I Learned to Keep My Apartment Cool Without AC the Hard Way

published Jul 15, 2023
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

On summer trips back home to Texas, I always carry a sweater — despite the heat — because everyone’s AC is set at 71 degrees Fahrenheit. A relative of mine, who shall remain nameless, occasionally cranks it even lower so she can start a fire in the fireplace. My experience of summer as a child was that it was always chilly inside and scorching outside, and nothing I did would affect either of those realities. 

I fled the heat, among other things, as quickly as I could and landed in Portland, Oregon, where it’s quite often 71 degrees naturally — outside! In summer! I loved everything in my new city, including my charming apartment with ample windows, high ceilings, and … no AC. The apartment also came with a heat wave, during my second week of residence. 

There are things that seasoned Northerners do in a heat wave, and I did none of them. Without a thermostat, I was lost. The only thing I was sure of was that I left the Texas heat only to sweat through my clothes in my Portland apartment. (The irony was not lost on my family.)

Turns out, most of the strategies for surviving a heat wave are common sense. But in case you, too, are a perfectly capable person who has zero experience staying cool without AC, here are the eight “obvious” truths I learned the hard way. 

Block the sun. 

I hate laundering dusty curtains and my windows looked great without them, so I donated them. I wish I’d considered that I could just vacuum or steam clean them because this one purge turned my apartment into a solar-powered oven. 

Don’t turn the oven on.

Speaking of ovens, don’t turn one on. I love to bake; it’s a go-to stress reliever for me. But I get stressed in the heat. You see where this is going.

Strategically place fans. 

I pointed a fan at myself and thought that was the best it could do — the height of its ability. I was wrong, again. Add a bowl of ice in front, and it’s an improvised AC. Point it outside and it sucks hot air out of the room. Set it in front of the coolest part of your home and it spreads the wealth to the rest of the rooms. I also hate to clean fans, but luckily I learned I could dust them with a can of compressed air, which saved them from the curtains’ fate. 

Embrace water. 

A spray bottle of water pairs nicely with a fan’s breeze. And never underestimate the power of a cold shower — especially if you have long hair (those wet strands will keep you cool long after you turn off the water). 

Freeze the sheets. 

I don’t recommend trying to sleep on damp sheets, but definitely pop them in the freezer before it’s time to sleep. It’s worth the hassle of remaking the bed, but if you’re tired after a day of sweltering heat, you could just freeze the pillowcases and your eye mask instead. 

Create a breeze. 

At night when temperatures cool off, don’t just open one window — open two on opposite sides of the room, if possible. This brings the magic of cross ventilation (read: a breeze), and you can boost the effect by blowing a fan with the direction of the airflow. I’m a wind goddess now. 

Get up early. 

During a heat wave, my children still insist on being fed, my bathroom still needs cleaning, and my laundry needs washing. It’s hard to wake up early, but it’s harder to clean and cook in the heat. I recommend filling a large tray with a day’s worth of prepped and ready-to-eat food first thing in the morning, so you only have to slide out the tray, eat, and slide it back into the fridge until the next meal. The dishes can be washed when temperatures drop again the next morning. 

Leave the house. 

I highly recommend it! There are plenty of public spaces that have AC; maybe it’s time to return those overdue library books or visit a movie theater. Just close the curtains before you flee.

The last thing you should do? Check in on others — especially if they’re from Texas. 

What are your best tips for keeping cool during a heat wave?