Turn Off Your Air Conditioning

By Philip Brewer on 8 March 2010 (Updated 4 July 2012) 80 comments

There are a few places where it is impossible to live without air conditioning. These places are easy to identify: they were uninhabited until well into the 20th century. If the place you live now was not in prior days a desolate wasteland, unseen except by the occasional nomad or caravan, then air conditioning is not required. However, most people lack the skills for getting by without air conditioning. Here's a quick primer.

First a little personal history. Back in the early 1980s I lived in Ft. Lauderdale for a couple of years. Finding money a bit tight, my roommate and I agreed to economize by turning off the AC. I was a bit doubtful about being able to manage, and I did get pretty hot and sweaty at times, but in fact it turned out to be pretty easy. Since then, I've largely avoided air conditioning wherever I've lived.

So, here are my getting by without air conditioning tips:

1. During the heat of the day, go somewhere cool.

This was easy for me, because I worked in an air conditioned office, but there are plenty of other cool places: libraries, movie theaters, coffee shops, campus buildings, parks, forests, ponds, lakes, oceans, etc.

2. Manage your windows.

We would open our windows wide during the night and by early morning the interior would have cooled down nicely. On a work day we'd close the windows as we headed out, so the place would stay somewhat cool. If you're home during the heat of the day, things are a bit more complex, but you can still close your windows as soon as it starts to warm up outside and have an extra couple of cool hours indoors. Likewise, use curtains to minimize solar gain.

3. Live in an appropriate building.

I discovered what a big difference appropriate architecture made because various friends lived in homes that were much better than the one I lived in. One place in particular was a small block of apartments built before air conditioning was common. They had jalousie windows on two sides, to let breezes through. They were only one story, so there was no second story to get hot. They were made of masonry, which helped stabilize temperature extremes.

4. Install ceiling fans.

In South Florida, everyone had ceiling fans, even people who used their air conditioning all the time. A gentle breeze makes a huge difference in what temperature is comfortable.

5. Drink plenty of cold water.

Anything that directly cools your body is going to help, and cold water is effective and virtually free. Cold soda and cold beer are also effective, but cost money and add calories: use only in moderation.

6. Take it easy.

When possible, arrange for physical labor and exercise to take place when it's cooler. If your schedule will tolerate a siesta, that's a great way to manage the hottest part of the day.

7. Accept that you will be hot.

The various tactical adaptations mentioned above are really secondary. They key strategic step is purely mental: embrace the heat. Yes, you will sometimes be hot and sweaty, but that is hardly the end of the world. When you're uncomfortable, go someplace cool or take a shower or sit down in the shade with a big glass of cold water.

Important Caution

The very young, the very old, and people with certain medical conditions, can't handle as much heat as healthy youths and adults. People die every year from heat stroke. Especially vulnerable are people who can't take the common-sense step of going someplace cool:

  • Children left unattended in a hot car,
  • Elderly or disabled people who aren't mobile without help,
  • People in neighborhoods so bad that they're afraid to leave their home,
  • Athletes, soldiers, and prisoners pressured to continue working in the heat.

If anyone you care about (or that you're responsible for) falls into a category like that, take the responsibility of checking on them and making sure that they're okay. A little care will go a lot further toward protecting them than just dumping an extra few hundred dollars into air conditioning.

This post was included in the latest Festival of Frugality.

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Guest

This is a GREAT post. Air conditioning is a total joke and money-suck. I grew up in Southern California AND Arizona AND spent time working on Ghana (where summer days can get to 105!) without air conditioning. I'm in Connecticut now and for all the talk about the East Coast having "seasons" I'm amazed at how the minute it hits 57-degrees in Fall/Winter, people are turning their heat on and when it hits 68-degrees in Spring/Summer, your eyeballs feel like they have sand in them because everyone's got their air conditioning cranked up. Nevermind the fact that the heat of the summer gives your body cues to shed its "winter padding" and to drink more water & eat more "water-based" foods (i.e. fruits and veggies).

Guest's picture
guest

I haven't turned my a/c on for years and I live in Sacramento where the summers get up to 105 degrees. There are only a handful of days where it's uncomfortable to sleep upstairs - on those nights I blow up the air mattress and sleep downstairs in the living room.

Guest's picture
Guest

Here's the only problem with this....ac (with a decent filter) is one of the few ways to effectively clean the indoor air during the summer in Sacramento. Sacramento has the sixth (6th really!) worst air in the entire country! So all that "fresh air" coming in is loaded with particulates and ozone, even during the evenings.

Might be a good idea to invest in an air purifier at least in the room you're going to sleep in. Evening air in Sacramento may be cooler but it is just as filthy most of the time as the air during the day. Check out sparetheair.com for further info, if desired...

Guest's picture
Q

I applaud those in warmer climates that support this! Living in Maine it's a no-brainer. Even when living in cities in poorly ventilated apartments, I only thought it was necessary on really hot nights for sleeping. Up here we have so few of those "too hot to sleep" nights that it's almost a special thing when it happens.

When I lived in LA I was very impressed that so many apartments were designed to keep cool - low buildings with windows on shady sides only. Design is key, as is allowing yourself to acclimate to the temperature instead of fighting it.

This is a neat companion piece to a post earlier this year about keeping the heat low! I'm always amused by folks who heat to 75 in the winter, but cool to 65 in the summer!

Guest's picture
Khurt

Your number one tip is to move the cooling expense to someone else bill?

Philip Brewer's picture

@Khurt:

I'd never ask someone else to turn on their air conditioning for me. But, if there's a building that's already being air conditioned, the extra load caused by me sitting in it is insignificant.

Anyhow, I much prefer to the "go to the forest or the ocean" option. The ocean is a bit far, from here, but there's a nice shady courtyard just outside my apartment, which is very pleasant on a hot day. 

Guest's picture

You should also write these posts: "don't drive your car", "stop cooking your food", "uplug your refrigerator", "quit washing your clothes", and "disconnect your water heater". :-)

Philip Brewer's picture

 @Steven BREWER:

You have to look at the avoided cost. If by "stop cooking your food" you mean "eat salads when it's hot, so you don't heat up your kitchen," then that's a great idea. If you mean "eat at restaurants more," then it's an expensive idea. If you mean "eat raw meat," then it's a dangerous idea.

Unplugging your refrigerator would save you some on your electric bill, but would probably cost you more due to food spoilage, the inability to save leftovers or stock up on fresh food, eating out more, etc.

As I've said before, arranging your life so that you can get by with one fewer car is one of the most frugal things you can do.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that Steven is my brother, and that he sometimes teases me.)

Guest's picture
dkkedl

older people with breathing problems need AC of course.

I often see people leave pets in cars... BAD idea.... even if it does not seem hot out to you, your pet may be hot and uncomfortable so dont do it. Even if you park in the shade, your pet may still be at risk so don't do it.

Guest's picture
Michelle

You can never leave your pets in the car in the summer. Dogs natural temp. is 102. If we are hot...they are hotter.

Guest's picture
guest

I used to feel the same way until I went into perimenopause. Now just looking at a match triggers hot flashes.

Guest's picture
gt0163c

I follow a lot of these practicies, but, living in Texas, air conditioning in the summer time is pretty much a necessity, at least for sleeping at night. I do try to hold out as long as possible before turning it on...my goal is always at least Memorial Day. This year, I may see how far into June I can go.

The main problem is that in the heat of the summer it doesn't really cool down at night. We can easily go a few weeks without the temperature getting below 80, months without seeing below 75.

I also get annoyed that so many commercial buildings crank the air conditioning up so high. The big box retailers can be especially bad. Cubeville where I work is right about 71-72 degrees year round. And, due to poor air circulation (but great acoustics) my church has many, many cold spots in the sanctuary. It's gotten so that I take a long sleeve shirt or light jacket with me when I'm going out in the summer so that I can toss that on when I'm INSIDE during the summer.

Guest's picture
min hus

Um, yeah, you can pry the AC away from my hot, dead body, but until then, if it's over 85 with 99% and above humidity, like it is here from mid-June-Sept, then my AC is on. It doesn't cost that much money to cool my 600sqft house to 76 or so and it's well worth it. Otherwise I would be laying around complaining all summer and NOTHING would get done.

I do subscribe to less drastic measures, like turning off the AC whenever it cools down, keeping it at 76+ and using ceiling fans, but it's not worth it to me to be totally miserable.

Guest's picture
falnfenix

yeah, this isn't feasible for me and many, MANY other people. moving would be the best option, but it's not available to me. i'll keep my window boxes, thanks.

Philip Brewer's picture

@ falnfenix:

As I said right at the start, there are places where it is infeasible to get by without air conditioning. But, unless the place where you live was pretty much continuously uninhabited until AC came along, it's not one of them. I offer the previous inhabitants as an existence proof of feasibility.

I like window boxes too. But, you know, the ones with plants in them.

Guest's picture
falnfenix

Yes, it's not realistic where I live.

Opening all the windows wide at night asks for cat burglars to invite themselves into homes in my neighborhood. I've already had one break-in attempt, and I'm unwilling to invite another.

In other words, there are other factors beyond how easy it would be to handle the heat. Please take this into consideration, since anyone living on the ground floor or in a house in a major US city would be at risk.

Guest's picture
POR

Not to be inappropriate, but strip down? I tend to wear long pants & long sleeved shirts year round due to office policies ( 70 is too cool for me). The second I get home, I pretend I'm at the beach. I guess it works for me, since I live alone.

I do the opposite in the winter.. have a lot of my brother's old sweatshirts and layer them on. Haven't figured out how to keep my feet & hands quite warm enough, though ;)

Guest's picture
thisisbeth

My house was built in 1953. I doubt it originally had central air (as it has now). I rarely turned the AC on last year--just a few of the hotter/more humid days. I used my ceiling fans and the cool night air to keep my house reasonably cool. (In my condo, I used to worry more about my pets during the hot days, but now I know they can go down to the cool basement if things get too warm.

Guest's picture
Jackie Brewer (aka Mrs. Philip Brewer)

Now that I have reached the age of hot flashes, Phil sometimes lets me run the AC for a couple of hours. For the rest of the summer, I've discovered that loose hemp or linen clothing makes the heat much more tolerable.

Philip Brewer's picture

Although I don't suppose it's really necessary to mention, you will at this point not be surprised to learn that my wife sometimes teases me too.

Guest's picture
Charles A McCaffrey

Phil, I find your advice mostly useful and accurate, but I do have some additional thoughts.

European immigrants began coming to Central Illinois in large numbers starting around 1820. They and their descendants lived largely without air conditioning until post-WWII. Using your suggested metric, we should be able to live w/o a/c, too, but I am not so sure as you. Many things have changed. Paved streets and sidewalks, tall stone and brick buildings all reflect a great deal more heat into the air than forests, prairies, fields, and such. That is, it is hotter here than it used to be.

Moreover, most of my ancestors came from the British Isles and Northern Europe where it is cool to cold much of the time. I have inherited from my ancestors a very hairy body. It's like I'm permanently wearing a fur coat. No kidding. That fur was useful to my ancestors, but it is annoying to me especially in hot weather. I need my a/c.

Finally, I lived for about 5 years in the Caribbean, also inhabited for a very long time by folks who did not use a/c. But I would have died there, have been so uncomfortable that I could not have functioned had it not been for a/c. No kidding. The high temperature is anywhere from mid-80s in "cool" weather (November through February) to upper-90s during the hot 8 months of the year with 60+% RH. A/C was a necessity for me.

P.S.--Face it, Phil. I tease you, too. It's just so darned much fun that I cannot resist. However, my response here is serious. :-)

Guest's picture
Brian

I just choose to live in Minnesota. I don't even THINK about air conditioning for 8-10 months of the year :-)

Guest's picture
Guest

I hate air conditioning! Unless you never want to wear cute summer clothes and prefer to bundle up all year round, you pretty much have to go out of your way to AVOID air conditioning just to be comfortable in the summer!

Guest's picture
Guest

We and many others we know would love to go without AC, due primarily to the sheer cost. There are many for whom this is not even an option anymore due to the cost of electricity, even though they need it. And that's the case even with energy efficient ACs and other appliances.

However, we simply cannot function in our boxy old city apartments (ceiling fans do not cool, all they do is move the hot air that rises to the ceiling).

We strip down and sweat like crazy, but there comes a point where it is SOOOOOO uncomfortable that we have to turn it on.

Plus, we have a home office. Even with fans blowing like crazy, when the temp hits a certain point and the humidity is high, AC is necessary or you can get seriously overheated and you just can't concentrate. Since we both have other health issues, we need that AC as well.

The temp in our rooms, without ac, in the summer, is often close to the outdoor temperature. 85 degrees indoor is unbearable without AC. (and we lower the blinds, etc.)

I think these types of articles are primarily for people who live in big houses with central air. A lot of that is sheer waste.

Meanwhile, try living in parts of Texas, Arizona and Florida in the summer months without AC. Some of you may be really cold-blooded, but mostly everyone I know cannot go without air.

Some of us are hot even in the winter (It was 40 degrees out today, and I had only a regular suit jacket on and was hot while outside. Everyone else was wearing winter jackets, hats, scarves and coats. ) and this is not just a temporary hormonal thing. Once it gets over 50, I want to start wearing summer-weight clothes!

As for the suggestion to "live in an appropriate building", well, we just laughed long and hard at that.

There are so many other issues, such as location, availability, affordability, etc. that factor into choosing an apartment and a home that limit almost everyone's options.

A first-floor apartment that doesn't need AC because it gets breezes? Not in any of the five cities we've lived in.

We face a river and often, in winter, the breeze off it chills us. But in the summer, for whatever reason, we don't get a constant breeze.

What you might have said is look for places that have cross-ventilation and are made of materials that act as natural insulators. Or look at how a home is situated and see where the rooms face.

We face both east and west and get brutal sun in the summer that forces us to use heavy shades. But the rest of the apartment (location, layout, affordability) more than compensates for it.

By the way, who writes articles about AC conservation in March, when most of the U.S. is still having cold (not to mention snowy) weather?

Guest's picture
Heron

I live on the third floor of a walk-up, under a tarred room, with large south and west-facing windows. It gets hot in here before it even gets hot outside. My bedroom window faces a major thoroughfare, and when I open the window, it is so loud that I can't sleep. Then of course the blinds are open too, and the light from the streetlight in front of the building shines into my bedroom. And I really can't sleep when it is hot.

Not to mention - I work at home and don't have the luxury of partaking of someone else's air conditioning during the day.

So - I appreciate your intent, but instead of getting hot and sleep-deprived and stupid, I'll be using the air conditioner again this summer.

Guest's picture

Based on experience, the position of your room vis-a-vis the sun plays a major role on the temperature of your room. Rooms which are exposed to the afternoon sun are usually warmer even when night time comes. Installing shades can really be a lot of help in minimizing airconditioning expenses.

Guest's picture
C Holland

I've lived for ~50 years in the midwest (Ohio, Indiana, and southeastern Michigan), the majority of them without air conditioning.

We are fortunate to have a full basement in our home & simply run the blower during the hotter parts of the summer to bring the cool air up from the basement. Living near woods and a lake also provide respite (not only from the heat but from other life stresses throughout all the seasons of life).

From time-to-time we consider putting a room air conditioner into the study on the first floor -- it's a big enough room that we could all camp out there on a particularly sweltery summer night, but we haven't gotten that desperate yet (we've also managed thus far to put off buying the gas-powered generator that would keep our water flowing and ignite the furnace during the bi-annual 12-48 hour winter power outage but erode the peace of an occasional really dark and really quiet night).

Whole house fans continue to interest me (esp. ones that are solar powered, problem being that the ones I've seen have not been thermostatically controlled & can't tell the difference between a sunny summer day & a sunny winter one), as does the idea of reducing the electrical load for heating air and water to the point that the furnace and water pump could run on a modestly priced solar array (in cloudy gray Michigan? Dream on. Of course, "modestly priced" is a dream, too, because it's not just getting the number of solar panels down -- it's that you have to also deal with inverters & battery storage -- or replacing mid-line appliances with ones that run on direct current . . . + in our case, finding & hiring someone who really knows what they are doing to design it for us . . .)

p.s. Hello from a college classmate who has been enjoying your blogging here for quite a while

Guest's picture
Em

There's a lot of inappropriate architecture out there. If the original inhabitants lived in adobe, but you live in a vinyl box never intended to function without AC, your options are limited.

A few more things that make an enormous difference:

- shade the windows. Awnings, vines on trellis, light-colored shades or curtains always drawn during the day. If it's really desperate, use a reflective film on the windows.

- run a dehumidifier if necessary. Also not cheap, but can offer a lot of comfort for the money.

- if it's your house, plan the garden to shade as much of the pavement around your house as possible.

Guest's picture
Guest

Don't forget about window fans - for those of us lucky enough to live in places where it does cool down at night and where we don't have high humidity (usually) and live in neighborhoods where we can leave windows unlocked (at night, anyway), window fans blow the air across the room and moving air always seems to feel cooler than stagnant air. This topic gives me hope that I won't be wearing my coat forever!

Guest's picture
Elizabeth

I live in Louisiana and try to be conservative about using my air-conditioning, but my first priority is making sure my elderly cat is comfortable. I set the thermostat at 80 degrees and run a ceiling fan and column fan. This keeps everyone safe and comfortable. I would not advise going without air-conditioning for households with elderly pets or pets with health concerns. The increased heat can be hard on them.

Guest's picture

I swear, the best read of this was the teasing bits from family members! bwhahahahaha

ANYHOO, I think the "this just isn't feasible" comments have a lot to do with varying abilities to tolerate discomfort. I live in a tall, concrete box in Southern CA. Granted, I'm closer to the ocean than most, but even folks in my building will whine about the heat and clamor for AC (our ancient building can't tolerate the added electricity needs of ACs, so we all do without).

When I live in MO near the Ozarks (temperate rain forest!), the heat and humidity felt suffocating at times, particularly when I lived in brick ovens masquerading as apartment buildings. I learned to adapt. Most folks simply aren't willing to adapt, believing their discomfort level to be unbearable. I mean, let's get real, it's not like we're living in a genocidal region of Darfur. There's unbearable and then there's I-Just-Don't-Wanna.

Eventually, you adjust and it's not so terribly uncomfortable anymore. Instead of clamoring about how it's just not possible, perhaps we can just admit that we're just not willing (and that is your choice, after all!). Big difference between the two.

Guest's picture
Guest

If you've never lived in Phoenix for more than 6 months (with a majority of those months being summer and autumn), then you really don't know what you're talking about with regards to the difference between "needing" and "wanting" A/C. Southern CA can be hot, but if you're on the right side of the mountains, not really. I can stand a Seattle summer without air conditioning (even if it hits 90 something)... but if you're in a place like Phoenix where it's 100 degrees or more 6 months out of the year, and it doesn't get below 90 degrees most summer nights, you NEED A/C to sleep and function.

Philip Brewer's picture

Phoenix was actually one of the areas I was thinking of, when I suggested that some areas really are uninhabitable without air conditioning (as evidenced by the fact that almost nobody lived there).

It turns out, though, that the principle problem was water rather than heat. The Hohokam indians lived there for over 1000 years, until droughts and floods made the area uninhabitable. Then it was almost desolate for hundreds of years. Then white settlers moved in even before the advent of air conditioning, and got to work on canals to bring in water.

Which, of course, just reinforces my point: You can live there without air conditioning. It's proven by the fact that people actually did.

Guest's picture
Guest

it was hotter than it was before!

in a country where Temperatures range from 22 °C to 34 °C (72° to 93 °F) [and i think 22°C is crap. don't know when it was last that] and on average, the relative humidity is around 90% in the morning and 60% in the afternoon, the increase of 0.74 ± 0.18 °C (1.33 ± 0.32 °F) ought to be significant.

And our ex/leader hails the air conditioner as the one of the greatest inventions - we would probably all be lazing around doing nothing without airconditioning. (tip #6)

i wouldn't say that airconditioning is absolutely necessary for life - here/ for me, but it makes for better quality of life and productivity.

Guest's picture
concerned reader

I'm writing as a concerned reader of this blog. My girlfriend, who posts here as "falnfenix," has apparently been banned from viewing this blog.

She was sharing her opinions here merely out of concern - there are friends of HERS who read this blog and take everything to heart, ignoring common sense based on their personal situation and the advice of friends and family. Some would call these individuals developmentally challenged, but she merely calls them friends. She was terrified they'd read this blog and start opening all windows and leaving them open due to advice written here, and end up robbed or worse - both are highly likely in our city. Now, it appears her concern and insistence on providing some information for why this isn't feasible here has earned her a ban.

I won't call this ridiculous, but it seems reasoned discourse is impossible if one bans people. It would seem reasonable to either warn the individual, or attempt to contact them off-site. Her email address, as provided in every post she makes, does work. I urge the blog owners to reconsider this ban and actually TALK with her about her comments. She would be more than ready to discuss her reasons for her comments, should someone email her.

Thank you for your time.

Philip Brewer's picture

@ concerned reader:

For several hours yesterday, everybody (including me) saw "Access Denied" messages when they tried to visit a Wise Bread post. It was just a bug and not directed at any person.

I'll ask the admins to send both of you email assuring you of this. (I don't have direct access to commenters' email addresses, or I'd do it myself.) 

Guest's picture
falnfenix

hi Philip.

Sorry about the confusion - I'm really, truly sorry. my SO is a wonderful guy who was concerned about the reason for my upset. my dear friend called me up shortly after your post originally went up, and i flipped out in concern for her safety. i'm glad it was a server glitch, and that it wasn't actually a banning...i enjoy reading wisebread, and was really hoping it wasn't a horrible misunderstanding.

thanks for helping to clear things up.

Guest's picture
M

I have lived without air conditioning in Chicago and NYC, so I know it can be done in big cities. It's true that you need common sense and strategies though; my favorite trick was to go to an old fashioned Italian cafe nearby that kept it's temp at ice box levels - they let you sit there all day with only one iced cappucino. At that time I was living in a 5th floor walk up in a very dangerous neighborhood and there were times I honestly thought I might die from the heat, taking a shower every couple of hours at night to cool down.

I also notice that the more air-conditioning you experience the less heat-tolerant you become.

Right now I have a window air-conditioner in my bedroom window for those times when it is too hot to sleep and I set it to 80 degrees. I much prefer the fan though. And I live on a shady block that doesn't get too hot.

I really think we could all benefit from a bit less air conditioning. There's no need to have your air conditioning set to 65 degrees all summer.

Philip Brewer's picture

I was pretty puzzled when I got "Access Denied" myself. 

Guest's picture

This needs to be told to businesses as well as individuals. At my last job I would freeze all summer long because they would just blast the air conditioner. Mostly because some people kept it freezing at their home so when they got to work they were hot.

If everyone would just learn to live w/ the heat a little more, their bodies would adapt and not need it so cold all the time.

Guest's picture
Heron

You know, I think this has a lot to do with acclimatizing - the winters where I live are very long and very cold (-35C is not unusual) and I keep the temp in my apartment down to about 19 during the day and 16 at night. But we usually get a stretch in summer when the temps are above 35C, and it does hit hard.

And it works both ways. I remember being in Chicago for a conference during January one year and the temperature was just around freezing. The Canadians were running around with their coats unbuttoned and no mittens. The people who came from farther south were miserable.

And the person above who talked about architecture? Exactly.

Guest's picture
Guest

The "people lived there before air conditioning" argument doesn't hold up in my opinion. If that's the standard for deciding you can do without AC, then let's remember that people have lived north of the Arctic Circle for a long time, and done it without a furnace or baseboard heat, etc. So turn off your heat. And hey, people didn't have cars, kitchen gadgets or refrigerators either. So let's give them up--after all, people lived like that once, so we can do it too.

Guest's picture
AsianGal

This is probably aimed at America, but try living in Asia.
Spent a good number of years living there and with just one season all year round, its location near the equator and lots of concrete, its not a good combination.

Luckily it is generally quite safe in most residential areas, not to mention most residential buildings, if they aren't air conditioned, have large floor to ceiling windows which are divided into two sections, top and bottom and open and shut independently from one another.

A great way was to open every single window every morning to get the dust and stale air out and have fans in every living quarter of the apartment/house - you switch them on when you're in the room if not, you left it off.

Cold showers were the norm, because any hotter and you'd actually sweat while showering and stink before you exit the shower and mint/lime shampoos and body washes/soap was very popular amongst the non-locals and locals alike as they kept you feeling 'fresh' and gave you this cool feeling even after you'd dried off.

Unless you have a/c, there were no carpets in the houses/apartments, just flooring which lowered the temperature of the place, tiles, marble, concrete, etc.

If it was too hot to sleep you would keep a cup of cold water with ice which you would dip your hand in and run over your face, neck and ears so that the breeze from the fan created a cooling effect from the evaporation.

Or you would just get up and go to any one of the 24 hour hawker stores selling street food and have a nosh with family or housemates.

If it was burning - we'd just go to a hotel lounge to laze around in the air-conditioning.

- AsianGal

Guest's picture
Em

My people are from a place where 80F is a scorcher, but I grew up with humid 90+ summers and was miserable every minute. It just never got better than survival and tolerance. And I'm no hothouse flower. I don't think everybody can adjust to all conditions.

Guest's picture

AC in France is frowned upon as unhealthy. I actually hate AC anyway because I strongly dislike having to bring a sweater with me in the summer just in case someplace freezes me out!

We've lived through 100 degree summers with no AC--and we do all the things you say--especially cover the windows, close them during the day, open them at night, don't cook or use electricity (except the fridge, although we even considered stopping that). Lots of cool showers, afternoon naps etc.

We are actually looking to move farther north as well--or at least up to the mountains (although then we will still have to work on the heat. . .but that's another topic.

Guest's picture

When the temps and humidity in NYC hit the upper nineties, it's strictly Fry City and the AC is called for unless you like fainting while working. For the rest of the time in the summer, I shift one of my oscillating fans to whichever area of the apartment I'm occupying. At night I keep the fan at bed level only a few feet away and it cools nicely.

Guest's picture
Elly

I only wish for AC in my home perhaps two months out of the year - I live in Central MN. Odds are I'm not inside during the day anyway...MN summers are divine. They make up for the winters and I intend to spend every second I can outdoors!

I keep my windows open at night to help cool the house (and me, I don't like sleeping in the heat). During the day I keep most of the shades drawn, with the exception of my kitchen windows where I keep my indoor vegetable garden.

The most desperate thing I ever did to cool off was to put a bowl full of ice and cold water in front of a fan, turn it on, and plant myself in it's path with a book. It works pretty well!

Guest's picture

While I love my A/C and view it as a blessing on hot, humid summer days. Most of us can live without it. If you can afford it, great! Use it responsibly. If cash flow is tight, this is a great area to reconsider your usage.

Guest's picture
Lucy

I love this post! And I completely agree. I'm from Sydney and Melbourne, and I've never had air-conditioning. It gets hot, but if you drink lots of water you can get used to it. I wish we lived in a world where it was acceptable to just go with the weather and take it easier during a heatwave. But instead everyone thinks working ten hours a day no matter what is vitally important.

The windows open at night thing doesn't work so well in Melbourne, where if it's hot, it sometimes doesn't drop below 30˚C (86F) at night. We all turn into zombies because it's impossible to sleep when it's that warm, but I think it makes life interesting to actually be affected by the weather from time to time instead of always modifying it to our tastes.

My pet hate is over-cooled trains. I find I have to carry a jacket on hot days to wear on trains. It's just annoying.

I was a bit shocked when I worked for an electricity company and found out energy use peaks on hot days, and in the afternoons too when people get home, so it seems a lot people most certainly do use air-conditioning. I think they're weak!

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Lucy

As I often do after I blab on in comments, I fact-checked myself after I wrote this, and apparently actually 30.6˚C (87F) is the highest minimum overnight temperature we've ever had in Melbourne, so I was wrong to think it happened often. I guess it usually drops down to 20 eventually, though it seems to take a long time sometimes!

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Christina

I live in a tropical country, when it's hot it's really hot...I have to agree with you, installing ceiling fans could help beat the weather plus drinking a lot of liquids. I don't turn off my a/c but I don't turn it on from late afternoon up to the next morning like I used to...It saves me a lot. I guess that's what I learn during recession lol, I learn to find ways to save. And this advice could help others as well...nice read.

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Guest

If you have trouble sleeping when it warm I like to take a what I call a "cold rinse" in the shower before I go to sleep. It takes off the sticky feeling and allows me to fall asleep more comfortably.

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Guest

I live in Orlando, Florida and really do try hard to not run the AC much at all. Our house has been 95+ degrees inside several times. That is hard to handle sometimes ( along with 100% humidity) but we try. When we turn it on I usually set it at 80.Usually we can tough it out during the day but 95 degrees at night makes for a restless night. I agree no AC is possible, many many people lived here before me without it.. I sure wish I knew some of there techniques and secrets to keeping cool!!

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I've heard that dome houses don't need ACs, is it true? We live in a house with lots of windows and plants outdoors so AC is really just a luxury for us.

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T in the Crescent City

We live in the New Orleans area and are subject to heat and humidity about 9 months of the year. In the summer of 2002, we experienced a central air and heat malfunction. We were on a tight budget and couldn't swing the new installation of a 3 ton unit. Our solution was to purchase 3 room size (2 small and 1 large) air conditioners for use in our bedrooms. We used pedestal fans in rooms other than our bedrooms. It was a personal choice to "suffer."

When we received our first full electric bill, we were amazed at the difference cooling our bedrooms was as opposed to the whole house. It has been 8 years since we made that choice. We are enjoying the savings so much that we hesitate to intall that new unit to this day. We don't invite guests to our house during the hotter months because we don't want to inflict our choice on others.

Humidity can be a problem if you have furnishings or keepsakes suseptible to damage from moisture. We will probably install a new unit before selling our house to make it more saleable. But for now we will enjoy our savings.

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Margaret

I lived in Texas without air conditioning until I was almost grown.  The problem, as others have mentioned, is not so much the 100+ in the daytime.  The problem is the 80+ at night.  For weeks and weeks.  I hear people from other places talking about living without AC, but usually they come from places like Arizona, deserts where nights are cool.  I keep the temp at 79, which is the most I'm willing to do.  I just have to prepare for the $200+ electric bills, the same way people in cool climates prepare for their heating bills during the winter.

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Guest

hi thanks for spreading the right advice and encouraging us to cut back on air conditioner usage. i often argue with my family as they keep the a/c on 65 degrees and so i guess they are the worst a/c offenders on here which makes me feel better for always telling them so...   thanks for the support :)

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Guest

Yikes. I must be in the minority of cold-blooded types who just can't handle the heat but live blissfully in even extreme cold. I grew up in Orlando, FL and I can't remember a single time in my life when I haven't felt absolutely miserable as soon as the temps topped 60-65 degrees. I used to fight my mother tooth & nail when she'd try to dress me warmly on the few chilly (30's) winter days we had in Orlando, and I'd shed all but a light long-sleeved shirt as soon as I got to school, and feel perfectly comfortable.

Most of my jobs as a young adult have involved working outdoors in the heat...you'd think I'd learn to tolerate it...but for most of my adult life in FL, a high power bill for cooling costs was a way of life. Being a poor college student for a while, I tried everything I could to find a way around it...fans, sleeping naked, even sleeping at night with bags of ice hugged up against my body, but waking up in a puddle wasn't pleasant and it didn't really work that well, as I ended up warm AND damp by morning. Keeping my A/C set at 65 at least overnight, was the only way I could get a decent night's sleep.

Realizing this wasn't likely to change, several years ago I moved to South Dakota, seeking a climate more suitable for my personal preferences. I haven't regretted a thing since, and I'm continually amazed to find my tolerance for the cold is higher than many natives to this state.

From what I've gathered from talking to other people who live here, I spend about 60-70% LESS on my heating bill over the winter than most. I turn off the A/C once nightly temps drop into the 40's, and I keep them open until it gets well below freezing (or until it snows heavily, whichever comes first). My heat doesn't get turned on until the temps drop below 25 degrees (F) and then, I only turn it on high enough to keep my pipes from freezing. This past year, I think the highest I ever set my heat was at 65 degrees, and that was when it got down to -20 degrees F for a few nights.

If you're willing to argue that acclimating oneself to living in the heat without air conditioning is largely a "mental" game, then I'd have to argue that anyone should be able to do the same thing in COLD weather, and learn to live with minimal heat usage even in a cold climate. If I can live comfortably- and happily- in a house when the internal temperature is 50 degrees and I can see my own breath, why can't everybody else??

Yet you & many others are suggesting that A/C is unnecessary and it ought to be easy for everyone to learn how to deal with 85-90 degree interior temperatures in a house. To me, the idea of trying to sleep in a house that's 80 degrees at night (and believe me, I face it every time I visit family in Florida) is just as horrifying as it is for some folks to sleep in MY house when I've got the windows open at night and it's 28 degrees.

Maybe everyone has a different level of tolerance.....maybe it's NOT reasonable to suggest living without A/C for everyone as a way to save money. For some of us, maybe we're in the minority, but the negative toll it would take on our lives (for me it was the effects of prolonged periods without quality sleep, overall irritability, and severe skin irritation from being sweaty all the time)....is NOT worth the monetary savings it would bring. There are other ways to cut costs without sacrificing one's personal comfort to such a degree. JMO.

Philip Brewer's picture

I figure that getting along in the cold is relatively easier than getting along in the heat: no matter how bundled up you are, you can always add another sweater, another pair of socks, another parka, another blanket, another sleeping bag. With the heat, you can take clothes off until you're naked, but that's pretty much it.

And, in fact, you see exactly that in the parts of the earth that are uninhabited. There are places that are empty because they're too hot. There aren't any places that are uninhabited because they're too cold. (There are cold places that are uninhabited, but that's because the days are so short that it's impossible to grow enough food.)

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CB

I'm trying to hold out longer this year in Central Missouri.

My husband works all day in an overly-air-conditioned building, so he feels hot when he gets home and it's 78-80 inside.

The kids and I feel fine... there's a range where people can acclimate, but office buildings that keep it below 75 screw it all up!

My other tip is to get outside and do something physical for 15 or 30 minutes. Mow the grass in the heat, or weed the garden. Then when you come back in to the shady house with a cool drink, it feels sooooo much cooler than if you just sat around all day.

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A Person

Unless I live near the ocean, there is no way that I am turning my air conditioning off. I get way too hot. So hot that its unbearable and can't even manage to move around. I won't even go outside. I only need to be out there for a second before I decide and say "okay screw this. its way too hot to do anything." Even in the winter where I live, which went well into the entire month of March, while it was 20 degrees outside and lower, I was outside in shorts, a spaghetti strap shirt and flip flops because I was so hot. I thought shaving my legs would help cool me off. It didn't help at all. So you can only imagine how much hotter I am in the summer when it is 86 degrees outside PLUS high humidity. I can't even 76 degree indoors. I can handle 74 degrees and lower.

I can't really deal with heat unless I live near the beach. When your near a beach, it gives off that ocean breeze and you can always go swimming in the water when its hot since southern California oceans are generally cold water. I don't live in Cali anymore obviously. You also need air if you live in the desert parts of southern California because the dry heat is just unbearable. Living in my grandma's house growing up, she still to this day does not have an air conditioner in her house. Which doesn't matter anyway because she lives close to the beach along the coastline. But if you are nowhere near an ocean coastline, there is no reason to have your air turned off. Especially if you have pets. My dogs are ALWAYS hot in the summer, just like me. And I know they get way hotter. They get sent to the groomer to be shaved down for the summer, which I know helps them feel better. But dogs naturally have a higher body temp then humans do. Therefore, they get hotter.

There is no reason to make your pets suffer from the heat like that by turning your air and fans off (this is directed more at my family anyone else.)

Besides, I like my air and other electronics thank you very much. Going out somewhere does not keep me cool. If its hot, I'm not going to want to go somewhere and be moving around. Let alone sitting outside in the shade. Its too hot to be outside in general.

Okay, I'm done with my rant.

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Guest

What a bunch of weirdos. It hardly costs anything at all to run a newer A/C unit. It only costs us less than $40 a month x three months. Some veggie environmentalist lefties like to judge, I bet if they lived in the Southeast they certainly would be using the A/C.

When I lived in Ohio, I only occasionally ran the A/C unit during the day and usually only ran it a few times at night. Now I live in the South and it is impossible to live without.

We always wait until late May to turn it on and we also use ceiling fans. In addition, we put heavy curtains up and close the blinds, it makes a huge difference. I would prefer to do without the A/C, however I live in the real world, it is just too hot and humid. Besides the air quality is too poor not to use the A/C and I have a young child.

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Guest

I live in Austin, TX which has definitely been inhabited for several centuries and I dare you to go without AC when it's 105 degrees! If you're single, can move around the country, and live in "appropriate buildings", then your post would work. When you have a family, own a house and live in parts of the country where you have never been, your rule does not work. I imagine it's the same for Arizona, New Mexico and other extremely hot places.

Regardless, good post for certain places like Cali or the Mid-West I suppose!

Philip Brewer's picture

But that's kind of my point: Austin used to be tolerable (we know this because people used to live there). If it isn't tolerable now, the question ought to be, "Why not?"

You mentioned one reason: a lack of appropriate buildings. I don't doubt that most buildings built in Austin in the past 60 years are wretched without air conditioning. To me, though, that just means, "Don't live in those buildings." If you want to own a house, buy one that was built before air conditioning (or one built after, but along the same lines as old buildings).

You don't list any other reasons, but I expect they're the same. I bet people in Austin used to do their heavy work in the early morning and the evening, but you can't now because employers won't stand for it. I bet people in Austin used to take siestas, but employers won't allow that either. It used to be possible to dress for the heat but now that so many buildings are excessively air conditioned, there's no way to dress that's appropriate for whatever conditions you're likely to face. And so on.

You don't need air conditioning. We know that because people got along without it from the dawn of humanity until just a few decades ago. What has changed that makes air conditioning essential now? (Note that there are places in the desert Southwest that were uninhabited before the invention of air conditioning, except for passing nomads. Those places, I'll grant, are uninhabitable without air conditioning.)

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Dave

I like the idea of using the A/C less... Unfortunately we have medical reasons in our house - along with security reasons here in NJ - for actually needing the A/C. I do a lot of the other things: attic fan, dark shades, etc., but I try to keep the thermostat at a reasonable temp. And that, I think, is probably the most important thing. If your A/C is set low enough that you need blankets to sleep, you're probably wasting energy & money. I do have to point out that I had a little laugh when I found this original post was from New England - in March I believe? I'm reading here in NJ in July and it's 104 degrees in my south-facing back yard....

Guest's picture

These are all great tips. However, I would rather sit in an apartment with air conditioning than accept that i will be hot. So would everyone else. That's why AC units sell so well.

Philip Brewer's picture

Of course! Or rather, almost everyone would, just like almost everyone would rather drive than walk, rather live in a big house than a small apartment, rather buy a bottle of water than drink out of a fountain, and so on.

I'm fine with everybody feeling that way, and I'm even fine with people acting on those feelings. I just want to remind people that they have a choice.

If you choose to focus an satisfying only some of your wants—the ones that are most important to you—a bunch of good things happen. For one thing, you free up resources that might have been spent satisfying secondary wants and can use them to satisfy your primary wants more deeply. Or, as an alternative, you can choose not to even acquire those resources, if you don't need them to satisfy your most important wants. That opens up a lot of other options—you can do work that you enjoy rather than whatever pays the most.

That's why I write stuff like this. It's not because I think people would prefer to sit around and be hot. It's because I find that I'd rather sit around and be hot while writing what I want to write than sit in a nicely air conditioned cubicle writing whatever my boss wants me to write.

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Guest

I find that the extra $140 a month in the summer is well worth it. Saves on cleaning clothes too!

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tillman

bodys adapt to different climates i live in ny nov dec i feel cold jan feb i have somwhat adapt. mar apr may june i start to feel comfortable,i still a built in anti freez
from winter july aug to hot sept oct start to build anti freez again.
air cond two months a year is good!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Fort Lauderdale is a VERY hot place so I can see the need for this article. Something that can cut costs without being uncomfortable is buying a window AC unit instead of using your central air unit.

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summer hottie

great post, no need for air conditioning!
As i write this it is 100 degrees outside and in the house the temps range from 80 in the basement to 112 in the attic.
im on the second floor and nope we don thave 'Air COnditioning"

Ok so u same folks who complain in the winter ITS TOO COLD then recreate winter in the summer by turning on the freezing cold air? awww its tooo hottt, they say. get a life. summer is hot, winter is chilly.
i personally love hot humid weather, its a relief from the frigid temps here in winter.
Oh and i live in a 120 year old house so yeah there was no AC to begin with here. What do you think the people in victorian time did, in their layers of clothing in the summer?
do you think they cried and whined and sued com ed when the power went out and their ac failed to work?
seems like as generations go by, people get wimpier.

my $0.02

Guest's picture

It's true we are a very spoiled society these days. I remember growing up sitting on the porch drinking tea. Freezing our underwear. It was the small things we appreciated. We really need to switch our way of thinking and learn to optimize our natural resources to stay cool.

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Guest

I'm living in South Sinai, Egypt at the moment and it doesn't get cool at night during the summer, still 35c + during the night, during the day we have to have the air con on, but now our daughter has developed a cough, and my husband is blaming me for having the air con on. I have very little sleep with a young child as it is, so do I have the air con on and risk an illness for any of us, or no air con at night and know that i'll have even less sleep?!!!

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Guest

install a ceiling fan. I personally hate A/C. I instantly get stuffed nose/cold.

I have lived in Israel(humid heat), as well as southern Russia where summers go up 40C(dry heat); and never needed A/C. I find that most people who can't take 30C w/o just need to eat less. Lose the weight and you won't need A/C.

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Guest

Has anyone mentioned (gasp!) weight? When I weighted less -- about 110 lbs -- I was always cold going out during the summer. Now, 50 lbs heavier, I rarely worry about getting cold in an AC building. With the propensity towards obesity in this country, it's no surprise people want it 70 degrees in public places. I miss the days of having to throw on a sweater because I was cold in the middle of summer. It's another goad to keep me working at losing the weight I've gained.

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Guest

Brilliant.

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Joe

I love air conditioning. It's one of modern society's miracles; a product of human ingenuity and freedom.

Nevertheless, I haven't put up my window unit in my new house. Electricity is just too expensive and getting worse. I've been opening the windows at night (it doesn't cool off til 9pm-ish). I use stand fans; for $17 at Wal-Mart and a monthly operating cost of a few dollars, it's a no brainer -- just keep a fan pointed at you. A lot more efficient to constantly blow the hot air off you, rather than chill thousands of square feet around you. If it's really muggy during the day, considering running a dehumidifier; if it's a new model, it'll use a lot less electricity than AC and it'll cut the mugginess.

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Jill

This article brought up some good points. I live in the mid-west and I know plenty of people who do not even have the option of AC even if they wanted it. I myself grew up without AC until I was around 13 or 14. Now, as an adult I can't help but love AC. I am the opposite with heating. I will wait until December or the threat of frozen pipes before I turn my heat on. I never wear a winter coat unless I go to Chicago. I am fine with just a sweatshirt unless it is below 20F. I even wear just shorts and a tee shirt in the house in the winter and I will go and get the mail without putting anything extra on (maybe shoes, but many times, not even shoes!) I guess I "run hot". I am afraid to even consider menopause. I think I might just spontaneously burst into flames when I get to that age. When we do have cool nights I turn off the air and open the windows, my husband shuts them on his way to work in the morning. I work evenings so I usually sleep late. When the nights only cool to 87 and the humidity makes it feel like a hot wet towel is wrapped around my body...my AC will be blasting! But even so, I do drink lots of water in the summer and I eat salad, fruits and veggies ALL the time in the summer. Most days the idea of hot food repulses me (even living and working in AC).

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Denise

I discovered a lot of this firsthand during a week without electricity, thanks to last week's wicked weather. I grew up in a part of the country where most people didn't have air conditioning; it simply wasn't necessary. But surviving in the triple-digits (hot AND humid) last weekend and this week without power made me grateful for my AC now that I live in the Southeast.

I'm glad you pointed out the potential health risks of foregoing AC during a heat wave. Extreme heat is the No. 1 cause of weather-related fatalities. I'm also glad you added the note of caution, and I'd add to the list people who take certain medications that can weaken an individual's resistance to heat.

I'd also keep in mind pets like dogs and cats when deciding whether to skip turning on the AC. They don't have as many options as we do to cool off. My pets' behavior changed drastically as soon as the power came back on and the AC was running.

Guest's picture

Good article, although you really won't save that much money by foregoing AC alone in a hot area. Yes, you'll save some money but you'll also be miserable in the process. Here's the thing. You're going to have a certain amount of money owed to utilities for trash (if you pay for it), gas for cooking and water. Unless you have your thermostat set to 74 or something really low, you're not going to spend that much money running the AC. If you live somewhere really hot, like Arizona, consider moving. There's a reason it's cheap to live there....no one wants to.

You're better off leaving your thermostat at say 82, which is still manageable, but still using it. If you want to save a hundred bucks a month, start eating more at home...you'll get a lot more enjoyment out of that than sitting in your own sweat at home after a long day at work. Also, try to invest in double-paned windows and ceiling fans...as the article mentions, just the simple breeze from moving air with a fan will help a lot.