How to Keep Cool Without Air Conditioning

Ceiling fan
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Air conditioning units are energy-hungry appliances, and they are responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions. In many southern areas, cooling may be the number one energy need for some households. How do we reduce our energy use, while staying comfortable? 

Keep the Air Moving

According to Harvey Sachs of the non-profit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the movement of air over the skin is what’s key to keeping the body cool. We can use that fact to our advantage during hot spells.

  • Instead of turning on that AC, see which direction the breeze is blowing outside (no matter how minimal it may be), and then open a few windows strategically to try to get it flowing through the house from end-to-end or side-to-side.
  • If the breeze alone is not enough, apply some fan power. Even small tabletop fans, which can be obtained for less than $30, can really whip the air around. Placing one facing in by the window where air is coming in, and one at an opposite window positioned to blow warm air out, can create a nice “wind tunnel” effect in pulling air through the house.
  • These strategies can be especially effective at night when it is cooler. But then it’s important to shut the windows when you leave for the day in the morning to keep the cooler air in and the warmth of the new day out. Keep blinds shut and curtains drawn, too, as sunlight pouring into the house only creates more heat. 
  • Ceiling fans also do a nice job of circulating air in the rooms you occupy most, and though they do require some up-front costs for installation they use only about 1/30th the electricity of a room air conditioner.

    Other Ways to Stay Cool

    Beyond moving the air around to keep cool, here are a few more tips to keep cool without air conditioning:

    • Stay hydrated
    • Perform the more physical chores early in the morning or later at night, when the air is cooler and you don't need AC to cool you down when you're done.
    • Keep your t-shirt sleeves or cotton hat wet with cold water; the evaporation will bring down your body temperature.

    Greener Options

    Of course, if you just can’t live without air conditioning, there are greener options out there. For starters, a single window unit that keeps one room cool is far less energy intensive and polluting than central air conditioning that keeps all the rooms in the house cool. Look for new models sporting the federal Energy Star label, which marks units as energy efficient. Newer, so-called "mini-split" ductless air conditioner systems are especially energy efficient and quiet.

    Another option for those in hot, dry climates is an evaporative cooler (sometimes known as a "swamp cooler"), which cools outdoor air through evaporation and blows it inside the house. These units make for a nice alternative to traditional central air conditioning, as they cost about half as much to install and use only one-quarter of the energy overall.