How (and Why) I Get Through Summer Without Air Conditioning

Summers in New York City are sticky, sweltering, and long. The sun’s rays radiate off the immense expanses of concrete and asphalt, making the crowded metropolis feel as though an evil giant might be using a powerful magnifying glass to superheat the city.

That being the case, most people in the city plug in their A/C units in June and leave them running into September.

Because I’m always looking for hacks that can save money and have potential health benefits, I’ve chosen to not use an air conditioning unit for the last two summers. Here’s why I do it, as well as some tips for beating the heat sans A/C.

You Save Money

If you use box fans to cool your place rather than a window A/C unit, your budget will thank you.

A box fan costs about one-third of a penny per hour to run, while a window A/C unit is closer to 14 cents per hour. If you figure 12 hours per day of use over the course of a month, an air conditioning unit will cost you over $50 more per month more than a fan. Over a three-month summer, you’d save more than $150 right there – not even taking into account the cost of purchasing a window A/C unit (around $200 or more).

You Build Toughness

I like that I’m not hedonically adapted to having air conditioning.

Hedonic adaptation refers to the idea that we quickly grow used to improvements in our living situation. So, if we buy a brand new car, it’s fun for a while, but eventually we get used to it and that nice car becomes our new baseline — just another vehicle.

Because my home doesn’t have A/C, I appreciate it so much more when I’m in a place that does. A trip to a coffee shop, bookstore, or a friend’s house is now all the more pleasant. I actually think my lack of A/C makes me a more productive worker in the summer than I otherwise would be, because I’m so grateful for the air conditioning in my office building.

You Help the Environment

Air conditioners suck up about 6 percent of all electricity in the U.S. and produce 117 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

I’m not going to pretend like I’m saving the planet just because I don’t run air conditioning, but it is nice to know that I’m doing my little part, however small, to combat negative changes to our environment.

Hacks for Surviving Summer Without A/C

There are a bunch of ways to manage the discomfort that comes with forgoing A/C. Here are a few of my favorites strategies to stay cool:

Take Cold Showers

I’ve written about my love of cold showers before, and I will once again give them a shout-out. When it’s sweltering in my place, I find a freezing cold shower buys me about 20 solid minutes of feeling like I’m at a comfortable temperature. If things get really bad, you could take one per hour and, in theory, cut your time feeling overheated by a third.

Utilize Your Shades

Keeping your blinds shut during the hottest parts of the day can lower the temperature inside your apartment by as much as 20 degrees.

This one was tough for me to wrap my head around at first, as I love getting natural light whenever possible. My wife convinced me to keep our shades drawn during the hottest parts of the day, and once I saw what a huge difference it made, I was sold.

Limit Your Use of Appliances

It goes without saying that you don’t want to use the oven on hot days, but I noticed a difference by limiting the use of all appliances.

The more things you can unplug the better, as anything that’s plugged in radiates a small amount of heat. When you don’t have A/C, these little things matter.

Adjust How You Sleep

We all have our preferred bedding situation. I’m the most comfortable when I have a relatively thick blanket. But during hot summer nights, you have to get creative. I now sleep with just a light sheet.

This summer, we went a step further by removing our bed frame and putting our mattress directly on the floor. Because heat rises, the lower you get to the ground, the cooler you’ll be. If you want to take this practice to the next level, you can try sleeping on a bamboo mat, which is supposed to be much cooler than cotton.

Practice Gratitude

While it’s always good to have a gratitude practice, I find it especially helpful when I start getting bothered by my lack of air conditioning. There’s something about listing out things I’m grateful for, like my good health and my wonderful relationships with friends and family, that helps keep things in perspective.

A lot of the time I find it’s not so much the heat that is the problem, but my reaction to it. A gratitude practice reminds me that no matter the temperature, I have things pretty darned good.

Embrace the Struggle

I genuinely like brainstorming with my wife about ways that we can optimize our living situation to combat the heat. It can feel like a puzzle to solve rather than a burden to bear.

Also, there’s something to be said for embracing the seasons as they come, temperature changes and all. Studies have actually shown that all things considered, people prefer to be in places where the temperature fluctuates. This reduces the negative effects of what University of California Berkeley professor Gail Brager calls “thermal monotony.” She found that “we not only accept—we actually prefer—a wider range of conditions that float with the natural rhythms of the outdoor climate.” Basically, we get bored when things are always the same, and embracing the A/C-free lifestyle can potentially help us to live more fulfilled lives.

Finally, because I’m a health nerd, I also looked into the health benefits of sweating. Instead of seeing sweat as a gross byproduct of being overheated, I found that I could embrace it as an underappreciated bodily function. Sweat helps us detox heavy metals from our body, promotes healthy skin, lowers our stress hormones, and more. Those sound like properties worth embracing!

Summing Up

To be clear — I’m happy that air conditioning exists, and I’m sure I will one day join the 87 percent of Americans who have an air conditioning unit. But until that day comes, I’ll do my best to live in a way that allows me to thrive without relying on air conditioning. If you want to save some money, reduce your environmental footprint, and learn some new ways of living, I suggest you give it a try.

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