I grew up in northern Minnesota where you can bet your britches you’ll be plugging your car in and wearing your overalls in the 30 or more degrees below zero winter lows. A summer where it gets above 90 for more than a few days is a major heat wave since you can expect highs in the 80s for most of summer.
After moving to central Texas last fall we are now experiencing our first truly southern summer. I thank the Lord that this place doesn’t have the humidity that our previous home, Michigan, had.
But 100 degrees is hot no matter how you slice it. And your energy bill can be through the roof if you want to stay cool with an air conditioner. Since we live off-grid air conditioning isn’t even an option, so we’re trying to learn how people stayed cool (relatively speaking) before the days of air conditioning and central cooling.
This is what we have learned so far:
Take note of the hottest and coolest parts of the day. Right now 3 – 7 p.m. are the hottest hours of the day, while pretty much anytime before 10 a.m. is the coolest part of the day.
Plan your day accordingly. If you spend your day working from home you can plan around these coolest and warmest parts of the day. We pretty much don’t do much in the way of physical labor in the afternoon and early evening. That’s a good time for school, computer work, or reading. We usually are up by 6 and that’s when I do the majority of my physical chores. I can then spend the afternoon outside or next to a window, laptop in hand, working on writing assignments.
Avoid heating up the house with the kitchen later in the day. I am learning not to heat the house up with the stove or oven after noon. I prepare a cooked breakfast and lunch and then dinner is cold leftovers or a smoothie.
Get outside, in the shade. If you can find some shade and a breeze then being outside is the way to go. Staying inside is stifling, unless you have a lot of fans or windows.
Use water to your advantage. Keeping a wet washcloth with you, especially when you go to bed, can be a lifesaver. Simply wet it down, squeeze it out so that it’s still fairly wet but not dripping, and wet your face, neck, arms, and legs down as needed. When you catch a breeze that dampness will help cool you down fast.
Drink (and eat) cold things. We have a solar refrigerator about the size of a refrigerator-top freezer, but we always make room for a quart or two of water. Within a couple of hours it is ice cold and helps cool us down. Iced drinks are also helpful, as is blended frozen beverages and cold salads, sandwiches, and leftovers.
Don’t be afraid to sweat. When people become accustomed to having a temperature controlled environment, they often feel uncomfortable sweating simply because they aren’t used to it. Sweating is actually the body’s way of cooling itself down. When a breeze hits your sweaty body on a hot day you’ll know what I’m talking about. Societies that live in very hot climates without air conditioning, like India or the middle east, also have spicy cuisines not just for the flavor, but also because those spicy foods make you sweat which in turn cools you down.
So while this hot summer isn’t my favorite time of year, there are ways to manage the heat without the need for air conditioning. Being smart and safe is important. Staying hydrated and monitoring the young and elderly is also important. But folks lived without air conditioning in hot climates for thousands of years and managed, so I figure we can too.