Summers don’t get cold, so there’s no time like today to improve your home’s cooling. Even if you don’t have air conditioning, you might be surprised how easily you can turn your home into a cool oasis—no HVAC installation required.
Easy ways to avoid heat gain
Before we get into ways to get rid of heat in your home, the absolute golden rule of keeping your home cooler in the summer is to do everything you can to mitigate heat gain. It is always better to keep the heat in the first place than to try to remove it later.
You can’t dim the scorching heat of the summer sun, but you can take steps to minimize how much of that scorching sun penetrates your home. Keep windows closed and curtains on the sides of your home to expose them to the sun. This includes the early eastern sun, the peak of the southern midday sun and evening exposure to the western sun.
My bedroom is on the east side of my house and leaving the blinds and curtains drawn on the east wall in the morning raises the temperature in the room by several degrees compared to temporarily insulating the windows with blinds and heavy curtains. However, in the afternoon I can open the windows without the sun burning the room.
With this in mind, consider heavy blackout curtains to keep the sun out. You can also consider window films that reflect heat energy.
Other basic measures like sealing gaps, caulking around windows, using draft guards under both interior and exterior doors, and other simple measures to seal your home against drafts and leaks will help keep heat out and cooler air in.
However, there is a limit to how much heat you can keep outside during the day, so let’s look at solutions to help remove heat and otherwise increase your comfort.
Window air conditioners are great for small spaces
Whether you have a small home that doesn’t have central air or a larger home that does (but don’t want to pay to cool every inch of it to the cool comfort you prefer), window air conditioners are an efficient solution for small spaces.
Bare-bones window units can cost as little as $150 or so, but if you want more features or more cooling power, you’ll typically pay closer to $300 for a window air conditioner. A basic traditional model like this Midea 8,000 BTU model is typical of what you’d find in most homes with window air conditioners and similar to what you’ll find at big box retailers across the US.
But now there are window units on the market that have a saddle-style split design where the unit hugs the window sill like a pair of saddlebags.
The design choice not only leaves most of the window uncovered by the air conditioning unit, but also minimizes noise and virtually ensures that the unit never falls out of the window. GE’s ClearView models use this design, as do the Soleus Air Micro-Split AC models.
Use portable air conditioners anywhere
Window air conditioners are more efficient than portable air conditioners, but if you rent or lease one, you may find that you won’t be able to use a window unit.
Many apartment complexes and high-rises prohibit the use of window air conditioners on the grounds that they do not want the eyesore and/or risk of a heavy air conditioner sticking out of the windows.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t use a portable air conditioner because all the unsightliness and weight of the machine stays inside your home. If you’ve never heard of portable air conditioners, you’re certainly not alone, they’re a fairly recent addition to the home heating and cooling market.
Rather than sitting in a window, portable air conditioners sit inside the room. They have a similar profile to dehumidifiers or large air purifiers. They include a flexible hose, similar to the one you might see on the back of a dryer, that is used to draw hot air out of your home through a spacer placed in a nearby window.
Portable air conditioners come in two basic types: single-hose and dual-hose. Single-hose models are less efficient because they remove some of the conditioned air from your home (while also drawing unconditioned air from the room behind the unit). Dual-hose models are much more efficient because they draw in air from outside to help dissipate waste heat, leaving the conditioned air in your home more or less undisturbed.
With that in mind, if you’re currently shopping for a portable air conditioner, look specifically for dual-hose models like this Whynter ARC-14S or this Dreo TwinCool .
In any case, if you’re suffering from a heat wave and only have access to a single-hose model, use it to stay cool, but look for a dual-hose model when buying a new one.
While virtually every model comes with a simple spacer for a traditional single or double-hung window that can usually be rotated vertically for a sliding window, you may need to order an adapter for a taller “window” such as a sliding glass door or an awkward casement-shaped window.
Don’t overlook dehumidifiers in humid climates
Dehumidifiers may not be on your mind when you talk about keeping cool. After all, most of them are bought to keep damp areas and basements dry.
But evaporative cooling is the primary way humans cool down. The higher the humidity, the harder it is to sweat effectively and the more dangerous the high temperatures. If you’ve ever heard weather forecasters talk about heat index or seen the RealFeel temperature in your favorite weather app, you’re seeing the effect of ambient temperature and humidity presented in a way that translates into human comfort (and risk). . The old “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!” chestnut people like to trot is well-founded in science.
If it’s 92°F and the humidity is around 40%, it appears to be about 94°F. That’s still pretty warm, but not deadly hot, especially if you take it easy. But if it’s 92°F and the humidity is around 95%, it’s like 127°F. At this heat index value, you are at risk of heat injury even if you are sitting still and not exerting yourself.
In humid environments, dehumidifying your living space can significantly increase your comfort.
This is of course an extreme example, but you get the idea: the drier the air, the easier it is to tolerate higher temperatures. This is why an air conditioner not only cools the air, but also dehumidifies it to reduce humidity (and why some smart thermostats have long-term dehumidification to further dry out your home and increase your comfort.)
If you’re trying to say cool in Arizona or Nevada, where the ambient summer humidity is typically 30% or lower in the summer, a dehumidifier is not the solution you’re looking for.
But in areas where summer heat is associated with high humidity, you’d be surprised how much mileage you can get by reducing humidity levels with a dehumidifier.
Yes, running a dehumidifier adds heat energy to your home (just like anything, including running a computer, adds heat energy). Still, if you’re in a very humid environment, adding a small amount of heat to remove literally gallons of water from the air every day will greatly improve your comfort. You can even choose to run the dehumidifier while you’re away at work for the day, then turn it off and run the air conditioner when you’re home. Your air conditioner will feel even better when the air is extra dry.
Also, if you happen to live in a house with a basement or have a basement apartment, running a dehumidifier to prevent moisture from building up in that space is a good idea anyway. Heading down to the basement to beat the heat is a time-honored tradition, but it feels even better when the basement is dry. Running a large dehumidifier in my basement only raises the basement temperature a degree or two, but the shift in comfort from cool and damp to cool and dry is significant.
Evaporative coolers shine when bone dry
Dehumidifiers may not be particularly useful in dry climates, but evaporative coolers can be. Evaporative coolers, also commonly called “swamp coolers,” are the opposite of a dehumidifier.
Instead of taking moisture from the air so we can sweat more efficiently in humid climates, in very dry climates, they put moisture back into the air to use evaporation to help cool us down—evaporation not only cools us, but can also cool the environment we’re in .
If you live somewhere that is hot but very dry, such as the arid regions of the western United States, running an evaporative cooler in your home can effectively reduce the temperature by 5-15°F. It might be just what you need to take the edge off a hot, but hot, heat-warning day.
Evaporative coolers add water to dry air to cool the local environment at low cost.
Unlike traditional air conditioners, where you keep your home on tight with all the windows closed, an evaporative cooler works better when there is a slight cross breeze. Crack a few windows to let dry outdoor air in and humidified air out.
We mention evaporative coolers here for the sake of thoroughness and to help our readers in a variety of climates, but be warned. If you’re hearing about evaporative coolers for the first time, there’s a good chance they’re not suitable for your local climate, as you’ve probably heard about them from friends or neighbors.
Make sure you don’t use an evaporative cooler unless you live somewhere very dry summers, and even in places with dry summers when temperatures rise, you’ll need a backup plan.
Supercool your home at night
You may have never heard of the term, but due to rising energy costs (and rising daytime temperatures!) it’s becoming increasingly popular to use an HVAC technique called “supercooling.”
The idea of hypothermia is simple. Whether you’re using a whole-house air conditioning system, a window unit, or a portable air conditioner, your goal is to run the unit at the lowest possible temperature during off-peak hours in the middle of the night.
Not only will you save on electricity by using your AC the most when it’s cheaper, but you’ll also save during the day because the unit works all night to remove heat when the environment is coldest.
Depending on how warm it gets during the day, your A/C will likely come back on at some point, but you’d be surprised how long you can stay on the window of supercooling. I cool down my home every night and the air conditioning throughout the house usually doesn’t come on until around 4pm.
Whether you’re supercooling your whole house with air conditioning, using a dehumidifier to make your cold (but damp) basement cozy, or using some combination of the two to beat the heat, there’s always a way to use technology to make summer heat waves more bearable.