Earth-Friendly Tips for Keeping Cool in the Heat

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This looks likely to be the hottest summer ever on record.  And everywhere you look are ads for air conditioners... because folks who never needed before are succumbing to the temptation for coolness! 

And air conditioning certainly brings the coolth! 

The downside is, they are really hard on the environment (ironically contributing greatly to the climate change that's increasing their popularity). 

And they're hard on the human body as well. 

So... what's the alternative?

Here's my solution...

  1. Cover the exterior of the windows
  2. CAREFULLY limit light from skylights
  3. Cover any sun-facing doors
  4. Close up the house completely before the temperature starts rising - windows, curtains, etc. (An indoor fan, keeping air moving, helps make it bearable.)
  5. Open everything up as soon as it is as cool outside as inside to allow it to cool overnight
  6. Keep shading trees and grow shading plants, eg on a trellis or growing up supports, to shade the house as much as possible (this can be a multi-year plan)
  7. Keep your person cool

(Be aware that using any of these ideas, you take full responsibility for any undesirable consequences; i'm trying to help but i can't be responsible for your specific situation when i don't know the details)

Let's break that down...

1. Windows

If you can block light from getting in your windows, you don't have to experience your own personal greenhouse effect. 

Up until this year, we found that bamboo blinds on the exterior kept enough of the heat out.  This year, more is called for.

You can use old curtains -- blackout curtains are ideal, heavy towels, or big cardboard boxes from appliance stores work really well, propped up against the windows.  Yeah, it doesn't look great, but aesthetics aren't really the crucial issue.  (If you have housing bylaws, that may be another issue... worth pushing for exemptions for extraordinary times.)

Another option is Mylar -- get some space blankets from a dollar store and tape it up on the OUTSIDE of your windows.  NOT the inside... the heat trapped will blow your window seals. This reflects the majority of the sunlight away... and you can still see through it somewhat.

You might have to be conscious of the danger of reflected light to vehicles and passersby, so try not to create a real mirror effect.

2. Skylights

Skylights are tricky.  If you can get safely onto the roof to cover them from the outside, that would be the most effective option.  It's not always feasible, though... and you need to take safety precautions when going up on a roof.

I haven't tried this, but i have an idea that if we built a wooden box to sit over it, that would work well and hopefully be solid enough not to fly off the roof in a heavy wind... but it's a bit risky.  I also wonder if a coat of whitewash with calcium carbonate might be good... not sure if it might damage roofing or siding... or anything below the dripline.

You might want to experiment for yourself, if you're feeling adventurous.

What we do is cover the inside of the skylight. 

If it's an opening one, you can block off the entire opening, AFTER cranking it as wide as it can go, so no heat is being trapped inside.  We've got a window screen, which we covered on both sides with a black out curtain to keep out 100% of the light.  Before that, we used a big sheet of cardboard from a dryer box.

If it's not an opener, you have to be really careful to not trap too much heat.  You can blow the seals, or even melt the frame!  (Don't ask how i know. ) 

What we do is cover most of the window area with cardboard (because they're too hard to get to with anything soft), and leave a big gap at the higher end to let heat out.  Also, in our case, the skylight frames are 1 foot deep so the cardboard is not close to the glass, leaving lots of room for heat to escape.

If you do this version, go cautiously and test to see how hot it's getting. It's probably worth experimenting, though, because SO much heat comes in through skylights.

3. Doors

Covering any exterior doors that face the sun is really helpful.  It not only keeps the sun from heating through the door, it gives a bit of a temperature buffer when you go in and out. 

How to do this depends on the house. 

If you can hang a bamboo screen, that will help, but we tack or tape up a heavy bedsheet or light blanket when it's super hot. (Thumbtacks work for wooden siding or window frames; otherwise painters tape is a paint-safe option.)

Or you can stand up a room divider (screen) outside the door to block the sun, while leaving space to enter and exit -- this requires care because it can fall over if not secured in some way.  If you can build a heavy stand for it, that would be great, but again, experiment.  It may work to prop it up with large heavy planters or cinder blocks on both sides.

This is less of a benefit than covering windows and skylights, but every degree can make a difference in extreme heat.

4, 5, and 6 are pretty self-explanatory

7. Personal Cooling

Rediscover the joys of an icepack on a hot night!  I keep a small one, wrapped in a thick cloth, on the upper corner of my bed.  When the heat wakes me up, i put my wrist on the pack and it cools me enough to let me sleep again. 

It also helps to put an icepack (in a bowl) in your open window... the breeze brings the coolness inside.  Lacking that, it can help to wet down your window screen... at least until it dries.

Or when it's too hot to sleep in the bedroom, i pull out a camping mattress on the tile floor.  Again, when the heat wakes me, i can put my foot or hand on the cool tiles and it allows me to drift off again.

Icepacks also work by day.  As do hand-held fans, cool spritzing water, and cold cloths.

Be sure to drink a LOT of water, with electrolytes or a pinch of sea salt (if you don't have contraindications to such things) to help keep you hydrated properly.  Avoid sugary drinks, as those are hard on your system and you need extra water to flush it out.

The BEST Option By Far!!!

Granted, these homespun green options may not be enough for those zones that are on the edge of becoming uninhabitable.  (If you live in one of those, it may be wise to beat the rush and consider moving.)

Of course, the best option is to bring the Earth back into balance... but that's a big job when the global multinationals and the new international emperors behind G00gle, Amaz0n, Faceb00k, App|e, and Micr0s0ft (among others) are making a killing off terracide (which i fervently hope one day very soon will be persecuted as a crime worse than treason).  But that's another topic. 

Meanwhile, whatever we can individually do to reduce our reliance on AC, Mother Earth (and your future self) will thank you for!

With Brightest Blessings,

erin Dragonsong

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