It’s tough to stay cool without air conditioning these days—and it seems that it’s only going to get harder.
This year has brought some truly terrible news about climate change. Rather than brooding sleeplessly over it, or ineffectually shaking my fist at the greedy few who bear the most responsibility for ruining our cute little planet, I’m trying to be zen n’ shit! Gotta focus on the things I can control, and take whatever pragmatic steps are within my ability to take.
… But if you are Doing A Beheading, please invite me.
Today we’re sharing our best strategies for cooling your home without air conditioning. If you’re reading this during the cold months, you’ve come to the wrong place. But you are adjacent to the right place, Because we have an article with all our best heat-conserving tips as well:
20 tips to stay cool without air conditioning that anyone can try
I’m starting out with tips that anyone can try. If you rent, or live with family, or have a super limited budget for home cooling solutions, I guarantee at least some of these tips will help you stay cool without air conditioning.
1. Close your curtains and blinds—especially in sunny rooms.
Windows let in visible light. But unless your windows are fairly new and high-tech, they also let in lots of radiant heat. Curtains and blinds will help keep that extra heat out.
Thick curtains are a great investment because they work in all seasons. They block the sun in the summer, stop cold drafts in the winter, and act as additional soundproofing if you live in a noisy area. They’re also among the easiest beginner sewing projects. But if you can’t afford them, no worries! Hang an unused blanket or towel instead—it may not be pretty, but it’s better than nothing.
I hate living in a cave, so I open my blinds throughout the day as the sun moves. Just closing the curtains on any sunny, south-facing windows for the hottest parts of the day will make a big impact.
2. Install window film.
The next level of window protection is window film. Renters, don’t worry—you can install this yourself without getting help or permission from your housing shortage profiteer of a landlord!
To install window film, all you need to do is cut it to size, spritz the window with water, and let static cling hold it effortlessly in place. It comes in a lot of fun patterns, and can also double as privacy film if you choose a pattered or frosted design.
3. Shut the door to any rooms you aren’t using.
Whether it’s summer or winter, closing the doors to unused rooms will help regulate temperatures. It’s much easier to heat/cool one room than five.
My partner shocks me every day by going upstairs an hour before bedtime and turning on the window AC unit in our bedroom preemptively. If the door it shut, it will be pleasantly chilly by the time we’re ready to turn in. I just… what is it even like to have proper executive function like that?! So glad I’m the beneficiary of his amazing neurotypicality…
4. Open your windows at night.
In many areas, the overnight temperature drops by 10° or 20°. So once the sun has gone down, let all the accumulated heat out of your house by cracking your windows open overnight.
If possible, open them from the top rather than the bottom. Hot air rises, so that’s the stuff you want to GTFO overnight.
5. Create airflow with box fans.
Box fans are incredible. They don’t cost much to buy or run, but they make a huge impact on quality of life in a hot climate.
Believe it or not, installation makes a huge difference. If you put your box fan in the wrong spot, it’ll only make your heat issues worse! The placement and direction of airflow has a huge impact on its efficacy! (More on this in the next section.)
If you place a box fan in a sunny, south-facing window that looks out over a boiling-hot parking lot, you want it to push that hot air outside, not suck it all back in. But if you have a window that’s on the cooler north side of the house, maybe shaded by a big tree, flip it around so it’s pulling the cooler air inside.
If you have just one, point it away from the biggest source of heat and try to sit near it. If you have two or more, point them all in the same direction to create airflow throughout the whole house.
6. Point your fan blades in the correct direction.
Notice how fan blades are tilted at an angle? Depending on which direction they’re turning, they will either push air in, or pull it out.
The same goes for ceiling fans. If you’ve never changed the direction of your ceiling fan blades, you’re using them wrong!
- Ceiling fans in the summer should run counter-clockwise, to push hot ceiling air down to cool.
- Ceiling fans in the winter should run clockwise, to pull cold air up and distribute heat evenly.
For box fans, you physically flip the whole unit around. For ceiling fans, hop up on a chair and look for a little switch on the side. You’re welcome.
7. Install AC window units.
Okay, okay, when I said “without air conditioning,” I should’ve stipulated that I really meant “without central air.”
Depending on your area, the age/design of your building, the floor you live on, and your personal tolerance for heat, fans and such may not be enough! If you need the sweet relief of air conditioning, window units are a life-saver. (Literally.)
We have a small 5,000 BTU unit for our bedroom, and a larger 10,000 BTU unit to cool our entire first floor. It doesn’t make the whole house frigid, but it lowers the temperature from “a warm summer day in Hell” to “a warm summer day on Earth, in a good timeline.”
Obviously they use more energy, which equates to money and carbon emissions. So the best thing you can do is to get an energy-efficient model, make sure it’s the correct size for your home, turn the unit on only as needed, and use it in combination with all the other methods suggested here.
8. Run a dehumidifier.
Humidity sucks. It reduces the efficacy of all of our bodies’ built-in cooling systems, plus many of the other techniques suggested here. A dehumidifier will help remove moisture from the air, making the heat feel a lot more bearable.
9. Avoid cooking with heat indoors.
The winter is a wonderful time to simmer soups, bake bread, and make your kitchen a source of continual warmth and satiety. Not so, the accursed summer! Cast your high-effort pie-baking aside until the howling of wolves summons autumn.
THIS IS SUMMER. SUMMER IS FOR SANDWICHES. And caprese, and smoothies, and Choco Tacos. END OF LIST.
Grow the list of meals you can make that cook quickly, with little or no additional heat. If you must apply heat, do it outside on a little Smokey Joe. Or wait until the heat of the day is long past.
10. Line-dry your clothing—or only use dryers at night.
After stoves, clothes dryers are the hottest appliance. So put your clothing in the dryer only after the sun has gone down. If you’re rocking a low-maintenance wardrobe with no need to iron, you can set it to go right before bed and safely forget about it until morning.
(Or, y’know, five days after, when you go to put another load in, if you’re trying to be more like your hero: me!)
If you have the space (and your climate is something closer to the Sahara than the Amazon), consider line-drying your clothes. Piggy has strung a retired climbing rope in her backyard for just this purpose… the smug, crunchy bitch.
11. Unplug unused appliances.
This tip is just perennially good in all situations: unplug shit you ain’t using! Lots of appliances pull phantom power, even when supposedly turned off. This adds heat to your house, dollars to your power bill, and unnecessary carbon to the atmosphere.
The average American household spends $100+ each year to power devices that are turned off. I can think of many things I would rather spend that money on, such as…
- 17 blocks of pretty good Parmesan cheese,
- 10 blocks of really, really good Parmesan cheese with those crunchy flavor crystals, or
- 25 store brand cannisters of shake Parmesean cheese because, listen, we’ve had it up to here with your out-of-touch neoliberal cheese snobbery!
So if you’re not using it, unplug it fully. Make it a habit to flip your power strips off as part of your bedtime ritual. (Or follow the next step, for all of the benefits with none of the work!)
12. Use programmable power strips.
I must confess that this article started as an attempt to answer a cheap-person question that has plagued my marriage for years. “Is it cheaper to run your window AC on a low setting all day? Or to blast it at full strength to cool the room back down after it’s gotten boiling hot?”
The tl;dr is that it is better to run it only as needed. Your AC doesn’t have to “work harder” to cool the room; it is programmed to run efficiently, regardless of the room’s temperature.
If you’re someone who really struggles with high heat, and cannot wait for your home or apartment to be brought to a comfortable temperature, here’s what you do. Get a programmable power strip. You can set it to turn your AC on an hour before you get home from school or work. In general, these things are great, and they pay for themselves within a very short time.
13. Use LED lightbulbs.
LED light bulbs cost a bit more than incandescent (old-fashioned) bulbs. But they consume 1/8th the energy, die less frequently, and run much colder. Incandescent bulbs reach a surface temperature of 250°, whereas LED bulbs are closer to 100°.
The rise of LED bulbs may have killed the Easy Bake Oven industrial complex—but it has also spared our homes from much unnecessary heat.
14. Sleep on breathable sheets.
The best sheets for summer tend to be linen, bamboo, eucalyptus, Tencel, and cotton/poly blends. They are breathable, moisture-wicking, or both.
The worst sheets for summer are flannel, fleece, and pure cotton. These are fantastic insulators best left to the winter months.
15. Try a cooling pillow.
Bedding technology has come a long way in recent years. You can get whole mattresses engineered to please hot sleepers.
But since mattresses are a big investment, start with a cooling pillow. They’re filled with materials designed to let heat escape from your head and face.
16. Dress down.
I’m not saying you should get naked… but listen. If you come around my house in the summertime, you are absolutely going to have to wait at the door while I put some pants on.
The easiest, most environmentally friendly way to control your body temperature is to dress appropriately for the season. So make sure you’re in shorts and a tank top before you reach for the thermostat.
17. Eat and drink cool stuff.
Staying hydrated is the best way to aid your body’s amazing natural cooling system: getting schwetty. Ingesting cold foods and liquids can help lower your body temperature by 2.4° for about half an hour.
Look, Bitches Get Riches has always been a pro-ice cream, pro-iced coffee, pro-gazpacho blog. But we’re done hiding our allegiances in the shadows. If you don’t know, now you know.
18. Take a cool mid-day shower—not cold!
Taking a cold shower will actually work against you. The sudden shock of cold will make you feel cooler, but it will also kickstart your body’s temperature regulation systems, ultimately warming you up.
But a cool shower is great—especially if you don’t dry off immediately. Let the water evaporate slowly off your skin for maximum true cooling.
19. Hold a cold ice pack to your neck.
Here’s a fun tip: if you’re ever helping someone experiencing heat stroke, the three most effective areas for rapid cooling are the neck, the underarms, and the groin. These areas have major arterial blood flow, with blood vessels very close to the skin. So cooling the blood there has the quickest positive impact.
Plus, anyone who’s ever had long hair will tell you it’s a disgusting swamp back there when it’s hot out. The back of the neck is nature’s furnace. So if you can’t shower, place a cold washcloth or ice pack against your neck for some instant, easy relief.
Sometimes retreat is the best option. If a really bad heat wave is coming, and you live on the 4th floor of a city apartment surrounded by shimmering pavement, you could be in very real danger.
The hottest part of the day is between 12 and 4 p.m. On really bad days, plan to use that time to go somewhere to escape. You can run errands in air-conditioned stores, do your work at a local coffee shop or library, catch a movie, go swimming, or do anything to get you out of the house.
While you’re away, leave your windows cracked to let the worst of the heat escape. And remember to check on any elderly or disabled neighbors, as they are especially vulnerable during heat waves.
5 additional tips to stay cool without air conditioning that homeowners can try
If you’re lucky enough to own your own home, you could tackle some bigger projects to improve your cooling options. They require a bit more planning and investment, but the returns are spectacular. Especially for our poor planet.
21. Install more ceiling fans.
Ceiling fans are the most effective fans for cooling and heating. Even if you have air conditioning, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat by 4° without compromising comfort.
They’re relatively cheap to install, cheap to run, and useful in all seasons. So you can’t go wrong installing a few! (Unless your ceilings are wicked low.)
22. Check your attic ventilation.
Every attic I’ve ever been in has been chokingly stuffy and hot. So I’d rather do anything than go up there in the summertime.
But if you have a hard time keeping your home cool, it’s worth it to suck it up and check your attic ventilation. You do NOT want hot air and moisture allowed to gather up there unchecked! It warps wood, feeds mold, and degrades your roof. Make sure ice, birds, fallen insulation, or a VERY dumb previous owner haven’t covered the vents.
If you’re a renter and you think something funky is up with your attic, leave it alone and petition your
housing inventory gobbling leech landlord to have a look. Attics are tricky; one wrong step and you’ll put a foot through the ceiling.
23. Add insulation.
Insulation is one of the best improvements you can make to your home for long-term comfort and energy savings. As such, there are a lot of assistance programs, tax breaks, and other incentives to encourage its installation.
So if your home lacks good insulation, check to see if there are state or federal programs to help you add more. I live in a very old house that was previously insulated only by horsehair. (Fucking YIKES. Sorry, Spirit!)My state blew about $3,000 worth of modern insulation in, without disturbing anything, and charged me only about $800. Best money I’ve spent in my home.
24. Make your roof greener.
Look—green roofs make for great cottage-core, and I’m all about manifesting more forest witch energy in the universe. But green roofs require a lot of attention, maintenance, and expertise. Luckily, there are two easier options for a (figuratively) green roof!
The first is to add solar panels. Even setting aside their energy-generating and bill-offsetting possibilities, solar panels reflect sunlight off your roof and lower your home’s internal temperature by about 5°.
An easier and cheaper option is to paint your roof white. We’ve known for centuries that white roofs reflect heat. Look no further than the white-roofed buildings of North Africa and the Mediterranean (places I have only traveled in my Google Image Searches and/or dreams)! Just that one change can cut your cooling costs by as much as 40%!
25. Plant more trees.
Trees are the ultimate way to stay cool without air conditioning.
They’re affordable. They remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replace it with sweet, sweet oxygen. Once established, they basically need no care. They work best at midday—when heat is at its worst—through a process called “evapotranspiration.”
Which is basically tree sweat! Mmm, tree sweat…
Plus, they’re beautiful! They’re a vital part of our ecosystem! Mature trees raise a home’s property value AND lower a neighborhood’s temperature. There’s no real downside to adding some sturdy native trees to your property.
Did we miss any good tips to stay cool without air conditioning?
I have done my best to dig deep and come up with all the best tips I could. But I’ve saved my very best one for last.
If all else fails in your quest to stay cool without air conditioning, just lay down on the floor and watch this compilation of Mr. Freeze puns until you feel a chill in the air.
Guys. I cannot emphasize how important this video is to me.
This is the greatest minute of cinema ever compiled, the absolute sum of mankind’s achievements. In my home, it is the Bible. If you are under my roof, no one can say cold-adjacent words like “snow” or “ice” without someone else screaming “—ZE ICE AGE!!!” in their hammiest Austrian accent. Piggy cannot write about freezing your credit without me slipping it in. I believe our repeated invocation of Joel Schumacher-era Mr. Freeze keeps our home approximately 30% cooler than it would be otherwise.
I feel hashtag blessed to share this one cool trick with all of you. (“COOL!!”) Now share yours in the comments below!
30 thoughts to “25 Tricks to Stay Cool WITHOUT Air Conditioning”
A good option for attics and such, particularly attics that are uninsulated or under-insulated, is reflective insulation. Basically a big ole roll of aluminum foil designed to reflect heat, whether that’s inside or outside your house, and it’s comparatively cheap and extremely easy to DIY.
I have never heard of this and I want to try it RIGHT NOW.
There are some great ideas in here I’m going to have to try! I rent an attic room and it got hot af this summer. Luckily my supervisor lent me a portable AC unit – seriously, he’s a blessing! – but I also had to trial and error other ways to beat the heat up there. If only I’d had this article two months ago!
Unrelated side note because I just like talking about evapotranspiration: while things like trees do cool down the surrounding air, if you get some kinds of very dense vegetation there isn’t much air flow and it just gets humid and waaaaay hotter. Trees? Great! Shrubs? Fantastic! Four foot tall canola? Nooo! That makes it like 20% hotter! Not that I think many people are planting canola around their homes to cool it down
My heart goes out to attic-dwellers everywhere. And your tree comments made me lol!
If you live somewhere that isn’t horrifically humid, putting on a wet t-shirt and standing in the breeze of a fan is really nice and cooling. it reached 39* c where i live, ac-less, and my beloved wet clothes helped me not die of heatstroke.
This is a great idea.
We spend a lot of time rafting in the desert, in 100*+ weather, and the best way to stay cool is to just jump off into the water fully clothed every hour or so. So why NOT try that on dry land?
If you can, nap during the day and stay up later when it’s cool enough to be a human.
The Europeans have believed in siestas for ages! Not sure why it’s not normalized in the States.
I can attest to the effectiveness of these tips. The nighttime cross box fan ventilation has turned our summer sleeping from one previously spent furtively placing cool cloths on my face and body with a fan pointed directly at my body to no avail, to a summer existence where we actually leave the flannel sheets and one of the (normally three in the winter) wool blankets on the bed! Sure, sometimes when we first go to sleep it’s still 90 F outside and were sans pajamas on top of the bed, blankets, sheets, etc shoved to the bottom, but a few hours later the temp outside has dropped and the breeze from the fan helps with skin sweat evaporation and I’m pulling up the sheets, then blankets and the dog askes me to pull his furry blanket over them.
I don’t know that this works as well in those places with humidity and when the nighttime temp doesn’t go below 70F it’s not as awesome (4+ days of 98F+ highs SUCK and we’ve had more than our normal share of those this year).
Ultimately I think we’ll have to bend to the sway of modern air conditioning because too many of these summer nights also have an AQI of over 150 (Unhealthy) but I’m holding out as long as possible because we don’t really need it, right?
I’m rooting for you to hold off against AC as long as possible!
I got a cooling mat for my cat and then realized it also works for humans, so got the largest size they had (very clearly meant for big dogs, as the website offered me a bag of dog treats as a bonus when I bought it) and put it under my fitted sheet to have a cool spot to fall asleep on when it’s hot. It’s one of those self cooling things that you don’t need to put in the freezer, not super expensive (around 40 euros when I got mine) and saved me from a bunch of sweaty, sleepless nights!
This is GENIUS. I have a heating pad for my dog, but didn’t know the opposite was available.
The ceiling fan tip says it should turn clockwise for both winter & summer. A quick search tells me it should be *counter* clockwise in summer.
We live in the midwest where humidity is high and nighttime temps in the dead of summer often don’t get below 80, so not having AC isn’t an option for us. I am notorious among friends & family for keeping it “warm” in my house though, since I don’t cool it below 72 at any point.
Whoops! Fixed the ceiling fan typo. Thanks for the catch!
I’ m luck enough to live in the Rockie mountains and don’t need a/c. I have read that attic fans are great for cooling.
That’s how I cool my house. Works like a charm here in the dry West!
Jeez, wish I had this article a couple years back when the AC broke!
Great article, a lot of these are amazing hacks – and sometimes #20 is the only option.
Thanks so much!
A cool footbath works fairy well. All you need is a bucket and you can look presentable for your zoomcall.
We’ve been having temps of 110+ over the last couple of weeks in Southern Spain. And no AC in our home. I think we’ve tried most of your tips – apart from the film on windows – will need to look into that one.
The Spanish have metal roller blinds on the outside of all windows. Opening and closing them throughout the day as the sun moves is almost a dance. It makes a huge difference.
Mrs C also has a no touching her rule when the temperature is over 100. I’m not a fan of the rule.
Attic fan helps a lot.
Great tips! Ultimately #20 is my preferred option haha. In the SF Bay Area almost nobody has AC, or needs its. But there’s always two or three rough days.
I do something similar to 19 – I take a reusable ice pack and jam it under the tit. Fights the boob sweat and sends the cold right to my core.
As an Arizonan, I both love this list and, unfortunately, love our AC, too.
This sort of DIY evap cooler or swamp cooler works well in dry climates but could be a great and frugal way to keep cool, too!
I live in a desert climate as well, as we swear by our whole-house attic fan. Open the windows at night, turn it on, turn it off and close the windows in the morning. Traps the cooler night air inside until the next evening.
… assuming we aren’t in a gawdawful heatwave of suffocating from wildfire smoke, it’s relatively cheap, environmentally friendly, and effective!
The omission of a whole house fan is one of the few quibbles I have about our old house. They are a great idea that too few homes have.
>Use a dehumidifier so you don’t have to run air conditioning.
WHAT??? Dehumidifiers heat the room. Dehumidifiers work by running the same refrigeration cycle as your air conditioning unit, with one difference. The condenser coils (the hot ones), instead of being outdoors, are downstream of the cooling coils. A dehumidifier cools down whatever air goes into it so water condenses out, then heats it right back up to where it was before, and spits the air back into the room, while the fan motor and compressor heat the room. You gain nothing by having the water condense in the dehumidifier, instead of the air conditioner.
The way you control humidity is by having a properly sized AC unit in the first place, so enough water condenses in the air conditioner that you will never need a room dehumidifier. Dehumidifiers are a band-aid fix for when DIY clowns install an AC unit that is too big, and short-cycles without removing moisture from the air.
Can confirm–we’re fighting a mold situation in our bathroom with a dehumidifier until we can get someone to come in and do some demolition and it is super toasty in there.