Q: How can I stay cool without AC?
A: Technically, my brain should have melted into a puddle at my feet by now. I'm sitting in my second-storey home office on a 37° day and I feel all right, thank you very much.
My rental actually has a new central air unit parked outside, but since the ducts are so messed up in this old house, it wouldn't actually reach most of the unit even if I were to turn it on. So, it's off.
Right now I've got a fan blowing about 10 inches from my face instead, and as the temperature goes up another degree with the late afternoon sun-bake, my plan involves getting an ice pack from my freezer and stepping on it.
Try it if you're sitting around at home. You'll see. At first it's painfully cold, but just like we lose a lot of heat without a toque in winter, icing your feet will cool your whole core in a jiffy. Awesome if you want to sit around and watch a movie or read a book.
What other tricks can keep you cooler in summer? I'll assume you've got your basics covered. You know, keeping windows open overnight, then shutting 'em and your blinds early in the morning to lock the cooler air in. Taking cold showers (short ones!) and downing cold food/drinks (unless you subscribe to the Middle Eastern theory that a hot tea can cool you down).
You can always try making your own evaporative air conditioner, aka a "swamp cooler." They're ideal in dry heat, since they can add moisture to the air, but, hey, they do still cool the air in humid climates, so give it a go. (How much more humid could it get?)
How ambitious you get depends on how much Bob Vila you were exposed to as a child. The web is full of plans that involve a cooler full of ice and a fan as well as things like an aquarium pump, copper wire (your conductor), plastic tubing and zip ties. Just google "make your own air conditioner" and you'll get the specs.
It can get a lot more basic, too. My grandfather used to put ice cubes in front of fans to circulate cooler air. Back then you could buy fans that had slots built in for your ice. Since you probably haven't seen one of those in recent decades, these days you have to put a bowl full of cubes in front of a fan.
A wet sheet hung in front of a fan works, too. And what fan should you invest in? It all depends. For sheer efficient power, get yourself an aerodynamic Turbo-Aire High Velocity from Home Depot, Canadian Tire, etc. It uses less energy than a 100 watt bulb and delivers 100 per cent more air than a regular fan.
This is a particularly great fan for pushing cooler air upstairs from basements or main floors since it tilts well. If you're looking to create a cross current, get yourself some reversible window fans. Set one up to suck wind in from one of your windows and the other to push it out, and presto, you have your own wind tunnel.
Got an overhead fan that doesn't seem to be doing much? Well, first, make sure it's set to counter clockwise - pushing air down - versus clockwise - pulling air up. If you're rolling your eyes at me right now, having already ruled that problem out, it may be time to look into a new Energy Star ceiling fan.
They're a whopping 50 per cent better than regular ceiling fans at getting the job done. And the feds say they can save you $165 in energy costs over the fan's lifetime.
Keep in mind that fans mostly cool people, not rooms. So don't leave 'em on day and night if you're gone at work.
Regardless, fans will break down after a while. After my large stainless steel one flatlined, I brought it over to my local appliance repair shop, Butler's, on Coxwell, and they fixed it, thus avoiding me having to send it to the dump. I recommend you try doing the same.
Now, if you've got an ancient air conditioner lying around, I'd put a "do not resuscitate" order on that baby. If you're thinking of getting an AC to turn on before bed, it'll save us all some energy-burning if you opt for a new Energy Star model instead.
Own your home? Let's add "beef up attic insulation" to your to-do list. BC Hydro says a well-insulated attic can cut cooling energy use from 20 to 60 per cent. Also, consider a whole-house fan. Mounted on the attic ceiling, the fan when flicked on at night sucks out hot air and refreshes your whole house with a giant gust.
As for sleeping cooler wherever you live, try misting your top sheet with cold water before you go to bed (or rinse/wring out a sarong as your top sheet). Snuggle up to a soft ice pack (like the buckwheat ones you can toss in the freezer) or toss a frozen half-filled water bottle in your bed. Mattress too hot? Lay a cheap straw mat over it, under your fitted sheet.
Finally, if you're lying awake muttering that you've got a furnace for a boyfriend/wife (hey, people generate a lot of heat - it's not their fault), shake things up with a little ice play to help keep things cool on a hot summer night.