Living Without Air Conditioning

Jami and I bought our 1940 rowhouse back in 2008, and this is our fourth summer in the house. Like many houses built in that time period, our house doesn’t have central air, and we decided our first year to see if we could make it through a hot DC summer without putting in the window units. We did – and were surprised to find that it wasn’t too much of a struggle (and that it saved us tons of money on our electric bill!). Here are some tips on making living without air conditioning work for you:

Know Your Temperatures. I find that to keep our house comfortable (which for me is a high of 82 or 83 during the day, and hopefully 79 or below overnight), I need to have lows in the low 70s overnight. I check the forecast online every few days and keep my eyes on trouble spots (lows predicted in the upper 70s or 80s, multiple days of temperatures in the high 90s or above 100). That way I know not to plan on heat-generating activities those days (laundry – especially if you use the dryer, cooking, vacuuming). I like to feel like I have a plan!

Keep It Dark. Make sure you have blinds in all your windows. Close them tightly before you leave for work each morning and don’t open them again until the sun goes down. This is the single most important thing you can do to keep your house cool without air conditioning.

Open It Up. Once the temperature outside your house drops below the temperature inside your house, open up all your windows. An indoor outdoor thermometer is especially helpful for this. Window fans will also help – we have two like this. You can set one of the fans to in and one to out which will help get the hot air out of your house!

Circulate. Fans in general are going to be your friend – ceiling fans if you have them, or can install them, will be really helpful moving the cool air down. Oscillating fans will also do the trick if you don’t have ceiling fans. Moving air feels cooler than stagnant air and it will make a warm house much more bearable.

Take a Break. Sometimes, especially on the weekend during the heat of the day, it’s best to just leave your hot house behind. We like to head to the pool, the library, a museum, or the movies and soak up a little free air conditioning. By the time you get back, things will have cooled off a little and your house will be much more pleasant.

Keep the Oven Off. Unless it’s a relatively cool summer day, I don’t turn on our oven in summer. I also try to focus on recipes that can be made quickly on the stove top or toaster oven, or cooked out on the grill. Any sort of cooking I do tends to heat the house up by at least a degree, so the less heat I can generate in my house, the better.

Water is Your Friend. Hydration is important of course, especially when it is hot out, but what I am really talking about is showers (or pools or splashing in a garden hose). On a really hot day, I can take 3 cold showers in a day (and 2 is pretty standard – one when I get home from work and one before bed) and it makes all the difference in the world!

Know When to Say Uncle. Last year was a ridiculously hot summer – multiple days in a row of temperatures in the high 90s/low 100s. It would “cool off” overnight to temperatures in the mid to upper 80s. There is no way to keep your house cool with those temperatures, so after two nights of not sleeping because of the heat, we put a window unit in our bedroom. We had it set to 80 and only used it on the hottest days, but it was a real sanity-saver on the days we needed it.

If you are trying to live without air conditioning, good luck! It can be done, it’s great for the environment, and it will save you money. If there are other tips that have worked for you, I’d love to hear them!

Living Without Air Conditioning

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