Summer should be about lounging in the sun, enjoying crisp garden produce, and splashing in the water at the beach. And really, it’s all fun and games… until a heatwave rolls in, and you don’t have any electricity.
Where I live, we are on day fourteen of a monumental heat wave (but who’s counting) and although I’m lucky enough to have electricity, that’s not the case for our neighbors down the road, who are currently experiencing some long-term power outages.
If you’re planning on making it through the summer, it’s essential that you come up with a few ways to stay cool without any electricity. Even if you’re lucky enough to have enough power to operate a fan, there are many of us who don’t have air conditioning – these tips can help you, too.
Here’s what you need to know.
How to Survive the Heat Without Electricity
Drink Lots of Water
The most important thing you can do in the summer, regardless of whether you have power or not, is to drink as much water as possible.
Staying hydrated will not only help you feel better in the moment, but it will help your body work more efficiently, too. When you’re not working overtime to stay cool (your body needs water to sweat, after all), you’ll notice the oppressive heat a little bit less.
You don’t need to run around without clothes – I guess, unless that’s your thing, of course! – but you should try to adjust your attire so that you aren’t wearing stifling, restrictive clothing all day.
Ditch any tight-fitting shirts and jeans, and stick to more breathable fabrics. These should be loose-fitting and ideally, light in color. You could even wander around in your swimsuit if that makes you more comfortable!
Build a Creative DIY Bucket Air Conditioner
This won’t cool down your entire house – and you’ll need either a generator or a solar cell to power it – but it can make all the difference when the thermometer is hovering around 90 degrees F (32 Celsius).
Seal Off the Hottest Rooms
In most cases, there are certain rooms in a home that are always hotter than others (usually, those that have southern exposure to the sun).
Block these off to prevent them from heating up the rest of the house. To do this, you can put a towel at the bottom of the door – and make sure you shut the door, too.
Plant Some Trees
This tip isn’t going to help you out much if you’re already sweltering, but if you’re reading this article looking for some preventive measures, planting trees is a great option.
When you plant trees, you’ll provide some shade, both around your house as well as to the space inside your home.
Remember That Heat Rises
Heat rises, so sleep downstairs if you can. You may even want to move a cot to the basement if it’s really that unbearable! Try to plan out your day so that you don’t need to spend time upstairs, either.
Attach a Wet Bandana to Your Head
You can tie a wet bandana to your neck or head, which will keep you feeling cool and refreshed at all times. Wetting your hair can produce the same effect.
Get Some Battery-Powered Fans
Your best bet is to stock up on a few battery-powered fans before you lose power. That way, you won’t be scrambling to buy these handy devices at the same time everyone else is.
Trust me – you won’t regret having a few of these contraptions on hand (on a side note, they’re also great for camping).
Open Up the Doors and Windows
Make sure you take advantage of any breeze there might be by opening up the doors and windows at night.
This isn’t a step you’ll want to bother with if it’s cooler inside than out, though, or if there isn’t any breeze. In most cases, opening your windows up at night can help keep things cool.
If the house stays hot even after it’s cooled down outside, consider sleeping outside instead. Outdoor sleeping not an option? Sleep between two open windows and hang some damp sheets over one. As the water evaporates, it will cool you down.
Seal Up Leaks
Check all of your windows and doors for air leaks. If possible, you may want to check on how well-insulated your home is.
While a well-insulated home is better at keeping warm, it’s also better at staying cool, too. Use some weather stripping and caulk to keep your home cool and warm.
Take a Cold Shower or Bath
If you don’t have any electricity, you might not be able to take a shower or bath – but if you can, hop on in. This will help you get through the heat and rinse that sweat off, too.
If you don’t have access to a tub or shower, consider just spraying yourself down with the hose. It may not look pretty, but you’ll get the same overall effect.
Another thing you can do is pour or spray some water on your wrists. Since skin is thinner, you’ll be more effective at cooling off your blood, which will then travel to other parts of your body.
Can’t stand to be in that hot house any longer? Check with friends or family members to see if they mind if you pop by for a visit… or for a longer overnight stay.
You can also head out to a place you know has air conditioning, like the local library or shopping mall. Even if the sojourn is only temporary, it should provide you with some level of relief.
Cover Your Head
It has little to do with being modest, and more to do with staying cool. Although it sounds counterintuitive – I did, after all, tell you to ditch those unnecessary clothes! – wearing a hat can keep you cool because it will keep the sun off your neck and face, two spots that tend to overheat the fastest.
Change Your Cooking Habits
Now is not the time to make an elaborate five-course meal. Do not use your oven or any other source of heat if possible. Plus, you aren’t going to want to eat in this kind of heat, anyway.
Eating hot foods is ill-advised during a heat wave because it will not only not taste that great, but it will make it harder for your body to cool down, too.
When you’re ready to eat, stick to food that doesn’t require much cooking, and consider using a camp stove outside if you absolutely must cook.
One more tip? Eat your largest meals in the morning and evening. It’s cooler out then. Digesting food takes energy, which will heat you up.
Plan Your Schedule Accordingly
If you have any intense activities or chores planned for the day, try to plan them for the morning and evening. Limit activities at the hottest times of the day, between 1 and 3 p.m.
Head to your local swimming pool or beach – going for a dip is one of the best ways to stay cool in a heatwave.
Choose Cotton or Linen
Cotton clothes will cool you down – and so, too, will cotton sheets. When you’re shopping around for bedsheets, opt for those made out of cotton and save those made out of silk or polyester for cooler nights.
Another tip to help you stay cool between the sheets? Stick them in the fridge first. This will help keep you cool – at least when you’re first trying to fall asleep, that is.
Hang Up Heat Blocking Curtains
Thermal blackout curtains work wonders at keeping your home warm during the winter months – but heat-blocking curtains can be just as effective.
These are uniquely designed to reflect heat and you can make your own (here’s an idea) for just a few bucks.
Not only will they keep you cool, but they’ll lower your electric bill when the power comes back on (or reduce heat loss, if you don’t have electricity).
Apply Ice Packs
Applying a cold compress or ice pack to your pulse points will help keep you cool while you’re sitting on the couch. Put ice packs at your neck, wrist, groin, elbow, and ankle for best results.
Dip Your Sheets in Water
For many thousands of years, Egyptians would hang damp linens in windows and doorways. This would cool their homes through evaporation and turn the desert breeze into something much more bearable.
You can not only follow this method or stay cool, but you can also sleep with them. Dip your sheets in water and then wring them out so they’re not sopping wet. During the night, your sheets will continue to release water and evaporate, cooling the air around you.
Close the Blinds
Did you know that about a third of all your home’s excess heat comes from your windows? Therefore, shutting your blinds is a great way to keep your rooms cooler (and also to save energy if you do have electricity). Shut the blinds so you don’t have a miniature greenhouse effect going on in your own home.
Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine
I know, all you want when this heat rolls in is a refreshing, ice-cold margarita! You can definitely have one – but you may be better off opting for the virgin kind.
That’s because both alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, meaning they dry you out and promote dehydration. Your body will have to work harder to stay cool.
Know the Signs of Heat Stress and Dehydration
Make sure you have familiarized yourself with all the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and emergencies, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat rash, dehydration, and heatstroke.
This is especially important if you care for children, the elderly, or pets. If you notice any symptoms of heat-related illness, it’s important that you act quickly to help cool the person down.
Don’t forget your pets and livestock, either. You can cool animals by giving them a cool bath, but making sure your animals have plenty of water to drink is the best thing you can do to prevent heatstroke and other kinds of emergencies.
Tips for Surviving the Heat When You Have Electricity – But No AC
Even if you have electricity, the summer heat can be unbearable if you don’t have an air conditioner. One easy way to mimic the effect of an air conditioner is to put a shallow bowl or pan in front of a fan. Fill it with ice, or hang the ice right above it. As the ice melts, the breeze will pick up the cold water, and create a cooling mist:
Also, shut the lights off. If you don’t have power, this isn’t a concern. But if you do, don’t waste electricity on powering lights that are going to make the rest of the house hot, too. Light bulbs – even the energy-efficient ones – give off heat.
Take advantage of natural lights as best as you can and keep rooms cool after dark by using lights minimally. And if you’re using incandescent lights, now is the time to switch to CFLs – incandescent bulbs lose up to 90% of their energy efficiency in the heat.
You can also use a dehumidifier to keep cool. It will help kill the dry heat and reduce the humidity level – so while it won’t necessarily cool the room down, it will make the air feel less suffocating.
If you have allergies that worsen when the weather gets hot and the pollen starts to fly, a dehumidifier can help with that, too.
Ultimately, the summer heat doesn’t have to be totally miserable and unbearable. Yes, even in a heatwave, and even without electricity!
Staying cool comes down to understanding the best ways to survive the heat (without electricity, and with it) so that you are prepared the next time the mercury starts to rise.
Trust me, before you know it, you’ll be shoveling snow and wishing it was this hot once more!
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).