6 Ways to Beat the Heat Without Air Conditioning (Or Money)
Summer's officially upon us, and along with all its usual accoutrements (Dog Days of, Boys of, (500) Days of), it's also brought along its rowdy, sticky friend: The Heat. You know the guy. He's the one who makes it harder to move, and harder to sleep, and harder even to get out of the car.
At least half of you are reading this on your phone in your car, waiting for autumn to arrive and release you from your ass prison.
And sure, the wealthy can afford to fight the heat, with their central air conditioning, and seaside villas, and chilled top hats, but for the rest of us, this is just something we have to put up with. Right?
"YES." -The Wealthy
Well, no longer! Thanks to the Internet and some barely remembered high school science, below I've compiled a list of six of the thriftiest ways that we, the poor but Internet enabled, can use to stay cool. And I'm not sending you alone! Everything below contains detailed notes on how well these techniques actually work, as I discovered this past sticky weekend.
The Fortress of Solitude
The first and cheapest method of cooling your home requires little more than an understanding of the laws of thermodynamics. (Which I have little more than, so it works out great.)
The first step is to flush all the air out of your house (don't worry, we'll bring it back soon) and replace it with cooler air. This can be done with some open windows and well-positioned fans set up to push all the warm, armpity air out of your home as you sleep, replacing it with cool nighttime air. Then, around 4 a.m. or whenever it starts to heat up outside, you simply close all the windows, kicking your armpit air outside forever.
And possibly experience an odd sibling of empty nest syndrome.
Once the inside of your house is nice and cool, you can now turn to doing war with the sun itself. Anything you can do to stop sunlight from shining into your house, like closing drapes or blinds, will stop that radiation from getting inside and heating up your shit. Even better is to keep the sun from touching your house and heating up its shit. By planting big leafy trees on the southern exposure, installing external shades, or putting your house on wheels and driving around the country following the clouds, you'll prevent a tremendous amount of energy from ever reaching you in the first place.
Some of these tips are a bit less economical than others, I guess.
How Well This Actually Works: Pretty Crappily
I've tried this out a few times in the past and found that it kind of works, and it definitely made me feel smug in the way that only people who get up at 4 a.m. can feel. But it never seemed to work for that long; no matter what I tried, these passive techniques always seemed to run out of steam around mid-afternoon, by which point my place was sweltering again. For these tips to be really effective, I think you need a large house with a basement, which I don't have. Also, you can't open your doors for anybody, so I hope you're not popular.
"I'm sorry, you're contaminated with heat, and I can't let you in. No, I don't know who stole 12 trees from your property and planted them on mine. Oh yeah? Well that's very rude of you, hotty-mouth."
When water evaporates, it sucks up a tremendous amount of heat from its surroundings. This effect is called evaporative cooling, and it's the basic mechanism that allows sweat to keep us cool.
It's also what makes public transit such great fun.
But the same effect can be recreated without all that smelliness by simply keeping some water in a little spray bottle, of the kind you might use to water delicate plants or discipline a cat.
You know. When he's getting notions above his station.
The fine droplets from a spray bottle will evaporate quite rapidly, and even if the water within is room temperature, a brief spray of this on your bare legs will be dramatically cooling. A more ramped-up version of this is to make a "swamp cooler," which is essentially just a bowl of ice and water placed in front of a fan, which rapidly cools the breeze coming off that fan.
How Well This Actually Works: It Depends
The evaporative cooling effect works best in dry climates, where water readily evaporates. When the relative humidity is higher, water tends to linger a bit longer in its liquid state, which is in part why humid climates are so uncomfortable: Your sweat doesn't evaporate, instead just sitting around, making you look unpleasant.
Unfortunately, the humidity in my place was on the higher side, as I discovered when I set up my "Turbo Swamp Cat Discipliner" -- essentially a garden hose arranged to drip on the blades of an electric fan. In retrospect, it may have been the Turbo Swamp Cat Discipliner itself that led to the increased humidity, as my apartment's humidity rapidly soared past the "waterfall/oasis" target I was aiming for before settling on "Turkish bath." Trying to fix the situation was its own adventure, as, due to some poor planning, my invention was on the other side of my now very slippery apartment. I'll spare you the details of the pratfalls that followed, only to point out that they were only marginally less embarrassing than those I suffered during my last visit to an actual Turkish bath.
"Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Whoopsy-daisy. Excuse me. No, I'm fine. No, nothing hurt but my honor."
One of the most frustrating aspects of a heat wave is when the temperature doesn't drop overnight. Human beings generally don't like being drippy when they're trying to fall asleep, and when the nighttime lows are still way too goddamned high, fans and open windows can only do so much.
Sweltering heat, or the scent of an entire city's farts: The choice is yours.
One solution is to cool the bed itself. Try putting ice packs (the flexible gel kind are less messy) in your bed an hour or so before bedtime. Alternately, put one underneath your pillow or in your pillowcase just as you go to bed. It won't last forever, but it might just be enough to take the edge off the heat, at least until you pass out.
How Well This Actually Works: OK, With Some Unexpected Side Effects
So it turns out that getting into bed with four ice packs while you're still dripping wet from your attempts to turn off a Turbo Swamp Cat Discipliner (the fan eventually just burned out on its own) is not what the doctor would call superwise.
"We in the medical community would just like to remind you: This is Cracked you're reading. Cracked."
Or so I discovered when I awoke the next morning, shivering with the worst cold I've ever had. So ... success! Of a sort.
"Chris, the tremors are a sign of your body rejecting your brain."
The clothes that you wear can have a pretty dramatic effect on how warm you feel.
Also, for a brief period in the '90s, vice versa.
The essential tradeoff when dressing for heat control is between allowing air to circulate across your skin (i.e., less clothes) and protecting yourself directly from the sun's rays (i.e., more clothes). The most effective compromise apparently being long-sleeved but loose clothing, as seen on people who walk around in deserts regularly.
Strolling around in the sun in a T-shirt and cargo shorts is how I think these guys punish people.
How Well This Actually Works: Surprisingly Effective
After taking off the necktie that I wear to bed every night, I examined my wardrobe to see what loose, flowy garments I had.
Which turned out to be an MC Hammer costume I wore for Halloween a few years back that I made out of four bedsheets.
Complementing that with a seersucker jacket I had from a Matlock costume, and looking like the world's sickest, fanciest hobo, I decided to brave the day's heat to go get some cold medicine. And believe it or not, the clothes seemed to work! While acknowledging the fact that I may have been experiencing a cold flash, I did feel quite a bit cooler as I made my way through town, and to judge by the catcalls I received, I may have even looked a bit cooler, too.
"Nope, that's a fever dream. Any time you feel socially accepted, that's probably your brain shutting down."
Some of the hottest climates in the world, like India, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean, are known for having some of the hottest foods in the world. And although that's more a function of where and how spicy plants grow (their spiciness is caused by proximity to the sun god Ra, as well as centripetal force from being on the equator), it also has some helpful side effects for the humans living there. Eating spicy foods makes you sweat (which is cooling) without greatly increasing your body temperature.
Also, the "burning ring of fire" that comes later is purely in your head.
If spicy foods aren't feasible for you because of your soft, lambskin mouth, there's still other things you can do dietary-wise to keep yourself cool. Anything that keeps you hydrated, obviously, as well as cool meals that won't raise your body temperature, like salads and such. Also, eat less, and in smaller amounts throughout the day. Any type of eating will raise your body temperature via metabolism, so that entire ham you have for lunch every day is doing you no favors at all.
Spread your entire ham across the day, like a normal person.
How Well This Actually Works: Not So Good
It seemed to me, with my possibly addled brain, that the ideal hot-weather food was something that was very cool to the touch, relatively hydrating, and incredibly, incredibly spicy. Which is how I ended up inventing a new drink by dumping a bottle of hot sauce into a Slurpee.
My original name, "Frank's Hot-Ass Slurpee," turned out to infringe on several trademarks, so I eventually settled on the "Fucking Mistake."
This was, as promised, thermodynamically cooling, so full marks there. It was also, as promised, chemically not. Beyond that, it was probably the single most unpleasant thing I've tasted since my last visit to a Turkish bath, and I can't in good conscience recommend it to anyone, especially anyone coming down with the worst cold in the world.
"That's the most snot I've ever seen come from one man's nose." -Helpful 7-Eleven Manager, who's presumably seen some shit in his day.
Finally, we get to perhaps the oldest method of fighting back Mother Nature's oppressive, suffocating heat: Taking shelter in her very own damp crevices, the oceans and lakes, and holy shit did I not intend for this to sound so disgusting.
Mother Nature, well-known owner of damp crevices. Deep ones, too.
Beaches and lakes and rivers provide nature's natural air conditioner, evaporative cooling writ large. But for those who find themselves without a beach or lake, whether because of geography, or pollution, or simply because they were all bought by rich people ...
... there are still solutions. Obviously kiddie pools are a great way to turn $18 and a hose into an ankle-deep aquatic adventure. And most communities have some sort of public pool open to any and all. It might not help you sleep through the night (unless you can hold your breath a real long time), but a rec center pool can at least keep you cool during the day.
How Well This Actually Works: Fucking Elitist Jerks
If they even let you in, that is. Apparently, every pool in the city has consulted with experts who have advised them to prevent "gross dudes with snot flying out of every part of their face" from paddling around for awhile.
"The Hammer pants also made you look a little bit like a sexual predator."
On the plus side, it turns out that many municipalities have quite a few free resources available for dealing with disease-carrying sexual predators, and barely 15 minutes of screaming obscenities at pool employees had passed before some helpful men in blue came and took me away in an air-conditioned car.