Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Let’s face it: here in San Jose it gets miserably hot outside, and it’s only going to get warmer as summer goes on. While it’s tempting to crank the AC or plant yourself in front of the nearest fan, these aren’t options for everyone. It turns out there are plenty of ways to buffer your home from the heat and stay cool without racking up your electric bill.
Most people don't realize it but ceiling fans go both ways, and there's a good reason for it. Ceiling fan needs are intended to be adjusted seasonally, usually set counter-clockwise in the summer, and clockwise in the winter. At a high speed, the fan’s counterclockwise airflow will create a wind-chill breeze effect that will make you and your family cooler. Knowing if your fan is set properly is simple; stand beneath the fan and have someone turn it on high. If you immediately feel a breeze from the fan, then it's set on the "summer" setting. Otherwise, turn off the fan and climb up near the base of the fan where you should be able to locate a little button or switch that sets the fan to run in the opposite direction.
Keeping a room cool without AC is a lot about air circulation. First figure out if you want to simply circulate air inside you home, or movie it inside/outside. Air moving over your skin will greatly increase your body ability to cool itself. If its hot outside but cool(er) inside, you will want to circulate air. If it's hotter inside than outside you want to blow the hot air out and bring the cool breeze in. Running a bathroom or kitchen exhaust fan (in the ceiling) will pull the hot air up and out. Don’t have an exhaust fan built in? You can use a simple box fan: It sounds counterintuitive, but a fan pointing out the window, rather than toward the room, will “act as an exhaust fan and force the hot air out of your home.
Fortunately for us during the summer months, temperatures typically drop during the night. Its easy and economical to take advantage of this by cracking the windows 1-2 inches to allow the cool air in before going to bed (you can purchase window stops at any hardware store that attach to the window frame and prevent windows from being opened further). Just be sure to close the windows (and the blinds) before things get too hot in the morning.
This may seem obvious but did you realize that up to 30 percent of unwanted heat comes from your windows, and utilizing Windows shades, curtains and the like (especially on southern facing Windows and doors) can save you up to 7 percent on your bills and lower indoor temperatures by up to 20 degrees. Similarly, closing doors to southern facing rooms during the day, allows you to trap the heat that builds up in those rooms in one place while keeping the overall ambient temperature of your home cooler.
If you ever needed motivation to make the switch to compact fluorescent or LED lights, let this be it. Incandescent bulbs waste about 90 percent of their energy in the heat they emit, so swapping them for energy efficient bulbs will make a small difference in cooling your home while lowering your electric bill. If you're making the switch, take out the bulbs you intend to replace and take them with you to the hardware store. Not only will it remind you how many you need to buy, you can typically recycle the old bulbs there instead of having them take up space in a landfill.
Egyptians knew how to handle the heat, which is good, considering spring temperatures in some parts of their country top out at around 113 degrees Fahrenheit. To sleep more comfortably at night, people in this part of the world once soaked their blankets in water. When it was time to turn in, they wrapped the blankets around their bodies and went to sleep. If you have a mattress protector on your bed, you can use this tried and true Egyptian method for sleeping through hot nights.
Soak a blanket or beach towel in cold water.
Wring it out or run it through the spin cycle of your washing machine.
Place a dry towel on the bed, and lie down.
Use the wet blanket as a cover.
Turn the air on low, or run a box fan in the room to keep the air flowing, which will help cool you even more.
If you're spending time outside, consider installing a misting system to cool off your garden and/or patio. Misters don't use electricity and can cool an outdoor area by as much as 20 degrees.
For anyone who cooks this last one is obvious but using your oven or stove in the summer will make your house hotter. If it already feels like 100+ degrees in your home, the last thing you want to do is turn on a 400-degree oven. Firing up a bar-b-que not only is a summer rite-of-passage but it's a great way to cook while keeping the house cool.
Heat related illnesses can be fatal. It is important that you keep an eye on children and the elderly and address heat related injuries quickly! Everyone needs to keep hydrated and wear sunscreen. At the first signs of heat related injuries, take action and if they continue to worsen, do not be afraid to call 911.