When summer arrives and the temperatures soar, we may be experiencing rolling brown-outs in a recession or depression. Staying cool when the air conditioning shuts off may seem difficult – and you won’t be as cool as artificial air conditioning can make it. But you can stay at least comfortably cool, survivably cool.
If you can do it, planting shade trees, deciduous trees that shed their leaves each fall, can save you over $200 a year in cooling costs. It reduces the temperature under the shade canopy of the tree by 10ºF- 20ºF. With a breeze, that makes any summer temperature we get bearable. I recommend planting oaks because them you can eat the acorns, burn the prunings in winter, mulch and compost the leaves and eat the squirrels that will take up residence in it. Other nut trees like pecans are also good choices. Fruit trees rarely grow large enough or have a deep enough canopy to provide good cooling shade, although they can provide supplemental shade when planted along the west side of a house. When you plant trees, plant trees you can eat from and use in more than 2 ways. This will take several years to be effective, so long term planning here!
Pull your shades on the side of the house where the sun is entering. If you have solar curtains, by all means, use them! If it gets hot enough, put either styrofoam squares or foil in the sunny windows and forget what your neighbors will say – you’ll be cooler. If you have outside roll-down storm shutters, those, too can be used to block the hot sun from heating the inside of your home.
Cross-ventilate your home by opening windows and placing a fan in one (sunny) window blowing outside to vent the hot interior air and a fan in one (shaded) window blowing cooler air into the house.
Ceiling fans also help even room temperatures so you need less air conditioning. If you have a full house attic fan, use it to vent hot air from the house.
Open the house in the evenings to take advantage of the cooler night air and close the house up in the mornings before the heat rises to retain some coolness in the house – especially if you’re gone working all day. You don’t need to cool a place no one is in.
Use CFL bulbs wherever you can. Not all light sockets will accept a CFL, but using them in place of the incandescents will reduce your illumination expenses by as much as 75% – and it will also reduce the heat in your home because CFLs burn cooler than incendescents. When LEDs are practical as home lighting, they will use even less energy and exude less heat. Halogen lights generate a LOT of heat, don’t use them in the summer.
Dress cool inside your home. If you have long hair, pin it up. Consider buying and using those “cool bandanas” that you soak in water, they swell up, and then, you wear it draped over the back of your neck, your wrists, or as a head scarf to help keep you cooler (works best with a breeze because this is evaporation cooling, so wear them under a fan or by open windows that funnel breezes through the house). These can last for years with the proper care, and can therefore help keep you cool for years. When you use them, soak them well the first time – a couple of hours. Let them dry completely between soakings because if you keep them wet all the time, they will mold (speaking from experience), so get several. They’re not too expensive – $3 – $5 at places like Target and Wal-Mart, more at outdoor sports stores.
Keep air moving inside the home and if it gets warm, take a hint from campers and mist yourself – the evaporation of the mist will cool you off if there’s a fan moving the air. Sometimes, setting a bowl of ice cubes in front of the fan will also cool the air slightly. You can also use those re-freezable ice mats they make for ice chests and lunch boxes to fasten in front of a fan - they last longer than a bag of ice cubes. Evaporation cooling is still an important way to keep cool.
Caulk your windows and exterior doors so cool air doesn’t leak out.
Drink plenty of fluids, mostly water, but sip them slowly. Overhydration is as bad as underhydration. What you’re aiming for is even hydration – enough to keep yourself cool but not so much that your urine is totally clear. In the event that you’re deprived of water suddenly. you don’t want to be in a state of overhydration because that’s the quickest way to get dehydrated and to damage your kidneys. Your kidneys take a while to figure out that you’re not drinking enough water and will continue to process body fluids as if you were drinking as much as you normally do. Then suddenly, you’re dehydrated and your kidneys have no body fluids to process and you’re suddenly in big trouble health-wise. Keep yourself in moderate hydration. It will keep you cooler and save you if you are in a waterless situation.
Outside, seek shade and a breeze. Keep a bottle mister with you and mist yourself if there’s the slightest breeze to help with evaporation cooling.
Wear a scarf draped down the back of your neck and keep that damp to help keep yourself cool. Or use those cooling bandanas. An open weave crown hat with a wide dense brim can also help keep you cool and prevent sunburn.
Umbrellas aren’t just for rain. A colored umbrella can block the heat of the sun if there’s no other shade available. Those pretty waxed paper umbrellas work as well as the rainproof ones for sun shade. And so do cloth ones. If you have umbrellas with the fabric torn, don’t toss the frame – re-cover it with canvas or heavy muslin. You can even fancy it up with fringe it you want – this umbrella is for shade, not keeping you dry.
Wear light colored clothing in layers. It helps block the sun, and can catch and funnel the breeze to your skin, keeping you cooler.
Do your heaviest work in the mornings and late evening when it’s cooler outside. Do light work or desk work in the heat of the day.
These are just a few tips. I'm sure you can think of more.
If you live or work in a building that doesn’t have windows that open, petition to get them to open so when the brown-outs come and the air conditioning goes off, you can stay at least functionally cool. Heat exhaustion, and it’s more serious cousin heat stroke, are not to be toyed with.
Heat is harder to deal with than cold. We have fewer options to stay cool than we do to stay warm. Do what you can to keep cool and work to get your workplace to have options for cooling when the power goes out. And it will. A storm, an overload, equipment failure, too heavy a drain from too many people, or economics can cause your power company to not provide adequate power to keep you cool. It’s up to you to learn how to survive such situations and to make sure everywhere you go can be tolerable.