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On Living Without Air Conditioning – How to Survive a Layoff {Guest Post}

I am thrilled to have Dana, from Roscommon Acres, as my guest today.

When Smockity mentioned leaving off the AC to save a little in response to her husband's recent job loss, I thought, Hey, I have a little experience there. Because, you see, this house came with a heat pump that lasted all of one month after we bought the place. My husband had always wanted a heat pump until that February when he found out just how much they cost. We also learned just how much heat a house can generate because despite outside temperatures in the 20s, we were able to keep the house above 55 by leaving on all the lights and baking a few extra muffins.

That was nice in February, but I was already thinking about July because we couldn't really afford to get it replaced. I mean, we could have taken a loan out, but we didn't want to go into debt over what is really just a luxury. That and this northern girl does not tolerate heat well unless it is the kind you put on a taco. But this year, we're considering doing without again. Believe it or not, we actually could afford to put in a central air system, but there are other things we are thinking might be a little more important.

That is to say, you get used to it. So for anyone looking into doing without the comforts of modern technology this summer (or who might like to make their AC work a little less), a few tips from the trenches on getting through the heat of summer without the air conditioner.

1) Don't cook.

You won't really want to anyway, but just don't even go there. Even while planning groceries, rethink any meal that requires the oven or the stove. That thing puts out the heat. Remember, I baked muffins at midnight to keep out the February chill through the rest of the night. If you have to use the stove, try limiting it to the evening.

2) Consider an electric roaster.

It is like a mini-oven, but it uses far less electricity, puts out far less heat, and you can set it on the patio to keep even that heat outside. The crock pot is good, too, especially if you are thinking lots of rice and bean dishes. Except you won't really want either, unless maybe as a base for tacos.

3) Think salads.

This is great when you have a large garden. After about a week in the 90s, it is all that really sounds good, anyway. Salads, fruits, cold sandwiches. The only thing hot I ever wanted was brats on the grill. And you can grill up a batch of chicken at the beginning of the week to sprinkle on salads and tuck in sandwiches all week long.

4) Rest during the heat of the day.

Around 11, we'd go around and check all the animal's water and retire to the house. I'd fill the bath with cool water for the kids to play in, we'd watch a show, I'd make sure they drank. And drank. And drank. At 3, we'd check the animals again and the children were allowed back out to play. That whole siesta thing works wonders.

5) Push fluids.

We made lots of refrigerator tea. (I love ice tea, but it requires the stove.) And aguas frescas. Oh, how I love aguas frescas. There's even enough fruit pulp in it that it makes a light afternoon snack.(That recipe calls for straining the pulp, but I never do. Also, you can substitute any fruit that can be pureed in a blender.)

6) When it gets really hot, take a trip to the library. The mall. The grocery store. A friend's. Anywhere with air conditioning.

The only problem with that is that by the time the heat drives you to air conditioning, you will find the rest of the civilized world uncomfortably cool. Consider bringing a sweater.

7) And don't forget the bath.

Did I mention I was pregnant through all of this? The bath was my escape from the heat. When you are done, you can use it to water the garden.

8) Take advantage of the heat and make some homemade yogurt, no machine or electricty required, and oh so refreshing as a smoothie in the afternoon!

9) Keep the lights off and the shades drawn, especially on the south side of the house.

10) Keep the fans going and make sure you have one in the window set to exhaust to help push the extra heat generated out of the house.

And above all, try to keep it something positive -- a challenge, an adventure, an experience -- something that keeps you in control rather than a victim of circumstance. Because believe me, nothing brings out the crankiness in everyone quite like the unrelenting summer heat.

Dana Hanley writes about life more abundantly, from the joy of a baby's smile to the almost unbearable grief of losing a son and seeking each day to find beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of the spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:3) at Roscommon Acres.

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  1. I find this post quite strange from my own experiences. I mean no offence, but americans tend to consider many things standard that the rest of the world sees as a luxury. From our hottest summer day to our coldest winter night the average temp range in my area of Australia is -2 to 42 C (28-108F) so I don’t claim to be the expert on winter (anything below 10C/50F means double and triple layers of all clothes for my family!). To a point it is what you’re used to, I simply couldn’t cope in some of the winter temps americans see, but there are ways to get through it. (we are in school during the begining and end of summer, and most schools do not have aircon here, so you become acclimatised as a kid)

    I repeat everything said above and would like to add a couple of things that we found helpful on the hottest of summer days. I’m trying to think back to our major heat wave years back where it hit 47C/116F.

    I’m sure you have something similar there, here we have ‘ice blocks’ which are like a flavoured ice in a plastic tube, usually very very cheap. If you don’t like the commerical types they’re quick and easy to make yourself and a good way to get hydrated.

    FROZEN FRUIT. I would never eat lunch in the summer until I began freezing my own fruit. Seedless grapes, orange segments and banana are my favourites, I’m sure other fruits would work too. Healthy, cool and filling on a hot day.

    Keep bottles of water in the fridge. Tap water often heats up in summer, not very appealing, but a cold drink will refresh.

    A damp facecloth or a cold shower in the middle of the day does wonders.

    Take advantage of the pleasant summer afternoons, get a sprinkler, or a hose with a plant watering attachment, put everyone in swimsuits/shorts and tops, and have some water fun to cool off!

    You can’t eat salads every meal, but consider one-pan meals, one stove element makes less heat than 3 or 4. Slow cooker placed outside can work in some areas. Bake no-cook items like slices and gelatine cheesecakes.

    if you can do schoolwork in the middle of the day great for you! but if you can’t, don’t. We could never concerntrate in the middle of the heat, and tended to get up early in the morning, or finish it off after dinner, or some other cooler time where you could concerntrate.

    hope that might help a little.

  2. I very much wish I could do without air conditioning! The bills are beyond painful! But, unfortunately, with chronic lung disease…it goes beyond a matter of comfort. If I desire to stay out of the ER, when the humidity rises…I have no choice but to hit the air conditioner.

    Wish I could just, “tough it out”…

  3. Heather says:

    What part of the country do you live in? When I lived in COlorado as a kid, our house did not have ac, just an attic fan. But it was dry heat, which I think is more tolerable. Now I live in the hot, VERY HUMID south. I did live one summer in college in a cottage without ac, and everything I owned was damp all summer (my college textbooks got nasty). Now it is part of our lease that we must run the ac in the summer to combat mold. I would be interested to hear what people do to fight the humidity as well as the heat.

  4. I heard or read somewhere (I HATE when I can’t remember my source!) to put mint leaves on the inside of a wet cloth then put in the fridge for a while. Place that around your neck and it keeps ya nice and cool! Life in a Shoe…I think that’s where I read that little tip!

  5. When I was younger my mom was raising me on a single income and it was a VERY LOW income. We didn’t have the money to run the A/C so we did mostly what the same things. Kept the curtains pulled, fans on, I remember sleeping with a damp cloth on my face and a water bottle near me to spray myself down when it got to hot. The small luxury of flipping my pillow over in the middle of the night to get the cold spot was simply the best feeling.
    I think all to often people forget how to open their windows and enjoy fresh air. I love having my windows open.

  6. I’m in Nebraska. I know AC is a much bigger issue down south where mold is a bigger problem. We do have a dehumidifier we keep running down in the basement, but we don’t get the real humid heat that we had when we lived in Texas.

    But even if you are just looking to save a few dollars on your electric bill, definitely look at how and what you cook and pay attention to how many lights are left on during the day. The poor AC shouldn’t have to work that hard! :)

  7. Michelle says:

    A wonderful way to make tea without the stove, I never brew it on the stove in the summer, is to make sun tea. Take a large jar, fill with water, add about 6-7 tea bags and set outside in a sunny space. The hotter the day the faster it brews, but average it takes about 4 hours. It is some of the most wonderful tea you have tasted.
    I also grew up without a/c and we would go outside and nap under the shade trees or hang out in the stock tanks when it was super hot.
    Hang in there!

    • Michelle says:

      I should have been a little more specific. Use about a gallon size jar, and put the lid back on before setting outside.

  8. We used to drink so much sun tea when I was a kid! I think I prefer refrigerator tea, but I think that is mostly because I shove it in the refrigerator and forget about it until I want some. Last time I made sun tea, I forgot about it for days!

  9. We lived in a house without a/c however we had a huge attic fan, when you turned it on it created a sort of suction/wind tunnel in the whole house, we left all the doors open at night and the place was about 10 degrees cooler, it did created more dust. If you can install one yourself they are very economical.

  10. We go without A/C as long as we can. We have an attic fan that is awesome until it hits about 80 degrees outside, then you’re sucking in hot air. So, we switch to ceiling fans then. We also have very humid heat – so there’s a point where it’s worth the A/C money for everything not to be soaking wet and nasty in the house.
    Our biggest saving came on the heat. I talked husband into installing a woodstove and it has been worth every penny! We had an old stove and only had to buy the chimney supplies, but if you were having to buy everything I would highly recommend an outdoor stove that also does your hot water – awesome investment!

  11. We heated with wood last winter, too, Mary! We had some chimney issues, but overall, I think I liked it. There are definite disadvantages to consider, but those disappear if you actually have central air to fall back on (when out of town, for example.)

    And I loved our big kettle sitting on top, always ready for a cup of hot tea. I did so much cooking on top of the woodburning stove, I’m sure we had to save something from not turning the oven on as much. And potatoes cooked in the back were soooo good!

  12. Oh, and Mary, I so want to set up an outdoor kitchen. I am not really sure how to go about it since money is still an issue, but I’d love to move my jelly making out onto the porch, even if it is just with a little propane heater.

  13. Dana, I do many of these things as well! I “flip” how I cook in the summer. I think pretty hard before I turn on my oven – and if I have to, it is in the evening. My poor kitchen can’t handle even the heat from the stove top in the summer.

    I really want an outdoor kitchen, too, for canning. It would make a LOT of difference!

    We just use a couple of window units. We are in Southern Indiana, where the Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash Rivers meet. It is so HUMID. That’s what is so hard for me, particularly when pregnant – it’s the humidity.

  14. I grew up without A/C and then also worked at a summer camp with rustic cabins. You REALLY do get used to it eventually….the hard part is now that I’m an adult and used to A/C and go to visit my parents’ house. I melt!

  15. Sara, it is so much about what you are used to. I grew up in northern Indiana where AC was almost optional. I thought my first Kansas City summer was going to kill me and we only went two weeks without air!

    And you’re right, Holly. That humidity makes it so much worse. Even splashing yourself with cool water doesn’t really work to cool off. Within a few minutes, you’re just hot and even stickier.

  16. We didn’t have a/c until I was ten or eleven. We would play on the tile/concrete floor in our split level. They stayed cool throughout the summer if the curtains/blinds were pulled during the heat of the day. We played games, read books, and if it was today, my mom would have allowed us to watch educational videos (nature usually). But dvd, ect were not available then, so it was reading, games and coloring pictures.

  17. We’ve never had A/C in our house. We have a small ranch but the layout is weird so airflow from a window unit would just be a losing battle and cost too much to just have lukewarm air. Once we realized the beautiful southwestern facing windows in our house made it feel 100 degrees by dinnertime I bought blackout cloth from Jo-Ann Fabric, made a simple top seam (it doesn’t ravel) on each curtain and installed them in all of the windows. In the morning all windows are shut by 9:00 or 10:00 and the eastern window curtains are dropped. By noon the western curtains are dropped. This keeps the house so cool all day until about 5:00 when it starts to get stuffy, which is fine because we usually head outside around then. After dinner, we also usually open the east windows and put fans in the west windows (facing out) to create a cross breeze and draw the heat out. Once it is dusk or dark we turn the fans around and draw in the cool air. My friends think we are crazy but it only takes a little planning and our summer electric bill is usually around $50 thanks to no a/c and using our clothesline.
    We also like to put wet lightweight kitchen towels in the freezer. When they are stiff we open them like a book and lay them across the top of our head, once they are soft then we wrap them around our necks. heaven.
    This is the way I grew up and it just seems normal to me, my kids have never known any other way also so they just try and come up with fun new ways to stay cool.

  18. For ice tea fans I used cold brew lipton just put the tea bag in and sugar and ten minutes you have iced tea. I let my stand a little longer to make it stronger. noelectricity required. We are in WA state and we do not have ac we used fans and htats about it. Last summer was extremely hot for about 2wks they said that was a rare occurence we will see what this summer holds. good luck

  19. We’ve been living without AC for over 20 years. We don’t take a siesta in the afternoon. In fact, I like to be outside mid day to get optimal Vitamin D production. Plus, here there is just too much work in the garden as well as livestock to get it all done in the early morning or evening hours. We have found that our bodies acclimate to the heat. We drink lots and lots of water. By lots, I mean over a gallon per day per person. My 12 year old told me he drank 21 cups yesterday. He kept track. :)

    We have found that if it is going to be really hot, like mid to upper 90’s, it helps to close all the windows by 8 – 9 AM. The house actually stays cooler that way. When we come in out of the heat, the house actually feels “cool.” :)

    We have ceiling fans in each room. We have an attic fan that we turn on to cool the house off in the last evening or early morning. We keep the windows open through the night and by morning the house is nice and cool, if it didn’t stay hot through the night.

    We try to bake our bread early in the morning, but sometimes we fail to get it done and bake during the day anyway. Canning all the produce from our garden makes the kitchen very hot, but since I don’t have a summer kitchen to do it in, we do it anyway. The weeks we put up our harvest, we don’t bother to close the windows as it will actually stay cooler with the windows open as the kitchen is going to be producing more heat than the outdoors will be letting in.

  20. I forgot to note that we bought an above ground pool from Wal Mart and the kids will dunk in it several times throughout the day when it is very hot.

  21. And there is one majar advantage to not running the AC. We’re hitting 90s and above every day, and going out to the garden and working in the breeze is actually quite pleasant so long as the sun isn’t beating down on me. About 3 PM, it gets more comfortable to work in the garden than to sit in the house!

  22. Just thought I would post a few thoughts. I grew up in the mild climate of western Washington and the cool climate of the mountains of Idaho. Summers were mild and dry. Nights were cool enough to require a sweater after dark. One could cool the house down with open windows and a fan or two.

    Then I moved to Oklahoma. It was hot and humid in the summer. Nighttime temperatures hovered in the high 70’s. I kept the A/C at 76, except my roommate kept putting it down to 72. Opening the window at night would let heat it. I still did it, though, and closed my door and vent to my room, so that I could get fresh air.

    Then I moved to south Texas. My car’s A/C didn’t work. It wasn’t a problem… until mid-May; by then, I decided it would be a good investment of my part-time job’s earnings to charge the frion. We lived about 45 minutes from the coast on the border of Mexico, and humidity usually matched the temperature, which was in the 90’s for the six or seven months of summer people suffer down there. Even my husband, who grew up in the Caribbean, couldn’t handle it without A/C. To keep costs down, we slowly inched the thermostat up until we could handle 80 degrees in the house. This kept the humidity bearable.

    Now we live near Portland. Last summer, there were 3 days we would have liked A/C, but it didn’t work (not charged). We survived, even without fans!

    In summary, from my vast experience with varied climates (that is tongue in cheek), I will say that sometimes A/C is almost a necessity. Hot dry climates can easily deal without it, because the night air is cool. Hot humid climates are much harder to deal with. I guess that’s where the midday siesta comes from!

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