My Mom’s generation had no such thing as air conditioning. She talked about how she and friends would go to the movies (for a nickel) and watch a double feature whenever the heat was unbearable because the theater was one of the few “air-cooled” places in town.
From my understanding, air cooling consisted of a fan blowing across a huge piece of ice, but this rudimentary system did provide some relief from the stifling summers In Texas and Illinois where Mom spent her childhood.
Even when I was growing up, AC was practically unheard of in the Northeast, and we certainly did not have it.
It absolutely offended Mom’s environmental sensibilities. Way back before it was fashionable, she questioned the excessive use of electricity and the burning of fossil fuels to produce it.
She was truly a woman ahead of her time.
And there’s no doubt that running air conditioning is also very expensive. Heating and cooling our homes takes a big chunk out of household budgets. But there are ways to minimize our cooling costs, and Mom was a whiz at knowing and finding methods to do just that.
Here are some of her techniques, along with a few others I’ve learned about along the way.
That really doesn’t make any sense. Honestly, if you are using the AC when it’s not needed, or if you are wearing long sleeves or a sweater when it’s on, you are wasting money.
Try instead to turn the AC off completely when you’re not home, or at least raise it several degrees.
And when it’s nice weather outside, shut it off and open some windows to let fresh air in.
The same goes for unoccupied rooms. There is no need to waste electricity on empty space. Close doors to unoccupied rooms or hang drapes to block off areas of the house that are not used.
Humidity is typically the culprit in making hot weather unpleasant. Simply removing that from the air can make all the difference in our comfort level. Setting the air conditioner to 78 degrees is usually good enough to accomplish that. Give that a try before turning it down to 72 or lower.
Keep the air moving around you. Moving air helps keep us cool by assisting with the evaporation of moisture off our skin, so have a fan or two around to maintain and direct good airflow where you can feel its benefits best.
Fans use a fraction of the electricity that air conditioners do, so they are much more economical to run. Whether you use them instead of AC, or to boost the effectiveness of your AC, you’ll save.
--In the evening, as soon as the sun drops low in the horizon, open all the windows and doors to allow fresh, cool evening air in. Of course, for security you’ll need to close the outside doors at bedtime, and probably any ground level windows as well, but any second floor ones can remain open all night.
--Use fans in the windows to get good cross-ventilation going that allows the hot air to vent and brings in the cool air. I personally find that a small fan on my bedside table directed straight at me also really helps keep me comfortable on warm summer nights.
--If you have a whole house fan, run it at night.
--Then, in the morning, close all the windows and doors, and draw the shades or blinds to block the sun and keep the hot daytime air outside as much as possible. Closing the windows may seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you realize that the overnight cooling may have dropped your inside temperature to the low 70’s, or maybe even 60’s, and the outside air is scheduled to go to the high 80’s or more.
--As long as you can keep the sun and that superheated air out, you have an excellent shot at keeping your inside temperature a good 15-20 degrees cooler than the outside temps during the day.
--Good, light-blocking shades or blinds are needed to make this really work effectively, and it’s even better if you have some kind of insulated curtains or drapes such as these here and here.
--I would say they are worth the investment if you don’t have them already. It also helps to have some good shade trees in your yard, particularly on the south-facing side of your home, but even if you don’t, the method outlined here can help you save considerable amounts of energy and utility costs over the course of a summer.
--And again, use fans inside the house to create air currents that have a cooling effect.
- Choose recipes that are quick or no-cook ones. You’ll find a couple of options here on my recipe pages and others as well.
- Rely more heavily on leftovers and meal salads as an alternative to cooking at all as I mention in my blog posts here and here.
- Use your microwave oven more to cook things like rice, potatoes, and other vegetables. The microwave actually does an excellent job of cooking many vegetables, and it does quickly without adding more moisture to the air in the kitchen.
- Do whatever cooking you have to when temperatures are at their lowest, usually in the early morning or evening.
- Avoid a lot of frying and broiling that tend to heat up the kitchen very quickly. The same goes for boiling food. Avoid it as much as possible so that you are not adding steam to an already uncomfortable humidity level. At the very least, keep pans covered. But better yet, use the microwave whenever possible. (See #3 above)
- Use a toaster oven for any necessary baking. It generates far less heat than a regular-sized oven.
- Use a slow cooker, if you have one, and plug it in anywhere that’s sheltered from the weather, such as a basement or covered porch, so that it does not add to the heat of the house.
- Use a pressure cooker to cook foods. They shorten the cooking time and the use of stove burners enormously. The newer -- albeit much more expensive -- versions, called instant pots, can actually be plugged in, so you can employ the same practices for their use that you do for a slow cooker in hot weather.
And many high tech fabrics help keep us cool by wicking the sweat away so that our body feels the cooling effect of its evaporation.
Using cotton sheets can be more cooling than polyester ones. But whatever type you use, washing them on a regular basis helps keep them and you fresh.
Use the clothes dryer less. If your dryer is in the living area of the house as opposed to the basement, running it can add unnecessary heat -- and humidity -- to the air. And few things in a house pull more energy than a clothes dryer does.
If you have the room and the opportunity, take advantage of sunny days and/or warm temperatures to hang your laundry outside.
If you can, set up a proper clothesline, but if that’s not possible, then use drying racks on the porch or in a room that is not used much.
I have very strong memories of him literally sticking to me when he nursed, it was so humid.
He was miserable, and so was I.
What helped enormously was getting into the shower with him for short, 2-5 minute cool downs under a spray of tepid or cool water a few times over the course of the day. It refreshed us both, and he loved it.
I recommend doing the same thing just before bedtime. It is a huge help to start the night cool and refreshed. You can also try such things as dry ice packs in your bed - the kind that you can freeze over and over again.
Grin and bear it. I think it’s important to mention something that’s definitely not very popular with many people these days, or may not even have occurred to others, and it’s this:
It’s perfectly okay to be a little uncomfortable sometimes. It is not even remotely fatal if we happen to sweat a little in the course of a hot summer day.
After all, some people go to the gym with the deliberate intention of working up a sweat. So going to great lengths everywhere else in life to avoid even a hint of perspiration seems a bit silly.
Now I’m not proposing abject misery here – I myself really, really welcome the cooling evaporation that a fan offers – but it has become just a bit absurd how much we mollycoddle ourselves and do everything possible to avoid even the faintest sense of discomfort.
Generations who have gone before us managed just fine without AC, even in the South and in heat waves, so there’s no reason to think that we could not survive with just a fraction of the discomfort they felt.
Be Aware of the Adjustment Your Body Needs After Being in AC All Day. It’s also worth remembering that when you spend your day in air conditioning at work or elsewhere, your body will perceive any heat or humidity as extreme, and it will feel much hotter to you than it really is.
However, your body can adjust if you give it a little time before setting the AC to a super cold setting.
So be sure to look at your summertime cooling procedures whenever you are looking for additional savings to bank away and pay yourself.
I am betting that many people would be surprised at the hundreds of dollars they can save over the course of one summer by employing just a few of the methods mentioned here.
For ideas about how to save energy costs in cold weather, check out my blog on the topic here.
And check out a cheap and easy hack for keeping rooms either cooler or warmer, depending on the season in my blog post here.