Keep your cool without AC

By Meenal Raval

Thanks to the climate crisis, we’re guaranteed hotter and wetter weather in the years to come. We’re used to our humid summers in Philly—but hotter and more humid? How are we all going to cope with that? When we cool our indoor spaces with air conditioners, we’re basically pushing the heat and moisture outside, making the outdoors even more uncomfortable. Using AC also means we use more electricity, meaning more greenhouse gases from the power plant.

So, how do we keep our cool? It’s time to think outside the (AC) box. 


Fans blow the sweat off your skin, making you feel more comfortable. Whether it’s a folding fan you pull out of your purse at Suburban Station, a table fan, a floor fan or a ceiling fan, they all make you feel less hot—and use a lot less electricity than an AC unit. When you run a fan for an hour, you use about 50 watt-hours. When you run an AC for an hour, you use about 500 watt-hours, 10 times as much. We’re billed for electricity use in kilowatt-hours (kWh), or 1,000 watt-hours. Do the math. Since fans evaporate moisture and don’t lower a room’s temperature, you only need to keep the fans on when you’re in the room.

Follow (and block) the sun

The sun’s radiation heats up our homes. This is nice in the winter, but not in August. We need to block the sun from entering our homes as much as possible. 

If you don’t already have drapes or blinds on your sunny windows, one quick way is with a tension rod and a quick hem to any light-colored fabric. In the mornings, I bring in the cool air via my living room windows, keeping the kitchen window and curtains closed to block the sun. In the late afternoon, I’ve got the kitchen window open and the front windows closed and darkened. After dark and on cloudy days, both sides are open, offering a refreshing cross breeze. 

If you have a window fan, after dark is when you prop them in open windows and draw in the cooler air. Consider installing window film, or if you own a row house, white coating your roof. These affordable options block the sun and keep you cooler. 

Still feeling too hot? Mist your shirt and your head with a little water and sit under a ceiling fan. Again, evaporation at work. 

Do something else 

If your second-floor bedroom feels too hot, camp out on the first floor. 

If your first floor feels too hot, find a project in the basement. Or wash dishes with cold water. When I rinse my cereal bowls with cool water, I feel my mind cool a little as well. 

As for food, cool meals rich in water content are best. Consider cooking in the cooler, early morning hours and eating more vegetables and fruit salads. 

Don’t be stoic

And if you must use the AC to keep your cool, I’ve learned that it’s not a case of either AC or a fan. I can keep the AC at a higher temperature (meaning it uses fewer kWh) and spin the fans in the occupied space to remain comfortable.

Give it a try. July was plastic-free month. Why not make August Freon-free?