How to stay cool without an air conditioner

I don't really like air conditioners. I didn't grow up with them. And I find them overly cold and unpleasant the vast majority of the time. To me, that all adds up to mean Not Worth The Energy They Suck Down. Usually, there are a couple of days in August that are hot enough for me to give in and turn on a window unit overnight. I know, I know. It's Minnesota. Ain't no thing. But I didn't use them in Kansas, either, which is orders of magnitude more uncomfortable in Summer. When I lived in Alabama, they made more sense. But my husband and I still went one Summer (of the two we lived there) a/c-free.

I bring this up because I have a theory. I think "I don't use air conditioning" could become the new "I don't use soap."

Now, personally, I adapt by living in a house that holds its temperature pretty well—so a very hot day in June is still comfy inside, while a hot day in August is not. I also open the house overnight and use fans to suck in cool air. Then, at dawn, I close all the windows, draw the blinds, and only use fans to circulate what's inside. Christopher Mims has a different method. His involves a fan and a damp, synthetic cooling towel:

Once you've got one of your special outdoorsperson cooling things draped about your neck, you will be amazed at the degree to which the power of your conventional fan has been magnified. That's because now you're exploiting the magic of evaporative cooling. Every molecule of water that evaporates off your neck carries with it an amount of heat equivalent to water's latent heat, which is pretty damn high.

It also helps that your super-cool definitely-doesn't-make-you-look-like-a-weirdo evaporative bandana is now immediately adjacent to a pair of gigantic arteries running straight into your head. It's as if you've attached your Personal Swamp Cooler directly to a heat exchanger carrying your blood supply.

As I write this, the mercury is climbing. I'm sequestered in my home office, it's 83 degrees inside, yet I'm perfectly comfortable. I'm not spending a dime on air conditioning. Wouldn't you like to be able to say the same?


  1. Your computers and your stereo hate you. :-P

    (But seriously, running a house much over 80 == better have a damn good backup of your data just in case.)

    1. I’ve lived in South Africa (well into the 30s for most of Summer) most of my life, owned computers for pretty much the entirety of that, never used an air conditioner, and never had a computer overheat.

      And the stereo having problems? Really?

      1. Computer HD’s, computer mobos and stereo main boards. I’ve lost them all in AZ, and with greater frequency after a building cooling system failure. Why on earth do you think server colo facilities are air conditioned within an inch of their life?

    2. Insulation is key. My dad’s house is made of cinder blocks and it keeps the cold night air in quite nicely during the day. As long as you’re not constantly in & out of your house.

  2. I put reflective foamboard on the outside of a couple windows that take the full brunt of the afternoon sun.

    The house looks a bit like a meth house now but it is significantly cooler in the two rooms protected by the foam.

    1. Actually I have heard that drawing the drapes helps some, but to really stop the heat from shining in with the sun, you need to block the light before it hits the window, with for example an awning, or using something like what you use.

    2. I do something similar. I bought some cheap folding car windshield sunscreens – the ones you put inside your car windshield on sunny days. I put them between the window and the blinds in any windows that get direct sun. They’re very lightweight and just rest on the window sill. They make a huge difference to how much the house heats up during the day.

    3. When I lived on the top floor of my building, with skylights, I always cut down those dashboard reflectors to fit. It easily dropped the temperature 7 or 8 degrees during the day.

  3. You want a Sleepbreeze

    Ultra-low power. The way the duct works spreads the airflow over your whole body, it’s much, much more effective than much more powerful fans. I’ve had a pre-production prototype for years and use it every summer, even in the UK. Good kit.

    PS: I’m the inventor of the hexayurt. I know cooling ;)

  4. If you’re in a humid climate, get a dehumidifier. When it’s 83° here in the desert, we’re all wearing sweaters. Comfort is all about the dewpoint, which for us is very commonly below freezing and sometimes below 0°F.

    1. Have one of those as well. Know what happens when you put a dehumidifier in a living space? Besides getting more comfortable dry air, you also raise the temperature of said space by 3-5 degrees or more. And a dehumidifier is only going to work so well, it’s never going to be the same as having 100F @ 20% RH outside.

      In most places in the south more than half of the energy expended by an air conditioner is to simply remove moisture from the air.

      1. Know what happens when you put a dehumidifier in a living space? Besides getting more comfortable dry air, you also raise the temperature of said space by 3-5 degrees or more.

        Get a central dehumidifier. The A/C unit also produces heat, so it goes outside.

        – Wash your laundry in cold water and hang it out to dry, because the washer/dryer adds a lot of heat. Your stuff will last much longer, too.
        – Check your other appliances for efficiency. If you have an old, inefficient fridge, it could be radiating heat.
        – Get rid of all your incandescent bulbs.
        – Don’t watch television; it’s like running a tandoori oven in your living room. And your TV, DVD player, cable box, etc. are probably running live and producing heat even when they’re not “on”.
        – Learn how to cook everything in the microwave.
        – Put low E coatings on your windows.
        – Put in a solar-powered attic fan.

        1. Fridges radiate heat, that’s just what they do. They take the heat from the inside, add some power, and then dump all of that into their environment.

          Dehumidifiers mostly work on refrigeration principles as well, they cool an element to below the dew point so they get condensation, and that drains off. The inescapable component of that is that any time you cool something, you make more heat elsewhere.

          It’s all thermodynamics:

          You Can’t win.
          You Can’t even break even.
          And You Can’t even quit the game.

          1. Some of the heating effect of your fridge is the design and some of it is just inefficiency. When you replace a 20 year-old A/C unit with a new one, your power usage may be cut in half. And once again, with central A/C or dehumidifiers, you direct the heat outside the house.

        2. If you’re going to get a central dehumidifier for purposes of making hot weather more comfortable, may as well use an air conditioner. I found the dehumidifier great for removing moisture from the air, but useless for making summer days comfortable. Keeping the house closed up during the summer, even if the air is dry, gets intolerable, and running a dehumidifier during the humid heat with the house opened up makes as much sense as running the AC with the house opened up.

  5. I suppose a lot of it does involve where you live. I live in NC, which makes it humid on top of hot. You’ll find people here that will say, “Not not heat as much as it is the humidity.” (Usually they are older, so pointing out the obvious to you are you are dripping sweat makes it much more tolerable.)

    What I find more perplexing is how houses hold heat. My parents house is a mid 50’s ranch home, brick on the outside with a good bit on insulation everywhere. They just upgraded their a/c unit to a new more energy efficient heat pump. My dad is tight enough he could squeeze a dollar bill from a rock, so the thermostat is usually around 80. But a lot of the times when I am over there it’s almost stifling. I don’t think it’s a humidity thing, as I don’t really sweat a lot.

    My house on the other hand is 100 years old, no insulation in the walls, original windows in desperate need of rebuild, when the wind blows outside you feel it inside, all set over a dirt basement/crawlspace. Only window a/c units for me. In the day they are usually set around 80-82 (I ain’t spending that kind of money keeping this place in the 70’s.) Whiles it’s warm the only thing that bothers me is the humidity. And if you aren’t doing much it’s not really bad at all. At night we crank the one in the bedroom down to 75 or so. Floor and ceiling fan all around.

    I just wonder with tighter houses do they become more like an oven? Once that exterior gets hot does it just bake what is inside? Where my leaky walls/windows allow the air to move all around making it feel more natural and comfortable? Just an observation.

    Oh and a great way to lower your energy bill is ceiling fans. A total DIY project. In fact I just put one in for a friend this week. Only took about 4 hours, including rewiring for a two switch setup.

    1. I just wonder with tighter houses do they become more like an oven? Once that exterior gets hot does it just bake what is inside? Where my leaky walls/windows allow the air to move all around making it feel more natural and comfortable? Just an observation.

      Depends on how you design and build ’em. Passive Houses, for instance, are built tighter than anything you’re even probably thinking of (they use condensing dryers so they don’t even have to cut through the exterior wall for a dryer vent), and they don’t bake in Summer at all. In fact, they’re more comfortable than a regular house, year round.

      1. Well obviously with the right design anything is possible.

        I was more referring to the strip housing that seems so popular today, since that seems to be more the norm buying pre-built/used than building custom.

    2. I just wonder with tighter houses do they become more like an oven? Once that exterior gets hot does it just bake what is inside?

      This entirely depends on the design of the house. In general, a better-insulated, tighter house is more energy-efficient. But if you have a bunch of east-facing windows without any shade, it’s going to become an oven in the morning. Many modern homes are designed pretty much without regard for this kind of thing, because the assumption is that you will just use heating and A/C to keep things comfortable.

      I live in a log home, and the R-value of the (solid, 8″ diameter, wooden log) walls is ridiculously high. If I run fans in the windows at night, I can bring the interior temperature down to about 3 degrees above exterior. If I then close up the windows in the morning, the house’s temperature will stabilize around 10-15 degrees below ambient as the day’s temperature rises. On the other hand, if I leave the windows open, the house’s temperature will track the exterior temperature pretty closely, staying within about 5 degrees of it. So, the closed windows and insulating value of the house’s walls, buy me 5-10 extra degrees of temperature differential.

      Ironically, the house is not particularly well-sealed. There are two or three old windows that were never replaced, and you can literally see daylight through the cracks between the window-frame and the wall. There is also a 7′ tall, east-facing window that turns the room it’s in into an oven in the morning. That room goes up ten degrees all by itself between 7 AM and 10 AM. This speaks to the high insulating value of the walls; if the house was better sealed, and that window covered (working on that) the temperature differential would presumably be even better.

  6. I hate air coniditoning, but I really hope this isn’t the new no-soap. Those guys are weird.

    Agree on the too-cold point. I dislike forced-air heat for the same reasons. I wish there was a system where I could set it to 70F, and it would output 70F air. Sure, it would take forever for a large space to get down to that temperature, but it sounds a million times better than occasional bursts of freezing-cold air.

    1. If you want a system that doesn’t blow freezing cold air, get a heat pump. It basically does what you describe.

  7. I don’t love air conditioners but I do love air conditioning. Could not live without it. I’ve got several friends from India here in the Twin Cities and they all confirm we’re a bunch of sissies. Not because they don’t use it, but because they have to endure without it as a commonplace occurrence back home.

    P.S. Why do you think movies are so popular there? It’s not always the musical numbers…

  8. Well, you know, 83 degrees ain’t that hot. Try 110 every day of the week for a few weeks at a time. I still think A/C is a blessing here in semi-arid Mexico — I just don’t understand why they don’t have it in Australia. I’d want to pick the brains of an Aussie and figure out how THEY live without it.

  9. That will only work so long as the humidity is low enough.

    It’ll work great in Las Vegas, but in Baton Rouge you’ll just have a nasty, hot wet rag around your neck all day.

  10. Excellent! I’m from Kansas, too, and am also now a Minnesotan. I feel the same way about AC. My solution for those rare too-hot days is to just hang out at bars, as bars have AC, and I have less trouble falling asleep after getting kinda drunk. This might be a healthier choice. Thanks!

  11. If you’re not going to use it, can I have the BTUs? Because my air conditioner can’t keep up with the weather lately. The humidity ain’t helping, but when it crests 85º, I don’t care how humid it is- it’s too hot. As a rule, if I’m sweating, it’s too damn hot. Sweating is one of the more unpleasant experiences I can think of.

    Of course, I’m the weird sort of person that starts piling on the layers when it gets hot. An undershirt to wick away moisture, a light white shirt button down, a white suit and a panama hat is actually a surprisingly good way to keep cool. But it’s hard to maintain, too. But it helps you pretend you aren’t sweating, which is the real value.

    //I love my panama hat.

  12. Anon@10 It depends where in Australia you are.

    In Perth it isn’t common because the sea breeze comes in around 4pm and cools the place down. Might be 110 in the waterbag in the daytime but it’s a lot cooler at night. Just open the house up and let the breeze blow through.

    In Sydney (where I live) it’s baking out in the west of the city and airconditioners are quite common there. Combine massive built areas and no wind, and it gets hot and stays hot. My flat is insulated, well built, surrounded by greenery, and I open the windows at night, but for a couple of weeks in summer I use the window aircon at night so I can sleep.

    In Darwin they are just used to it… Wear little clothing, and get drunk!

    I don’t see the point of cooling down a whole house in the daytime. Bedrooms at night yes, but why waste money on rooms you aren’t using?

    Modern Australian house design is bad news for the heat. Cram as much house onto a small block as possible, so no eaves, no verandah, no awnings over windows, no trees.

    1. Man, I’m jealous of places that cool off at night. I think that’s what makes Arizona heat so hard to deal with in the dead of summer. Sure, it’s a “dry heat”, but it never cools off, even at night. I didn’t have a car for 8 years when I first moved to Phoenix. I used to walk to the bus stop right at down, and it’d already be 105. I’d already be dying from the heat and summer sun. That’s what sucks: No relief, even after the sun goes down.

      1. You’re right: the never-cooling-off thing is brutal. Every year Phoenix had at least one – and often two or three – periods in July and August when the temperatures outside wouldn’t go below 90F for weeks at a time, day or night.

        Insanely oppressive. “High of 117, low of 92.” Bakes your brains.

  13. I live in a basement apartment. It stays quite cool in the summer, although heat in the winter can be somewhat of a problem, because I end up heating the units above me.

  14. Aw, man – you put the fan in the window backwards so it exhausts HOT air OUT of the house and sucks cool air IN from all the windows on the opposite side of the house. Then you get a nice cross-flow, too.

    1. I agree. As soon as the outside temperature drops a few degrees below the inside temperature, I use one of those big square floor fans propped up in the kitchen window pushing hot air out, and open up windows in the bedrooms. The big square fans move way more air than the little window fans you can buy. The bedrooms cool down very quickly.

  15. I grew up near Lake Havasu City, AZ, where 120 degree temps were normal, and have lived in Phoenix the last decade … so maybe it’s just the fact that I grew up with A/C, but I really, really, really love A/C. I live in an apartment with all utilities included, where the A/C actually works well, so I crank it down during the summer. 70 degrees at night. I really love sleeping when it’s cold. I always have.

    I don’t get people who hate air conditioners! Mmmm, a nice chill when it’s 110 outside! Nothin’ better.

  16. and if all else fails, put a drop of water behind your earlobes. i’m not kidding.


  17. Back in the early 90s, we built our first theatre, with no financial backing, in a 100 yo warehouse in Columbus, OH. No A/C, but shows performed year round, so for the warmish, 2nd floor summer months I created Arctic Collars. We would be CHEAP washcloths, soak them in water, wring them out a bit then freeze them into a horseshoe shape. When patrons sat down pre-show, we offered them a complimentary Arctic Collar. Didn’t stay frozen long, but it was incredibly refreshing and very green (other than needed a freon-loaded freeze to make them in). We just washed them afterwards and reused them. I remember them fondly, and early patrons did as well.

    1. What with global warming coming on, I think that your “Arctic collars”, taken together with Anon #30’s (aka Mr Vasectomy) methods, suggest intriguing fashion concepts for the future.

  18. So much half-baked granola hippie bullcrap advice in this thread it’s comical.

    “Get a central dehumidifier but don’t use AC”? What exactly do you think central air does? It doesn’t just cool down the air, it also removes a ton of moisture.

    Swamp coolers are popular in dry, desert environments, but in muggy and hot areas they’re a joke.

    1. Funnily enough, the post is about cooling off without using A/C, thus the suggestion to use a dehumidifier, which removes humidity without blasting cold air at you.

      Did you have a scary experience with a granola-wielding hippie when you were little?

    2. you are right, it is aggravating. human comfort is a complicated problem and one-off solutions are just that. for the benefit of others:

      1) An dehumidifier is an A/C.

      2) Thermal energy in your home from electronics (stereo/TV/DVD) will rarely compete in magnitude with summer solar radiation or infiltration through leaks/ventilation.

      2) Human comfort is not just or even mainly a function of humidity. it depends only on how well a human body can cool itself, which is complicated.

      3) What Maggie proposes is preposterous. As a Minnesotan would you also endorse no heating as the new no soap? If not, why? Heat related deaths are a much more serious danger than freezing and in MN we use 10-50x the amount of energy for heating as cooling. Why the hippie rage against A/C vs heating? A/Cs move more energy per unit energy than any furnace in MN… And for like 5 bucks per 100 kWh you can pay Xcel to feed you wind electricity for that A/C. Seems better than contaminating PA groundwater for your fracking natural gas. I’m not sure this wacko advice for people to tough it out for the environment is very responsible.

      4) Your house, if its like all the other 1920s sears bungalows in Minneapolis has no thermal capacity. Nor were these houses generally built with any high regard for thermal loads / solar resource. Most likely you have good luck via a) nice orientation b) a solid envelope provided by trees/neighbors. Many people with the same homes in this area do not have this good fortune. There are literally hundreds of these in my SE neighborhood of 1920s bungalows with massive SW, unshaded original glazing that bake like an oven to ambient + 20F every afternoon from April – September.

      FYI, I don’t use AC and I often evangelize against it. But this choice is not for everyone – not even a majority, at least with existing construction. We can build a perfectly comfortable passive house (or at least reduce thermal loads by 60% for LESS cost than a conventional home for new construction), but this neglects the reality of our residential infrastructure. The greenest building is the one that is already built.

      for mn: 1. insulate your home 2. prevent infiltration/vent your attic 3. shade your windows (preferably outside, e.g. 10-14 ft deciduous trees) 4. ventilate at night 5. use your basement when its hot 6. lastly, buy and diy an A/C: 19+ seer ductless mini split (with zones if your house is 1200 sq+)

  19. Here’s a cheap trick to deal with the heat, something I discovered many years ago after getting a vasectomy during an August heat wave. They sent me home and told me to put ice packs on my nuts for a few days. I did this, and my body cooled nicely. I didn’t notice the heat.

    So if the heat/humidity is unbearable where you live, just relax, put an icepack on your private parts, and listen to some classical music (or acid house or whatever calms you).

    If everyone did that, there would be no more wars.

  20. No no no no no.

    Our ancient creaky AC that came with our 69 year old house died, and we went without it for a week in May in St. Louis. Got a bunch of window fans and a Vornado. It was okay in the mornings, and sitting directly in front of the Vornado. The rest of the time, miserable. No sleep. Cranky and bitchy.

    We’re replacing the old unit with one that’s way more efficient and have no regrets about spending the $$ on it :P

  21. Yeah, I would love for it to be 83 degrees outside. Unfortunately it’s the middle of a heatwave so temperature is more like 96. Or, as the weather channel says, “Feels like 104.” At 7 pm.

  22. It’s called living in Europe. I’ve never been in a private home with an air conditioner. Granted, I’ve only lived in the North of Europe, and the heat is usually only horribly oppressive for a few weeks a year. But even during a heatwave (like the one that killed 11,000 people in France in 2003) we still don’t opt for air conditioning.

    Me and my partner sleep naked with a fan on us if it’s really hot. I don’t consider that to be an admirable option, just a realistic one. Of course, if you live in the South of the US, it’s a lot hotter, and these rules don’t apply. But if you don’t, just get over it already.

    1. I’m pretty sure the 11,000 people who died from the heatwave wish they had A/C.

      Also I hope never to meet the section of population that forms the overlap in the “people who don’t use soap/people who don’t use A/C” venn diagram.

  23. Yeah. I live in Florida. I lived in Florida before ac. So hot you sit in front of the fan and throw ice into it for the microburst of coolness, too hot to move. Too hot to think. Too hot to breathe.
    No thanks.

  24. Other handy sans-A/C workarounds: carry a small spray bottle of water in your pocket, spray on your face and arms for effective evaporative cooling. I’ve used it outdoors, in my parked car [while eating lunch on hot days], and, when my A/C was on the blink, in the house.

    As long as you don’t have to look your best, wetting your hair and head thoroughly cools you down for quite a while…your head can radiate a LOT of heat.

    As mentioned before, foam board in the sunny windows, damp towel draped around the neck…and if it cools at night, set up fans in the window to pull air in one side of the house and out the other, then button up in the morning. Worked quite well during that A/C-on-the-blink period.

  25. I think a lot of people don’t particularly like air conditioning, myself included. It’s not at all comparable to the eccentricity of not using soap. I remember a time in the 1990s when I was at a conference in July in Athens, GA. It was nearly 100F outside, but the auditorium had the air conditioning on so much that I actually had to go to the UGA bookstore and buy a sweatshirt as I only had short sleeve shirts with me. Yes, 100F outside is no fun. But 60F inside isn’t either.

  26. Before the advent of A/C, many homes in the ovenlike Central Valley of California had “desert submarines”: sleeping sheds built in the backyard, with cloth or fiber walls and some method of dribbling water down the sides of the walls all night…for sleeping in your own swamp cooler. Reference:

  27. I had formulated the very same theory as I am not a fan of the depressing, metallic air that comes out of an A/C compressor. I posted it on facebook and everyone thought I was insane. One of these days, when I’m living on my own I’ll only resort to A/C in dire situations. After ditching soap I keep finding myself asking myself “hmmm… what other artificial conveniences are completely unnecessary?”

    minimalistic living FTW!

  28. I live in North Central Texas. I use A/C from May-September. I feel no guilt. Actually, I feel quite cool.

  29. I’m a Melbournian originally from Kansas, so I know about hot. We do have AC here, but it’s not used nearly as much as one would have to in a baking Kansas August. We have two split systems…AC when you need it, warm air in winter. Two bedroom home with lots of glass. A lot of people have the evaporative type ACs, which to me is silly because it blasts humid clammy air- the opposite of what you need to cool off in 100 degree weather. Not many here have central air.
    We tend to have a run of a few days at a time in summer when it’s fabulously hot, like 110 in the day, cooling to maybe 90 at night. AC is required at these times, but there’s always a cool change around the corner so I know I won’t need to be cooped up in fake cold air for long.

  30. in the tropics we used to run a tub full of water in the morning and let it reach ambient temperature. any time we felt hot we’d strip and submerge in the water for a couple of minutes. no soap (!), no scrubbing, just delicious immersion, and a coolth that lasts quite a while after you emerge. repeat as needed; replace with fresh water next day.

  31. Try dealing with out AC in the mojave desert, in the summer when the nightly low is in the 90’s, it’s not pleasant.

  32. I grew up in Phoenix, AZ, and we never had A/C, only a swamp cooler. So did most everyone else. Only about 10% of the houses in our low-end suburb had A/C. Most people couldn’t afford it – the monthly electric bill would be larger than their mortgage payment.

    I hated visiting with friends whose houses had A/C. Most people kept the thermostat high to save money, so it would be stuffy and warm. All the windows were kept sealed, so the air was always stale. And back then all the parents smoked, so the house would constantly reek of dead cigarettes. And everything was bone dry, with constant static from the pervasive wall-to-wall synthetic carpets.

    A well-maintained swamp cooler, OTOH, made the environment cool and moist, and delivered constant high-volume fresh air. Much nicer.

    The real keys to swamp-cooler happiness were good attic insulation and ventilation, cinder-block construction, awnings and shades, and fanatic cooler maintenance to keep scale build-up from clogging water distribution channels, creating dry spots on the pads.

  33. My great grandma grew up in Arizona, and to her dying day (1985) never had an air conditioner. She didn’t like them. She didn’t have a fancy “submarine shack” either. They did have a sleeping porch, and would sleep out in it, wrapped in wet sheet.

  34. Um, are people aware that heating a house in Minnesota in the winter probably results in more CO2 emissions than cooling a house in LA in summer? That’s because cooling a unit uses heat pump which gives you 3x cooling to power, where heating using an air based heat pump doesn’t work very well when it’s below 2C.

    In any case, you’ll always be better off with proper sun shades and insulation. :)

  35. Maggie, I’m curious about which of your two Alabama summers were spent with air conditioning. If you’re anything like me (I’m from Louisiana), it wouldn’t have been the second.

  36. I’ve lived without A/C for many years now. My two top tips for coping with heat:

    1) Every so often, when you’re feeling it, go into the washroom, run cold water, and immerse your hands (and forearms if you can) in it for as long as you possibly can. Plug the sink if you can, that helps. Then dry off, and you’ll feel refreshed for some time.

    2) When you do shower, take as hot a shower as you can possibly stand. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s all about setting your body’s expectations, it makes your body feel that the outside temperature is much cooler by comparison, and that lasts a lot longer than a cold shower.

  37. Oh, this would definitely be more impressive if posted by a texan than a minnesotan. A better environmental movemement would be to go with out heat! Did we all forget that article in Wired (June 2008):
    “…air-conditioning is inherently more efficient than heating (that is, it takes less energy to cool a given space by 1 degree than to heat it by the same amount), the difference has big implications for greenhouse gases. In the Northeast, a typical house heated byfuel oil emits 13,000 pounds of CO2 annually. Cooling a similar dwelling in Phoenix produces only 900 pounds of CO2 a year. Air-conditioning wins on a national scale as well. Salving the summer swelter in the US produces 110 million metric tons of CO2 annually. Heating the country releases nearly eight times more carbon over the same period. Meanwhile, chilly Northeasterners can at least take heart in one thing: With global warming you can turn the heat down.”

    Air-Conditioning Actually Emits Less C02 Than Heating

  38. Two houses ago, I did not have central air or even an AC unit. The house was 100yo or so .. and we left the attic windows open b/c there was a “whole house fan”. It was like a jet engine. Loud, and sucked every drip of hot air out of the house — turn it on when the sun went down, open a 3-4 strategic windows, and soon enough the house would go down to whatever it was outside. It was a great thing. That’s the only thing I miss about that house.

  39. Yeah, but the difference is the compressor motor and the insulation. For every watt your fridge uses to cool, internal and external friction is producing a certain amount of heat.

    If it’s an old, inefficient model, it has to work harder, more heat. If the insulation is no good, it has to play catch up, more heat. So it’s not just the latent heat inside the fridge you’re worrying about (unless you open it constantly), it’s the accidental conversion of your electricity into heat.

  40. Can you guys set up a geoip filter for these “no ac” stories? I think most of Texas, NM and Arizona collectively rolled their eyes.

    By law landlords have to provide AC to their tenants. If it’s in june, july or august and the AC goes out, tenants are allowed to take matters in to their own hands and bill the landlord for it, rather than wait.

    Air Conditioning going out in Texas is deadly serious – I don’t recommend you go without unless you have taken adequate precautions and your house was specifically designed for what is prescribed in the blog post. Hint: most houses in Dallas aren’t.

    1. I lived in a really crappy apartment in downtown Phoenix, and the a/c went out in July one year. It was already 115 degrees out (record-breaking temps … in Phoenix … ugh!), and of course it had to be July 4th weekend, so it was a 3-day weekend.

      Things melted. We were on the second of a three-story building. It was horrible.

      Most places here just are NOT made to stand temps of 115 degrees without air conditioning.

  41. I thought I could do this too. I grew up without ever using A/C for 23 years in Germany. Houses and apartments there simply don’t have them, and you’d have to look really hard to find one in hardware stores. While it might get hot, it never gets humid. And oh we laughed at the silly Americans and their love for AC and oh how they must hate the environment.

    Then I ended up in NYC. My first summer there was living hell. Yes, I had a fan. And ice cubes. And all the other neat little tricks. Here in summer, it doesn’t cool down ever, especially not at night. And you better keep those windows closed for when the sun and the humidity burn into your room starting at 6am. It doesn’t even cool down after a thunderstorm (if anything, that makes it more humid).

    So this little hipster environmentalist sucked it up and installed the AC and stopped judging others about their AC use. It’s a quality of life issue here, not an option.

  42. No soap, sweaty authors . . . this blog is really starting to stink up the jernt.

    It’s a good thing you weren’t in Atlanta my junior year (1980) when I lived in an unairconditioned duplex downtown and the temperature didn’t drop below 105 (and the humidity below 75%) for two solid months. The few times it rained, the drops turned into steam the moment they hit the ground.

    I love it when people think the whole entire world is exactly like the place they live.

    I think you should give up heat in the winter. That would make a significant contribution to fight global warming. After all, last winter down here was only really bad for a week or so. And y’all burn a pissload of oil heating your garages so the crankcase don’t freeze.

    I think “I don’t heat” is the new “I don’t a/c.”

    Please do try to keep up.

  43. I’m an environmentalist, I vote Green, and I am all for saving electricity. I drive a tiny, fuel efficient car, I recycle carefully, and I try to minimise my consumption of resources.

    But going airconditioner-free will not work for everyone.

    I have chronic fatigue syndrome (which affects the body’s ability to regulate temperature and causes excessive sweating, even in cold weather) and I live in Australia, where the outdoor temperature reaches 40°C (104 F) or above in summer.

    If I don’t use an air-conditioner set on maximum cold in summer, I feel as though I have influenza all summer.

    Without aircon, I am mentally and physically exhausted (much more so than in winter), stupid, feverish, and constantly getting dehydrated despite drinking 4 litres of water a day.

    Take away my airconditioner, and you are taking away about 30 IQ points from me.

    My friend who has multiple sclerosis finds that her multiple sclerosis symptoms severely flare up the minute she goes away from her very cold airconditioning.

    She actually had to move to the other side of the continent to get a cooler climate, because summer was exacerbating her multiple sclerosis so badly.

  44. Our upstairs AC went out a couple of summers ago. We didn’t even bother going upstairs in the daytime. At night, after it had cooled off a little, it was 95 degrees in the bedrooms. 45% humidity. We slept in sleeping bags downstairs as we waited for the repairmen to fit us into the schedule. Your fan and damp towel are cute, but they’re not gonna hack it in Austin!

  45. ha! what a bunch of pussies!

    We had 120 degrees F IN THE SHADE throughout the summer near Big Bend National Park (Terlingua, TX). We lived there 6 years without any AC at all. We started out living in an old Ford Bus with very little insulation, and no kidding, it could get over 150 degrees in that thing in the middle of the day.

    The 2 keys for cooling off in heat like that:
    air movement and shade.

    When we built our adobe home (lots of thermal mass), we put windows all over the place, so that we could open up the whole thing during the summer. The house was constructed on top of a hill to catch even the smallest breezes. It had wrap-around porches to provide lots of shade for the house (keep the thermal mass cool).

    The highest temperature we ever saw in that house was 85 degrees, and that was wen it was 122 outside.

  46. so…the non-a/c crowd doesn’t have guests over?

    it amazes me that someone could sit around and sweat in their own house.

    i grew up in louisiana, lived in texas for 6 years and now live in upstate new york. definitely different depending on where you live!

    and just because you used a/c, doesn’t mean you have to blast it (i find a lot of places too cool in the summer because of oppressive a/c)

    just my 2 cents

  47. Yeah, that would never fly in New Orleans. I worship my window units and leave them little offerings every day. Sweet, sweet ac.

  48. people, people… our forebears lived without AC and so can we..
    I live in Austin, Texas. It does get warm here.. in 2009 we had 69 days of 100 degrees or more…no AC for me then or now.
    You do need good airflow and a couple of fans but, hey if it gets real hot, like 110, a neighborhood pool or even a blow up kiddie pool will take the heat off.
    A steady breeze on you is the real ticket, your skin is an amazing organ, given the chance, it will keep you cool.

    1. > in 2009 we had 69 days of 100 degrees or more

      I spent the tail end of that summer down in Austin for work. It was the hottest place I’ve ever been to, and I used to spend my summers in the Yucatan!

      [ Note the following summer it didn’t hit 100 till like July 30th down in Austin. And the people rejoiced. ]

  49. I’ve spent summers in Texas, NM and Arizona without A/C and I didn’t find it uncomfortable at all. Dry 100 degree weather is great as far as I’m concerned. Typical American A/C temperatures consistently give me colds. But then again, I hate winters.

    The only time I really felt it was too hot was 107 degrees at extremely high humidity in St. Lous, MO. Anything below 100 degrees, I’m perfectly fine.

  50. I live in the south-west of Western Australia where it can get as hot as 40C (104F) in summer, but I’ve never had air-con. As another aussie above pointed out, it usually cools down considerably at night. Good insulation, opening the house up at dusk and closing it again at dawn, and ceiling fans help a lot.

    I know now that air-con is gaining popularity and a lot of people who’ve lived happily without it all their lives now insist on running it constantly. I figure that if I never get it, I’ll never miss is – thus saving on energy usage and expense.

  51. I tend to sweat easily if there’s humidity (and in dry desert heat too, just not as much). Not everyone sweats a whole lot, and those that don’t obviously don’t understand what it’s like – it’s awful. One of the most uncomfortable natural body things (except when you want to or expect to sweat, like if you’re exercising or something).

    I have spent a lot of time in Thailand. It’s always hot and humid, even in the dry season. Doesn’t cool down appreciably at night. Typical temperatures are comparatively not that high – right now in Chiang Mai it’s 31 celsius, which is only about 90 fahrenheit (it’s generally hotter in Bangkok). But, the humidity is a killer. The only place where it isn’t humid is… in air-conditioned buildings. Air-conditioned buildings are a refuge in places like Thailand. It takes the most uncomfortable feeling around and erases it instantly. It’s hard to put into words what a great feeling it is to walk into an air-conditioned building after spending even just a few seconds outdoors there (no exaggeration).

    My girlfriend is Thai, and very rarely sweats. She doesn’t like Bangkok because it’s hotter than Chiang Mai enough that she’ll sweat sometimes. Luckily she’ll concede to my need for air-conditioning, especially at night (the sheets get soaked in my sweat without it, even with a fan blowing right at me). It’s rather expensive (in relative terms, for Thailand) though.

    Back here in the US, I do like air conditioning but don’t need it running all the time. It’s a nice luxury but not necessary (though here in SoCal I tend to run it most of the time in my car because it gets very hot in cars here). In western New York where I grew up, it just never got hot enough to be necessary there either (though this means the a/c doesn’t have to work very hard, so it’s not too expensive to run it at a low level through most of the summer). But it’s absolutely essential in some places, such as the southern US and in SE Asia. Unless of course you’ve adapted to it, as most SE Asians have, but even then it’s nice to have.

  52. I have a suggestion for keeping cool (sorry if it has already been mentioned).

    My Basement is very cold, like most, in the summer time. So on those unbearably hot summer nights i go downstairs and open up the intake panel of my furnace, exposing the filter which opens up to the fan for the furnace. I then go upstairs and cover the intake vent for the furnace in the living room. I then turn on the fan function of the furnace. This way, the furnace is drawing in the cool air of the basement and blowing it throughout the upstairs.

  53. Why is it that heating your home in winter is viewed as an essential while cooling it in summer is viewed as a luxury?

    Our forebears did without both. And not insignificant numbers have died due to the lack of either. How come it’s the cooling people keep banging on about cutting down? Is it perhaps because the cooling technology is so much more recent than that for heating?

    1. Why is it that heating your home in winter is viewed as an essential while cooling it in summer is viewed as a luxury?

      Our forebears did without both. And not insignificant numbers have died due to the lack of either. How come it’s the cooling people keep banging on about cutting down? Is it perhaps because the cooling technology is so much more recent than that for heating?

      I don’t know how far back you want to go, but I believe fire was discovered quite a while ago. I’m also quite confident that sub-zero temperatures will kill you much more efficiently than 100 degree heat. In fact, fire is what enabled humans to move to colder climates in the first place.

      For me it’s about what you’re used to and personal preference, not about judging people. One thing I will say though, I have no idea why people will set their A/C to something like 70 degrees and below when it’s 100 degrees outside. Literally makes me sick every time. Set it to a comfortable 80 degrees.

  54. 83°F outside, and he’s perfectly comfortable? I hope so! That’s nothing. In fact, as someone from the Deep (freaking hot and nasty humid) South, I’d say that 83°F is _cool_ weather.

    That’s a problem with I have a lot of “how to avoid AC” tips. They come from people sitting around in temperatures that don’t require AC and don’t offer solutions that work well when it’s really hot and humid (like evap. cooling).

    I think the magic temperature for needing AC is around 95°F, at least with low-moderate humidity–if you are not doing physical labor but just writing or something.

  55. I practice the same overnight cool-down/close-up procedure. I have taken things one step farther by installing a foil reflective barrier in my attic which reflects 97% of the heat trying to come in thru the roof. 97%!!! I live in California’s Central Valley and almost _NEVER_ have to use the AC. Also have solar panels spinning my electric meter backwards! If I can , you can. Let’s roll!

  56. I also use a lot less soap than I used to, and have stopped using it on my face, which has paradoxically eliminated pimples. I didn’t go cold turkey on soap because I found my peppermint Dr. Bronner’s was providing an important relaxation and cooling function.

  57. You have to be kidding me, all of these comments about loving it when it is 100 degrees and what not, are you kidding me? Try living here in Dallas through the summer without A/C seriously there are people who try that little trick every year and tons of them die of heat stroke every single year. I don’t know about where ever you live but here in Dallas you will die if you don’t have A/C. <-- notice the period.

    1. Try living here in Dallas through the summer without A/C seriously there are people who try that little trick every year and tons of them die of heat stroke every single year. I don’t know about where ever you live but here in Dallas you will die if you don’t have A/C.

      Tons? Will die? That’s a bit of exaggeration.

      Heat-related deaths are about 700/year for the entire US. Believe it or not, even Dallas existed before widespread A/C. Seems that there were and are other ways to cope with the heat. Also, people in the Middle East, where it’s even hotter than in Texas, managed to create civilization and science as we know it. Apparently they were able to think without A/C…

  58. I live and grow in Indonesia, average temperature is in range of 20-40 C. But I don’t like air conditioner very much.

    In office, I avoid air conditioned room and prefer an open room with good ventilation.

    I also have an air conditioner at home, but never use it. It’s from previous occupant.

  59. If you’re desperate at night because it’s too hot to get to sleep, go to bed in a wet bathing suit.

  60. What about pets? I have a long haired cat who melts when it hits 80 degrees here in San Francisco, where A/C is rare. I can’t imagine moving somewhere warmer and just letting her suffer. It’s fine to talk about houses built for hot weather, but as a renter there is not a lot I can do to heat proof my place. Do any of the no A/C enthusiasts have pets in their homes?

  61. 100 degrees in the desert is fine, as long as you find shade. Was more comfortable in long pants in vegas in august than in shorts because it felt 20 degrees cooler in shade. Sweat evaporates immediately.

    Here in NYC, on a muggy 80 degree day, it is brutal. Your sweat never evaporates and sits there absorbing the foul, steamy pneumas emanating from the sewers and subways.

  62. For those suggesting swamp coolers, their effectiveness is inversely proportional to the humidity in the air. This means that they are totally ineffective in areas of the US like the southeast, where humidity is over 90% for basically all of the summer.

    Someone mentioned attic fans, and yes, they are the bee’s knees, but they’re not right for everyone. For one thing, they’re pretty expensive, especially if you don’t install them yourself. For another thing, if your house, like ours, has a loft instead of an attic, you can’t put an attic fan in. You have to put a fan in the roof itself. This is a problem because an attic fan doesn’t have to be weatherproof (the attic protects it from the elements) but a fan in the roof has to be weatherproof. You also can’t run it when it’s raining, which is a pretty big down-side. Instead of an attic fan, we just purchased one of these (link). It goes in a window, so you can install it anywhere, but it moves WAY more air than a box fan, and can effectively exhaust the whole house… well, not as fast as an attic fan, but pretty darn well.

    Here are two blog posts that deal with this topic. They’re written by my partner and house-mate, and describe what we do to go without AC in East Tennessee.

  63. I’m born and raised in Phoenix, it’s not hot until it’s in the 110’s. I grew up with swamp/evap coolers which work part of the summer, the other part monsoon season not so much. I’ve got Multiple Sclerosis and I’m lucky that I don’t have that bad of heat issues however no AC….. would probably either hospitalize or kill me. Someone from Minnesota giving tips on summers is a bit like someone from Phoenix giving tips on winters. I don’t use my heater much, I just grab an extra blanket, I’m sure you guys can do that too.

  64. Amazing. Apparently not one poster here suffers from allergies. For those of us that do, AC is a real godsend.

  65. I live in central Oklahoma City and lived for 5 years without AC. We have remodelled our 1929 Craftsman bungalow so we could do this.

    We planted shade trees and bushes, so that now virtually all of the house is shaded. We replaced the windows with double pane, argon filled, low e coated windows. We put R-50 insulation in the attic, insulate our existing exterior walls, and then built new walls 5-1/2 inches inside of all of our exterior walls and filled that with insulation, giving us 9 inches of insulation in the walls. We have R-20 interior insulating shutters for all of our windows. We replaced the doors with insulate ddoors and installed storm doors. we also made insulating panels for two of the doors so they are R-24 doors.

    We turned 20 feet of south facing brick wall into windows, which is how we heat our house (we have a wood burning stove for backup on days when the sun doesnt shine in the winter). We don’t have any other heat source (no natural gas). Since our house is old, it has eaves all around so the south facing windows are shaded by the eaves. We have a whole house fan. We have ceiling fans and other smaller fans throughout the house.

    When it cools down at night, which is most of the summer, we open the house up at night and ventilate. In the morning, when the inside and outside temperatures are about to equalize, we close everything up and turn on the fans.

    This works very well at controlling the temperature. Typically when it is 100 degrees outside, it is 82 degrees or so inside, which with the fans, makes a nice temperature. However, we can do nothing about the humidity, and as we got older that began to be a problem. So we got a 5K BTU window unit, which is only supposed to cool 150 sq ft, but it does a good job of dehumidifying our 1548 sq ft house and it is cheap to operate (about $60/month). Previous to this, before we did all this energy conservation work, to keep cool in the summer it took 4 window units and about $250/electricity at year 2000 prices.

    1. Is that an “airplane bungalow” by some chance? The kind that have an upstairs sleeping porch? I used to live in OKC and I remember there were quite a few of them around the inner NW part of the city, in the neighborhoods along Classen Blvd. The design supposedly channeled light breezes over the roof and through the sleeping porch making them a great place to sleep on summer nights.

  66. Someone in the Peace Corps told me once to freeze a wet towel and put it over your head to fall asleep on especially hot nights. I woke up with a hot, wet, sticky towel plastered to my face. Not a good idea.

  67. I keep my home at 82 F during the winter so summer I just open the windows and enjoy… I have asthma and find keeping the house warmer helps my lungs… it costs a bit more during the winter but my power bills are ziltch all summer…
    like no soap? no just when it gets too hot get outside and go…
    south central oklahoma…

  68. “What about pets? I have a long haired cat…”

    Um, trying to put this politely..don’t you, uh, clip your cat’s hair? I’ve avoided long haired cats, but have a poodle and a shitzu x who both get clipped until the weather gets cold. I’m also pleasantly surprised when I check the temperature under beds and on the bathroom floor, places where my pets hang out a lot in summer.

    1. Since domestic cats seem to have originated in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and the Sand Cat, at least, is hella fluffy, it doesn’t seem likely that the heat will hurt a house cat as long as it has water.

      I moved to Palm Springs with a long-hair and he seemed quite unfazed by the heat. He didn’t even shed that much. The static electricity, on the other hand, was a nightmare.

  69. I’m not sure this would work for small children, either; my nine-month old is just learning to walk, gets herself nice and warm and tired out, and is then too hot & cranky to nap unless the AC’s on. I somehow doubt she’d let herself be neck-wrapped with a wet towel….

  70. When it’s soo hot and I can’t sleep, I will partially wet down my (long) hair and splash cold water over my arms and legs, turn the ceiling fan and any other fan toward me and lay in bed. Keeps me cool enough to fall asleep nicely

  71. Considering that most energy drain in this country is server and computer related, no A/C is a feel good patch on the internet hippie soul.

    It’s been triple digits two-three times a week here, and even with great insulation and great seals it’s an oven without the A/C cranked up. It would require a complete redesign of all buildings in the area, which is just functionally impossible. As for things still worked back in the day, people in hot areas worked slow as hell back in the day because of the heat – taking long breaks and developing a culture of slow moving business and people.

    Next up: Life without refrigeration: how salting meats will save your life in a long winter.

  72. pets???? are you serious? we have had pets for millions of years we have only had A/C for what? 70 years? it’s not like we never had pets before A/C… open the windows or put them in a safe place outside…

  73. I live in New England and don’t use air conditioning – a few years ago my car’s air conditioning broke and I decided to not fix it, and admittedly it took some adjusting at first – but now I find the air conditioning free world much nicer. I just need a fan and a window and I’m fine for sleep.

    I have to deal with the AC at work unfortunately, but there’s not much I can do about that aside from quitting my awesome job.

    Also, I hope no air conditioning doesn’t become the new no soap, because trust me – when there’s no air conditioning I need soap. I may get used to the smell of my own BO, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else should.

  74. Interesting that so many people discuss what to do in *houses* to cool down.

    Sure, air-conditioning only became prevalent in the USA over the past 60-70 years. Before A/c what did many people do in cities like New York and Boston (hot & humid in the summer)? Well, many of them hung out in the evening and slept on fire-escapes, sidewalks, and in public parks, and suffered.

    This does not seem to be a good option for most city dwellers in the USA in the 21st century. Cities also have a heat-island effect where the buildings absorb heat all day and then release it at night (so no night cool down)

    In the past, rich people would go to the seaside or the mountains, or more northern places for the summer. That’s how places like Martha’s Vineyard, Saratoga Springs NY, and Newport, RI became summer resorts.

    I can sleep comfortably with a fan blowing on me if the temperature is below 83 F (28 C) & there’s some ventilation. But, I know this would not work for many people. I also am lucky that where I live in Hong Kong it gets that cool at night. Many people, if their neighbors run a/c, they have to as well, because the neighbor’s hot air would get blown into their windows. In fact, most apartment buildings are designed w/ the plan that a/c will be used.

    Interesting articles & books about the changes that air conditioning brought to the USA:

    Ackerman, Marsha E. 2002. Cool Comfort: America’s Romance with Air Conditioning. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

    Arsenault, Ramond. (1984). The End of the Long Hot Summer: the Air Conditioner and Southern Culture. The Journal of Southern History. Vol. 50, No. 4., pp. 597-628.

    Cooper, Gail. 1998. Air-conditioning America : Engineers and the Controlled Environment, 1900-1960. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press.

  75. I live in WA state–so far even in the Eastern side in can be miserable in the daytime during July and August, but cools down at night and is comfortable with just fans. I can’t tolerate the heat so I don’t go out during the hottest part of the day, but I’m comfortable otherwise.
    However, I grew up in Oklahoma, where it not only gets miserably hot but is miserably humid, with the constant wind being the only saving grace. I didn’t grow up with AC either, but our house had an attic fan that ran continuously from April/May to October. We could tolerate the heat then, course you wind up taking off a lot of clothes then! My husband’s family used water coolers which could be really could when the humidity was lower.
    Both our families would do the same thing of cooling the house at night and shutting things down to keep the cool in, which also worked.

  76. Engage in less activity during the day, or go somewhere public where it is cold. In the evening, hang out on the porch or in the yard.

    Try to limit oven use. We’ve started putting our crockpot in the garage to cook since it is already hot in there. We sometimes use a solar oven outside (this model: Just cook less in the summer – maybe more sandwiches or something …

    Talk to older people who grew up without air conditioning. My mother and husband both grew up in Texas without air conditioning and survived.

    It is interesting to think how our culture has changed because of air conditioning, both in good and bad ways. Example: people hanging out in their homes more, rather than hanging out with neighbors.

    Drink a lot of water.

  77. I’m amazed that no one mentioned the obvious here…
    Lose weight… if you are overweight or obese then you feel that sweating and living life in anything warmer then you can work without braking a sweat is uncomfortable… check your BMI guys…

  78. 91 degrees with 65% humidity on the last day of spring. I don’t think so. I grew up without AC, and hated it.

    1. It’s 115° here right now. So, yeah, AC is a good thing. But it still wakes me up when it starts blowing ice-cold air on me in the middle of the night. For me, it’s a matter of doing everything else to manage the heat before using the AC.

  79. Perhaps if you’re having trouble with A/Cs, you can try to adjust the thermostat to a higher temperature (if you are allowed to do so). When sleeping, wear socks and gloves, since the extremities of our bodies tend to be sensitive to cold temperatures.

    I’ve read research that says we should leave the thermostat at a comfortable temperature as close to the outside as we can stand to minimise energy use, as well as to make sure that we are cooling humans rather than freezing humans alongside cooling everything else in the room

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