Over the last week or so, summer has come into full bloom in our area, with most days featuring temperatures well into the 90s (F) with quite a bit of humidity in the air as well. After many months of cool weather, the change is quite a shock to the system, making it uncomfortable to go outside and do much of anything during the peak of the day and even making evenings and nights quite warm and toasty.
One perfect response to this is to just run the air conditioning and keep our house cool, but that's incredibly expensive. To keep our house at a steady cool temperature during the summer will leave us with an energy bill that approaches $400.
But isn't the other option to simply face the heat and sweat constantly and feel miserable? Not so. We actually use a lot of strategies to keep cool during the summer months without needing to run the air conditioning constantly. We do tend to leave it on, but we leave it at an elevated temperature so as to keep our energy bills in check, and many days we leave it off entirely.
Of course, we don't just sit around in the heat all day. We have a large repertoire of strategies that we use to keep ourselves cool during the summer months beyond the obvious things like "use a fan."
Run ceiling fans in summer mode.
Ceiling fan blades can actually be set to run either clockwise or counterclockwise by utilizing a little switch that can be found on the base of most ceiling fans. During the winter, having the blades run clockwise maximizes the "warming" of a room by pushing warm air down from the ceiling. That's not what you want during the summer.
Instead, what you want during the hot months is to have the blades running counterclockwise. What this does is actually create a "cooling" effect by maximizing air circulation around the room, giving the sense of a gentle breeze and cooling your skin. It can make a room feel up to eight degrees (F) cooler.
So, check your ceiling fan to see which way the blades are rotating. Stand under the fan and watch the direction of the blades. If they're rotating clockwise and you can't feel much of a breeze down on you, you need to flip the switch at the base of the fan, and doing so will make your home feel cooler.
Wear cotton clothes.
Cotton clothing is wonderful in the summer for several reasons, and if you have any cotton clothes at home, wear them!
For starters, cotton offers great air circulation through the cloth, which means that fans blowing on you will be much more effective at cooling you off. Cotton is lightweight and is usually lightly colored (cotton is white by default), which allows light to reflect or pass through the cloth (which doesn't heat you up) instead of having it be absorbed (which does heat you up). Cotton is also helpful for sensitive skin, especially if you've had a sunburn.
I try to wear 100% cotton shirts during the summer, ideally ones that are light in color. Dark colors and (especially) synthetic fibers trap a lot of heat and make you feel even hotter.
Take a freezer pack to bed.
This one's simple. If it's still really hot at bedtime, take a freezer pack out of the freezer - one of those refreezable packs that people use to keep coolers and meals cold - and wrap it in a washcloth and put it in a water-tight Ziploc bag. Take that cool thing to bed with you.
While it won't stay cold all night, it will certainly help cool things off right when you get into bed. I like to put it on the spot where I'm going to sleep about five minutes before laying down so that the spot is nice and cool (and even cold in one area) when I lay down in bed. In the morning, I just pop the freezer pack back into the freezer.
This really helps with the strategy of opening the windows in the evening and night instead of running the air conditioning.
Take a cold shower or bath.
Even on the hottest days, the water out of our tap is usually pretty cool and even sometimes downright cold.
If I ever want to cool off - which I most certainly do if I have to do anything vigorous outside on a hot summer day - I just jump into the shower and take a very cool shower, as cool as I can stand it. I usually start off fairly warm and then slowly reduce the temperature until the water on me is quite cold.
If you have a bathtub, you can obviously do the same thing with a cool bath. I'll often start this with fairly cool water, get in, then add cold water to it until it's as cold as I can stand it. It feels so good on a hot day.
A cold shower or bath can reduce your body temperature quite nicely. It's a great way to cool off if you ever feel hot and the feeling of coolness lasts for a while because you've reduced your core temperature and it takes a while for it to rise if you're not being highly active.
Drink cold water - ideally ice water.
Drinking ice cold water has many of the same effects as taking a cold shower, but on a much smaller scale.
It feels cold, which is a great feeling. It lowers your core temperature just a little bit, which means the feeling of coolness lasts for just a little while, but it does last. It also takes less time - just pour a glass of water and toss in a few ice cubes.
Ice water is my constant companion on a cold day. I love to fill up a water bottle with ice, then add water to fill in the gaps. I'll keep that icy water bottle near me to cool off whenever I need it.
Turn off the lights.
The lights in your home produce heat - yes, even LED bulbs produce a little heat, but CFLs produce quite a bit and incandescent bulbs are basically room heaters. They can heat a room up surprisingly quickly (though it's incredibly energy inefficient to use them as heaters).
Turning the lights off when you leave a room is always a good idea, but it's a particularly good idea during the summer as the lights in the room can make that room grow hotter and hotter when you're not in there. That heat can also spread throughout your home.
Just flip the switch when you leave the room and not only will you directly save on energy, you'll also keep the room cooler.
Have water fights to cool off.
One thing that Sarah and I often do on hot days is to go to our outside water spigot (which is ice cold) and fill up a huge tub with water, then toss a handful of water guns in there. The children (and, quite often, the adults) fill up their guns and run around shooting each other with cold water. It's fun and it feels great on a hot day.
We'll also sometimes set up our rotating sprinkler, which serves as both a tool for watering the yard and a tool for letting the kids get cool (and, again, sometimes the adults, too).
Sure, clothes get soaked during this process, but clothing full of ice cold water that you change out of when you get inside isn't really a bad thing on a hot summer day, especially when the clothes are casual.
Cooking meals indoors over a hot stove or in the oven adds a great deal of heat to your home, which doesn't help at all on an already hot day. It can turn an already-warm home into a furnace.
A much better approach is to cook food outdoors on a grill of some kind. You can prepare anything on a grill, from the obvious things like steaks and hamburgers and hot dogs to things like pizzas and vegetables and pasta. A grill with a lid can cook anything that can be cooked on a stovetop or in an oven.
We have a propane grill that we use for lots of summer food preparation - everything from fajita vegetables to bread and from mixed vegetables to, yes, black bean burgers.
Cook your summer meals outside so that the excess heat stays out there where it belongs and doesn't heat up your home.
Prepare only cold foods inside.
On the other hand, it makes a lot of sense to prepare cold foods inside the house.
The same heat transfer effect is going to occur wherever you prepare a cold food in the summer - heat is going to pass from the environment into the food, providing a slight cooling effect around it. You might as well do that in the house where the small benefit is actually helpful in keeping the house cool.
It's a small benefit, sure, but it's one where you're using every little bit of heat transfer benefit to keep your home as cool as possible.
Chill your feet.
One thing I love to do in the summer when I'm hot is to just stick my feet in very cool water. It has an almost immediate cooling effect over my whole body.
It doesn't take a whole lot of cold water for this to work, just enough to cover your toes, I've found. I can do this with a quart of water and cool off quite rapidly using a bucket and a quart of water from our backyard water spigot. (In fact, I do this sometimes when I'm gardening, as I'll stick my foot in water to quickly cool off on a hot day).
If you're inside, run just a little cold water into a bathtub and stand in there for a moment. It's an impressive cooling effect for such little water.
I almost never wear shoes or socks during the summer. When I'm inside, I'm barefoot, and I wear sandals outside almost all of the time.
Why do that? The fewer coverings I have on my feet, the cooler I feel. It's easy for feet to get hot inside of socks and shoes; it's harder (though not impossible, of course) for bare feet to get hot.
So take off those shoes. Take off those socks. Stay barefoot inside the house (and maybe even in your yard, too). You'll feel much, much cooler that way.
Draw the curtains or blinds against the sun.
Sunlight shining in the window might look beautiful, but it's bringing in a lot of heat from the outdoors, right into your house. A beam of bright sunlight on a hot summer day will heat up your home surprisingly quickly.
Thus, it makes a ton of sense to draw the curtains or blinds in rooms where direct sunlight is hitting the window. This will drastically reduce the amount of direct sunlight - and the amount of heat - that's coming into your home through the windows.
You might want to have a curtain open in the room you're in just for ambient light, but if you're not in the room, close the curtains or blinds. Draw all of them before you leave for the day. Keep that ambient light - and ambient heat - out of your home if you're not taking advantage of it.
Lay on the floor.
Heat rises. What that means is that, in a given room, the warmest spots are going to be near the ceiling and thus the coolest spots are going to be near the floor.
If you take that to its obvious conclusion, it makes a lot of sense to sit on the floor or spread out on the floor when doing activities.
I love spreading out on the floor in our basement family room to read a book or work on another project on a hot day. It's the coolest place to be in our whole house.
Hang out in the coolest room in your home.
This is typically the lowest floor in your home, and the reason for this is similar to the logic for why you should spread out on the floor in a room. Heat rises. Thus, it makes sense for the hottest rooms to be upstairs and the coolest to be downstairs. (It's certainly true in our home.)
So, during the day, hang out in the coolest room. Take things with you to provide entertainment or things to do (I recommend a book...). Enjoy the coolness of the area.
As I noted above, the coolest spots in our home are the guest bedroom and the family room, as they're on the lowest level of the house. During the day on hot days, most of our family will hang out in those two rooms, watching television or playing games or reading books.
Use cross current air flow.
If you want to feel cool in a room, no matter how hot it is, try the "cross current fan" trick. I did this all the time as a kid on the hottest of days.
Just take two fans - I had a box fan and a smaller oscillating fans. Set one up right in front of you and the other one directly off to your left and right. Turn them both on high and allow their air flow to cross each other.
What will happen is that the air around you will flow in all kinds of directions. It will whirl and swirl around you, cooling your skin all over your body, not just in the direction of the fan.
I find that putting one in front of me and putting one directly off to the side is the most effective setup - that's what I used to do in bed at night, in fact. However, you should experiment with different arrangements - perhaps one in front of you and one behind you might work better for you.
Snack on frozen fruits.
Ice cold snacks are delicious on a hot day. They're tasty and they cool you off. Yet many frozen snacks aren't all that healthy and many of them are expensive.
Frozen fruit solves both of those problems. Frozen fruit pieces are quite healthy and very inexpensive. You can just grab a piece of frozen pineapple or frozen mango out of the freezer at your convenience and pop it right in your mouth for a cool treat that tastes good and is pretty good for you.
We usually buy bags of flash frozen fruit at the store from the freezer section. While fresh fruit is amazing, flash frozen fruit is usually on par with the price and is already cut up and frozen for you, saving quite a bit of time, and it usually comes in a resealable bag which is very convenient.
Go to the library.
If all else fails and your house is still quite hot, head out. Go somewhere in the town that's air conditioned and doesn't require you to spend money.
Our favorite place along those lines is the local library. It's always very cool in there and the place is loaded with thousands and thousands of books to read, movies to watch, audiobooks to listen to, and countless other things. It has a lot of big comfortable chairs, too.
On the hottest days, we'll spend the afternoon at the library. Everyone grabs a book, finds an comfortable and cool spot, and gets lost in some new ideas or a great story.
Summer heat doesn't have to make you miserable. It also doesn't have to break the bank. You can keep surprisingly cool through the summer months just by using a few smart tactics along the way, tactics that cost very little and do a great job of helping you feel cool.