Staying cool without Air Conditioning: Tips for cooling off during a Power Outage

Every year summer storms cause power outages throughout the United States. For those who are unprepared, these power outages, combined with summertime heat waves, can be a deadly combination. That’s why knowing how to cool yourself and your home without air conditioning is an important piece of knowledge you should possess.

Hot Summer Sun

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, an average of 675 people die from heat-related illness each year in the United States, making it one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the country. During a severe heat wave that hit Chicago in 1995, over 700 deaths were directly attributed to the heat. In 2006 in California, a deadly heat wave killed 655 people during a two-week period.

What makes Heat so Deadly?

Living in the desert, I can tell you that going without air conditioning can be quite a miserable experience. But during an extended power outage, heat can be more than just uncomfortable; it can be downright dangerous.

Continued exposure to excessive heat can lead to hyperthermia and heat exhaustion. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heat stroke and death, so early treatment and proactive cooling measures are extremely important.

During a grid down disaster or power outage, the ability to cool down is going to be essential to your survival, especially if you live in an area that is prone to extremely warm weather.

How to Stay Cool when the Power goes out and you have No Air Conditioning

Up until about 60 years ago, in home air conditioning was virtually unheard of. But despite a lack of central air, there wasn’t an epidemic of people dropping dead in their homes because of the heat. So what changed?

Well, just like with most modern technologies there was a downside; people forgot how to take care of themselves when technology inevitably failed. The lessons from the past were largely forgotten, and here we find ourselves in a society that is increasingly dependent on technology, government and everyone but ourselves to solve our problems.

So how did previous generations stay cool?

They Dwelled in Caves

Cave Dweller Homes

Even in some of the hottest areas on earth, ancient populations thrived in areas that most would consider inhospitable to life. In many of these areas, they did so by building their homes inside caves or partially into the ground.

While I’m not going to recommend you run out and find the nearest cave, our modern day equivalent is the Midwest basement. If you live in a home with a basement, your best bet for staying cool during a power outage is to set up a sanctuary in your own modern day cave. Since heat rises, and cool air naturally collects downstairs, your basement can be a life-saver during a heat related emergency.

They Hung Wet Sheets

hanging wet towels

For thousands of years Egyptians would hang damp sheets and linens in doorways and windows. These damp sheets would help cool their homes through evaporation and turn an arid desert breeze into an early mist machine.

Down south, people not only hang these wet sheets in doorways, they sleep with them. Before bed, try dipping your sheets in water and then ringing them out so they’re not dripping wet. Throughout the night the wet sheets will continue to evaporate, cooling the air around you.

They went Swimming.

municipal swimming pool

The Great Bath, built over 5,000 years ago in Sindh, Pakistan is one of the earliest public pools in the ancient world. Throughout history people have used these public water tanks for bathing, and more importantly staying cool.

In the 1930’s, the construction of public pools skyrocketed in America; and between 1933 and 1938, almost 750 municipal swimming pools were built throughout the country.

Even if you don’t have a pool, sitting in a small plastic children’s paddling pool or soaking in a bathtub filled with cool water can help bring down your body temperature. For about $10 you can buy one of these pools and stash it away for a hot summer day.

Some other Ideas for staying cool Without AC.

Have a misting water bottle for everyone in your home.

Something as simple as having a couple spray bottles filled with water can go a long way to helping you stay cool during the summer. Simply misting yourself on a regular basis, especially if you can stand in front of a fan or out in a shady breeze, can do wonders for cooling down your body. It can also be a life saver during a situation where you might be getting close to heat exhaustion.

Invest in some cooling towels.

When I was younger, my air conditioning went out on a cross country trip right as I hit the scorching 110 degree heat of the desert southwest. To stay cool, I stopped at every rest stop along the highway and wet down my shirt and a couple of bandanas that I then wrapped around my head and neck. Doing that helped me make it through ten miserable hours of deadly heat, without any ill effects.

Today, manufacturers use special fabrics and materials to make long lasting CoolingTowels that can provide a lot of relief from the heat.

Quick Tips:

  1. Invest in some battery operated fans.
  2. Build your own Off-Grid Air Conditioner.
  3. During the day, keep your shades drawn and your windows closed; or, if it’s windy, hang lightweight linens that block solar rays, but still allow a light breeze to enter your home. Remember to wet them first!
  4. At night, open all your windows and let the cool evening air in.
  5. Wear loose-fitting, light-weight, light-colored clothing.
  6. STAY HYDRATED!!

15 Comments

  1. mesquite
    June 10, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    My mother told me they set a bowl of ice near a table fan and blew the air over the ice.

  2. Moman
    June 10, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    many people forget they used to have cellars for storing food and other various items, if it got to hot, they’d go down to the cellar

  3. Big Jer
    June 11, 2015 at 12:58 am

    Drink lots of ice water.

    • Donna clemow
      June 11, 2015 at 8:40 pm

      Ice water isn’t good for the body room temperature only.

      • Ed_B
        June 13, 2015 at 4:22 pm

        I’ve been sipping ice water in the summers for over 60 years with ZERO negative effect. On really hot days, it is quite beneficial in lowering one’s body temp.

        So is cutting an old sheet into 6 foot x 4-6″ strips, wetting them with water, wringing them out, and then wrapping a strip or two around one’s head and neck areas.

        Even in homes with A/C, it is good to run some small fans. This helps distribute the cool air and reduces the need for the A/C to run as much.

        Those plastic film window appliques are also very good at reducing the sunlight that comes into the home in the summer. This can reduce the incoming heat by up to 50-70%, another substantial way to lower the temp indoors. Home improvement stores carry these as both individual parts and as kits.

        Definately love having a basement, though. That is the best way to stay cool when the temp soars. We also use our furnace fan in “summer fan” mode to bring cool basement air up into our home during the mornings. This means that even on a 90+ degree day, we don’t need to turn on the A/C until noon or later. We also set the A/C to 74 degrees and turn it on when the house reaches that temp. This keeps the A/C from working extra hard to lower the temp inside an already warm house. By not working so hard, it should last longer.

      • CIly
        June 30, 2015 at 11:39 am

        Ice water being bad is an okd wives tale. If you prefer room temperature water that’s fine but when somone has heat issues then room temperature water being room twmperature will actually prevent you from dissipating heat. Now drinking way too much can be bad because then you can loose too much heat. Your tap water should be cooler than room temperature.

  4. jayjay
    June 11, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    I just bought two cooling towels Bedbathandbeyond for 7.50 each–saved $15–University of Texas cooling towel.
    I don’t care what it says!! :-)

  5. Ret
    June 11, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    What recommendations would you have for areas that have high humidity and NO basements, temps running upper 90’s and higher and night time temps upper 70’s and sometimes 80’s? Think Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, etc.

    • Lupus
      June 13, 2015 at 4:03 pm

      Google ‘ Swamp Cooler’. That’s a simple start. I use solar powered computer fans & a bypass to the garden hose that runs through a radiator. (just a really slow trickle)

    • steven cates
      June 29, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      I live in Houston. Growing up we used box fans in our windows and often didn’t have central air if we had air conditioning at all. You want to have screens on your windows to keep out mosquitoes. You want to open multiple windows to get a cross breeze and sleep on top of the covers or with just a lite sheet. During the day I sweat profusely. So much so that it can’t evaporate fast enough and seems to add to my heat. I solve this by keeping a dry towel to wipe the sweat off. if I can keep it to small amounts of sweat I can stay cooler. I actually work in the chemical plants in full FRC coveralls and hard hat. Cool water is better than warm water as it seems to help bring down the core temp. I have managed to survive this way for many years now and I am not physically suited for this weather. I’m a cold weather person. Oh yeah, pray for winter to return quickly.

  6. prep4stuff
    June 13, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    I dont have to worry, I live in Michigan and the last power outage I was in was 4 years ago.

  7. Kimberly
    June 14, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    I live in Alabama now, and grew up in the Midwest using a “swamp cooler”. They are effective, but you will have to be realistic in your expectations. Limit the cooler to one room, and limit how much traffic goes through. Also, if you have a group you may have to limit this area to the ill and elderly. Have everyone else sleep on a screened in porch or under netting outside. Our second year in AL we stayed in a cabin with a sleeping porch and no AC.

  8. Bonnie Robertson
    June 26, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Drinking water and staying hydrated is the number one reason why people, that is “not” drinking water and staying hydrated is the number one reason people die on hot days. Dehydration kills. Dehydration kills quickly on hot days and contribute s to strokes which, if they don’t kill you, leave you incapacitated. But dehydration also kills slowly. It causes one to age more quickly. It causes your skin to wrinkle and dry out. It makes your hair dry and contributes to split ends. Without adequate hydration digestion is compromised. You become constipated which makes you feel tired and sluggish. Look – DRINK WWAAATTEERRR.
    Also: stay out of the sun. It only takes minutes to burn. So if you get one of those kiddy swimming pools put it under a white muslin tarp or somewhere somewhat shaded especially for children.
    Use a white or light shade umbrella when walking, an umbrella can double as a parasol. I like to keep one in the trunk of my car or in the back seat. Also comes in handy when it rains. Mine compacts to less than a foot, is good for winds up to 30 miles, and has a flash light. Bought it from QVC the television shopping channel. Also have one or two from Costco.
    When it’s hot and I’m home I take some ice into the bathroom. Set it near or on the tub, fill the tub with cool water. Bathe and shampoo my hair. Empty and rinse the tub. Refill the tub with cool water. Submerge myself including head and then add an ice cube to the water. After my body adjusts to the cold, I add more ice and then all of it and relax for about thirty minutes. When I come out I’m refreshed. I dress in lightweight cotton or linen. Never polyester. Not even cotton/poly blend. It must be 100 percent natural fibers.
    After I go to bed around three am when it starts cooling off I used to close the widows. Now I leave them open and put on warmer clothing. Then around an hour after dawn, I close up everything and turn on one of the air conditioners. At this point I’m wearing a sweater but comfortable. Around 11:00am or noon I turn on the second air conditioner. Around 5pm I notice the heat. In spite of all this the house will still warm up. But it’s a far cry from what it would be without the former actions. And if I’m hot or if I ‘m not I still head for the tub. That’s my story – what’s yours???

  9. Looking at these innovations from before makes you see clearly how fast technology has changed. Nowadays, ACs the must-have appliances for homes, especially now with the rising climate temperature.

  10. Wow! These are exactly what I was looking for! Summer itself is worrying for people living in humid and hot areas. And, power outages can add to that misery. Thank you for these tips.

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