Broken AC? Power Out? Here's How To Stay Cool Without Air Conditioning

Air conditioning may be one of the greatest inventions of the modern age. It means that even an August heat wave in Alabama is bearable. There are a few downsides to air conditioning, though: It's not great for the planet and when it goes out, it's hard to cope with the summer heat. If the heat or weather gets too extreme it can even knock out the power, which in turn knocks out the AC. What's a Southerner in summer to do? While it may be hard to imagine, it is possible to stay cool without AC even when the power is out. Here are a few tips:

First, before the summer hits or the power goes out, make sure your house is prepared to keep out the heat. FEMA recommends making sure your house is properly insulated, covering your windows with drapes, shades, or blackout curtains, and even using "window reflectors such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard to reflect heat back outside." The neighbors may gawk, but at least you'll be cool.

Then, Popular Science recommends closing off the hottest rooms in your home—the ones that get the most direct sunlight or don't typically have AC or get lots of direct sunlight. Once you shut those doors, "use a towel or a thick textile, like a duvet, to prevent the hot air from seeping into the space you're trying to keep cool." Once the doors close, try to avoid opening them so the heat doesn't get in. Also, if your home has two floors, stay downstairs, because heat rises and the lower levels of your home will always be cooler. If you have a basement, that's even better.

Woman Holding Fan Sweating
Getty/Paula Winkler

Next, dress for the weather. That means dresses, shorts, and skirts or anything loose fitting, ideally made out of natural, breathable fibers. Think linen, cotton, and anything made to let air in like some breathable athletic wear.

Make sure to stay hydrated with water or sports drinks like Gatorade and avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which can be dehydrating. The New York Times adds to watch what you eat as well, staying away from "hot, body-warming foods, like soup" and making sure to drink extra water, if you're having salty foods.

To stay cool at night, the Times recommends taking a cool bath or shower before bed and go ahead and get your hair wet to help you beat the heat. It's also a good idea to outfit your mattress with "a breathable cotton sheet" with a fan nearby, if the power is on. They also suggest, spraying "your sheet with cold water before sleeping," or, if you plan ahead, "place your pillowcases or sheet in a plastic bag and store in a freezer during the day."

Popular Science notes that "you can always wet a bandana or cloth and wear it on your head or around one of your wrists" to help keep cool. Another hack, courtesy of Bob Vila, is to wet a bath towel and hang it in the window. "The outside air will cool down as it passes through the damp fabric, effectively cooling the inside of your home." They add, "If the heat keeps drying your wet blanket, you can keep a spray bottle with water by your bed to dampen the cloth when needed."

Finally, if the power is out for a while, start thinking of an escape plan. Head to the beach, a lake, a hotel, or a friend's house, because summer in the South is no joke.

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