Turn Off Your Air Conditioning
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.
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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