Summer hasn’t even officially started and I’m already horrified by the news of record-breaking heat waves in Europe, Asia, and the United States. I lived through the 2021 heat wave in western Canada that killed more than 600 people and just thinking about it makes my anxiety skyrocket. But that’s life now – summer has become the “danger season”. So not only do we need to adapt to the impacts of climate change, but more importantly, we need to adapt in a way that doesn’t make it worse.
Air conditioning is NOT a solution and will make heat waves worse
Air conditioners require huge amounts of electricity to function. In many places it means burning more fossil fuels, which in turn releases more CO2 into the atmosphere, worsening the climate crisis. As if that weren’t bad enough, the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in air conditioners to cool the air are super greenhouse gases that trap 3,000 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2.
So the more we turn on the air conditioners, the worse the climate crisis gets. Imagine millions upon millions of people turning them on at the same time? Not to mention the strain on the power grid, which increases the risk of blackouts, and the fact that the people who suffer the most from the heat are almost always the ones who have fewer means to cool off, which is very unfair.
All of this means that finding natural ways to keep our homes cool in the summer isn’t only possible, but extremely important as we prepare for a sweltering future.
How to keep your home cool without electricity
1. Close windows and blinds during the day
Keep your windows closed to prevent hot air from entering your home, and close the blinds to avoid the greenhouse effect caused by the sun entering through the glass and raising the temperature.
2. Remove floor rugs in the summer
That’s especially important if your home has cool floors, such as tile.
3. Only open the windows when it’s colder outside
If it’s colder outside than inside, leave windows – and doors, if possible – open to allow air to circulate and a cool breeze to come in.
4. Dampen the curtains at night
Then leave the windows open: The fresh air moving past the damp curtains will instantly cool the temperature in your home for a good night’s sleep.
5. Identify the coolest room in your home
Have you noticed how it’s always cooler in the basement? That’s because heat rises. If you can, try and spend most of your time in the coolest rooms of the home. I remember that during last year’s heat wave we spent a lot of time in our old condo’s underground garage, where it felt at least 10C cooler than anywhere else in the building.
6. Close the doors of rooms that aren’t being used
This will prevent cool air from entering areas where you don’t need it. This is especially important for rooms that are directly exposed to the sun. In this case, you shouldn’t only close the door, but also place a damp towel at the bottom of the door to seal it completely.
7. Avoid cooking indoors
The heat generated by cooking lingers indoors for hours, so avoid it as much as possible, especially the oven. Cook outside if you can – with a barbecue, for example – or opt for salads and other dishes that can be eaten cold.
8. Wait until nighttime to turn on appliances
Washers, dryers, vacuums and all other appliances generate heat as they work. So if you must use them, do it at night when the ambient temperature is milder and you can open the windows to let the heat escape. And if you have the option, hang your laundry out to dry instead of using the heater – it’s also easier on your clothes. ‘
9. Use light coloured clothes and bedding
Dark colours absorb more heat, so opt for light colours and preferably natural fabrics like cotton and hemp for your clothes, bedding, and even for covering dark furniture on particularly warm days.
10. Unplug electronic devices and chargers
All those gadgets that remain plugged while we’re not using them, like charges, for example, generate unnecessary heat. That’s bad for you and the environment, so turn them off when they’re not in use – a good way to do that at once is using a power strip to connect them to electricity.
11. Drink lots of water
This may sound like a no-brainer, but I know people – like my parents – who often need to be reminded to drink water! Staying hydrated is the first step to cooling down and resisting the heat.
12. Refresh yourself with wet towels or sheets
My smush-faced dog is especially sensitive to heat, so whenever it’s too hot we put a damp towel in the shade on the grass for her to lie down. You can do the same for yourself, as well as wetting your hair or putting a wet cloth on your head and neck – it works surprisingly well!
13. Use plants to block the heat
Trees and large potted plants are great allies against the heat. Shade windows and walls with large potted plants and trees, and plant trees to shade the house if you have enough outdoor space. The larger the tree, the cooler it’ll be, and it’s even better if you choose deciduous trees: The leaves provide shade and keep your house cool in the summer, and when they fall in the winter, sunlight shines through and warms the house naturally.
14. Adapt your schedule to the heat
Need to go grocery shopping, buy something at the mall, or work from the office? If you can, plan these air-conditioned activities for the hottest times of the day, so you don’t have to suffer at home. And do the other way around as well: leave intense chores or activities, like cleaning up or exercising, for the coolest times of the day in your area.
Have you tried everything, but the heat is still unbearable?
For your physical and mental health, get out! Go to one of the cooling centres that municipalities open during heat waves, go to a shady park, to a public swimming pool, to the movies… somewhere where you can take a break from the heat.
People really do die from heat stroke – it happened to one of my neighbours and I just can’t wrap my head around it – so if you feel it’s too much, it really is. If you need help, call a friend or even 911 – but get out and take care of yourself as we endure another cruel summer.