? All you need is a 5 gallon plastic bucket and a frozen gallon of water. Cut a hole in the lid of the bucket the size of the fan blades. Then cut a few holes around the sides of the bucket. Place the frozen jug inside the bucket, put the lid on, put the fan on top and turn the fan on.
Yes, because I was passed out from hunger.
When staying hydrated if you drink a large amount of water you might also want to drink some type of electrolyte solution. Water isn’t the only thing you lose when you sweat. Sodium and potassium are important too
The summer is such a fun time of the year, but dealing with the heat can certainly be a problem. I love your suggestion to keep battery operated fans on hand. These can keep you comfortable while you search for a way to fix your air conditioning.
I appreciate these suggestions, especially the one about sleeping with a wet towel over you or using Frogg Toggs. I have two, but wasn’t sure how to wear them while working around the house. My air conditioning decided to die on me the day after my water heater did, and although the weather has been in the mid-90s oh, I just can’t afford to replace my HVAC system. So no AC for me, but with these suggestions I’ll get through. What’s funny is that you learned that you can tolerate a lot more heat and you think. I used to like to keep the house about 76, but now I realize that I could keep it higher. By 85 though, you are drained. It’s been 85 in my upstairs for the last few days, so I’ve been blowing fans at night. Problem is what to do about the first floor. Well, that’s why I’m up in the middle of the night searching. Thanks everyone for your help!
Thank you for sharing.
My friend in Australia beats the heat by making refrigerator clothes. She dampens her clothes, rolls them up and puts them in the fridge. She’ll have a couple outfits chilling so that when one outfit dries out, there is another cool damp one to change into. I haven’t tried it yet, however I think that day is coming.
Last summer I sat on the back deck with my feet soaking in a basin filled with cold water, some Epsom salts and mint essential oil. It was lovely and cooled me down. I also ran cold water over my wrists whenever I washed my hands. I also use a wet cloth around my neck, and have been known to add mint essential oil to that too.