This summer has felt merciless, and not just for those of us in the cooler northern regions of the country. It seems as though as soon as one heat wave ends up North, another one starts up down South or out West. If you're as tired as I am of being hot, here are some of my favorite tips for staying cool without sucking vast quantities of electricity, therefore saving you a few pennies on your air-conditioning bill.
#1: Drink LOTS of water and other nonalcoholic drinks. You need plenty of water to help your body manage the heat, plus cold liquid absorbs heat as it warms to body temperature. Opt for these homemade summer drinks, or suck on ice pops, rather than resorting to alcoholic beverages, which dehydrate you.
#2: Keep the heat out. To avoid letting your house turn into a heat sink, use shades or curtains to keep the sun from shining in your windows, turn off lights, and restrict heat-generating appliance use (think TVs, computers, stoves, and dishwashers) to evenings.
#3: Move some air. Fans move the air around you, helping sweat to evaporate from your skin, which makes you feel cooler. A handheld, floor, window, or ceiling fan will do, but be sure to turn it off when no one's in the room. Fans do not actually cool air, just your skin.
#4: Swamp it. If you live in a dry climate, you can rig up a temporary mini "swamp cooler," otherwise known as an evaporative cooler. Swamp coolers use moving air to evaporate water and leave the air cooler. To make the most basic kind, you can hang a damp piece of cheesecloth, natural burlap, or other absorbent thin or open-weave cloth in an open window and hope for a breeze, or suspend it in front of a fan. If using a fan, find some way to tie the cloth to the fan so it doesn't get caught up in the blades or gears and cause a fire; plastic zip ties or strong twine will work. Use a squirt bottle to dampen the cloth again every so often (be sure you are not squirting the fan’s electronics, of course). If you are clever, you can leave the lower edge of the cloth inside a trough filled with water, which will then wick up the cloth on its own, freeing you from the spray bottle and keeping you cool for hours.
#5: Create a glacial breeze. In humid climates, a swamp cooler doesn’t do much because the air is too wet already. But you can aim your fan into a bowl of ice cubes or put frozen bottles of water in front of it and enjoy the chilled breeze. Making ice uses lots of electricity so this isn’t a green alternative to an efficient air conditioner in the long term, but it can get you through the occasional hot day or night.