10 ways to keep cool without air conditioning during a heat wave

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      With the summer's first serious heat wave coming up, there are lots of people offering essential medical advice about the need to avoid lengthy exposure to the sun, dehydration, and even heat stroke.

      This is important information, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable segments of our population: seniors, the very young, all pets and other animals, and anyone incapable of fully looking after themselves.

      Other than drinking plenty of water, taking cooling baths or showers, and staying out of the sun, are there any other practical steps you can take to keep chill?

      Statistics Canada says that 60 percent of all Canadian households had some type of air conditioner in 2017 (the latest year for which figures are available).

      Of those with air conditioning, 70 percent (which comes out to 42 percent of total homes) had central air conditioning. Those with "stand-alone" air conditioning (presumably, fans of some kind or portable window units) made up the other 30 percent of homes "with" (18 percent of total homes).

      West Coast households (including the Pacific Northwest in the U.S.) tend to have fewer air-conditioning units because of less seasonal variation in temperatures, a generally cooler climate, and less humidity.

      So, if you live in one of the many households without air conditioning, are there ways that people have, historically, kept their cool that can be used today, maybe in conjunction with some simple modern mechanical/electrical means?

      So glad you asked.

      1. Fans will not cool down rooms, but they are good at cooling down people who sit in their air-movement path. A very old trick is to put some ice in a pan or bowl in front of the fan. It really works (until the ice melts).

      2. You can also place pans of water on windowsills if there is any breeze, especially at night.

      3. A common complaint is being unable to sleep. Definitely have a fan running, to start. But also use sheets and pajamas (if you're not already a night commando) made of natural, breathable fibres, i.e., cotton, to stay cooler and comfortable. Damp sheets work, too. Spritz with cold water just before sleep. Also, many people swear by putting sheets in the freezer prior to retiring for the night. (Another tip is to put a damp facecloth in the freezer after fashioning it in a "U" shape; after it becomes frozen, put it on the back of your neck.)

      Wikimedia Commons/AWeith

      4. Keep doors and windows open to catch any kind of breeze and to get a "draft" going through a structure (if you are lucky enough to live somewhere you are able to do so, and keeping in mind personal security). But keep windows closed during the heat of the day if the outside is hotter than the inside and there is no breeze. Keep your shades down or curtains closed on very hot days, especially sun-facing windows (open a tiny bit at the bottom for some circulation of air).

      5. Stay in the coolest part of a house or apartment, and don't cook meals that require being over a hot stove or using the oven. Also, other appliances, especially large ones, generate heat. Keep washer and dryer use to a  minimum, and even turn off lightbulbs and lamps if not needed. They all contribute to the heat load.

      6. Eat leafy greens and melon. They are easy to digest and are more than 90 percent water, besides being good for you. Cool salads, cold cuts, and cheeses are the way to go, and no very salty foods. (Paradoxically, eating very cold things like ice cream, though temporarily refreshing, causes your body to increase its internal temperature to compensate for what it detects as a sudden cooling. Fat and protein also cause warming during digestion.) Also, though a cold beer feels cooling, alcohol is a diuretic and can dehydrate you if too much is consumed. To a lesser degree, the same goes for coffee and tea, though frequent sips of hot tea can induce sweating, which is the body's natural way to keep cool via evaporation. Ask the Tuaregs and Bedouins; they've been doing it for many centuries.

      7. Fill your hot-water bottle with cold water or freeze it, then place wherever needed most. And wear a bathing suit indoors.

      8. Going back to the first two items, you can drape a face cloth or small towel that has been wrung out with cold water over your fan covering to distribute cool air around a room, and hanging a wet sheet in a doorway and in front of an open window, especially with any breeze, can help cool down a room (otherwise known as the Egyptian method).

      9. If you have a ceiling fan and can set it to rotate counterclockwise, do so. It will force air down toward you, not suck it upward. Similarly, exhaust fans in your bathroom and over the stove will help draw hot air out of living quarters (and the heat generated by the small motors is expelled as well).

      10. If you have a basement with a comfortable area in which to relax, do so. Hot air rises, as anyone with an attic can testify. Bring your mattress down there, if possible.

      Of course, you can also take frequent cold soaks in a bathtub during the day, go somewhere (supermarket, movie theatre, or shopping mall, pandemic permitting) with air conditioning, swim in the ocean or a cool river (being very careful around currents, especially with children), or hike to the top of a very high mountain.