Beat the Heat on a Budget

airconditioner    Air conditioning was invented in 1902 and since then we’ve seen an explosion in the need for cool. Over 90% of US houses are air conditioned. But what’s the cost?

In 1992, Professor Gwyn Prins called America’s love of air-conditioning our “most pervasive and least-noticed epidemic.” We’re spending a lot of money, and we don’t have to.

Think about how it used to be: sitting on the porch with a glass of lemonade or an ice cream, outdoor seats or a swing bench under a tree and a cool breeze. Are you enjoying the warmer weather or hiding from it?

NMporch    The human body is surprisingly adaptable, which means we’d get along fine if we let ourselves adjust to the heat. And it’s surprisingly easy to stay cool.

In the summer, wake early to get chores and work done—and nap when it’s hot.

Open the windows in the morning and the evening to catch the cool night air, then close up windows and blinds from noon to sunset to keep the cool inside.

If you have windows that open on two sides of your house, opening the windows at the bottom windows on one side and the top on the other helps pull a cooling, cross-breeze through the house.

Take a look at your property. Trim (or have trimmed) a couple of trees to create that perfect, shaded spot underneath to sit on a warm afternoon. Put up a hammock or a couple of chairs, cushions and a table, or even make a deck from old pallets, to create the perfect afternoon spot for reading or just sitting and enjoying the warmer seasons.

Think about adding a porch—there’s a reason the traditional New Mexico house includes a wrap-around porch. It’s a great spot to sit and visit. Or make friends with some folks who have such a porch—it’s a great reason to visit.

Try evaporative cooling with a wet towel over a low-tech electric fan—it uses far less power.

Look at installing a mist system in the garden. Not only will your plants love it, you will, too.

palletchari    Build a deck from old pallets—put it out under the trees or on the east side of the house so you can have morning coffee in the sun and a shady spot in the afternoon.

Swap your winter wear for cool cottons or thin silks—natural fabric breaths better in the heat and will keep you cooler. Buy a large, straw hat to create your own shade (and shopping at a local thrift store will outfit you for summer for very little money).

Cool off with cool foods—freeze red grapes for a treat (they’re like eating mini-popsicles).

Make some lemonade or sun tea (tea bags brewed in a glass jar) and serve it up with ice in a glass. Or go for iced coffee. Cut down on cooking with sandwiches, soups meant to be served cold like gazpacho, and leftovers that can be eaten cold (like roast or fried chicken).

Opt for salads during the day—they’re easier to make and you won’t be heating up the house with a hot stove. Or head out to a local restaurant—particularly one with shaded seats outside that won’t leave you chilled by air conditioning.

“If you have the ability to open or close a window, turn a fan on or off, change the blinds, modify your clothing—it just becomes a natural part of your day-to-day living, and you don’t build these expectations that conditions should be the same all day and all year round, which I would call ‘thermal monotony,’” said Gail Brager, an architecture professor at UC Berkeley. “We not only accept—we actually prefer—a wider range of conditions that float with the natural rhythms of the outdoor climate.”

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