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Too Darned Hot

This little guy has the correct idea – when it’s hot, sinking yourself into a tub of cool water is one way to “weather” the heat.

For the past few days, as anyone on the East Coast knows, it has been hot. Really hot. Hot like you wrote the word ‘hot’ on every grain of sand in Death Valley. And it’s April, so as per usual, a lot of people are just not prepared to deal with it.

And Aunt Toby is here to say, “Go with that feeling…” because guess what, my little pumpkins…it’s going to get hot again and it’s going to stay hot. It’s called ‘summer’ and the theme song is “Summer in the City”. And despite what Jim Cramer on CNBC says, the economy is STILL severely ill (I’m thinking that Swine Flu is pretty much the best description of the what happened to the economy and who caused it as I’ve seen anywhere), people are still losing their jobs, and anxiety doesn’t make us sweat any less when it gets hot. And if Aunt Toby’s readers are trying to lower their costs of daily living, it would not be a surprise because – cranking up the A/C is as common a thing for people to do now as brushing your teeth – but you may not feel like you can afford it.

We forget that there was a time when there wasn’t A/C. That was also the period when Washington, DC was a fairly sleepy place, and no one was moving around a whole lot south of the Mason Dixon Line. It doesn’t matter where you live, there are certain basic rules about staying cool, the first of which is this: Keep the inside of your living unit as cool as possible.

Keeping the hot air outside out of the living unit: There are two ways the outside can heat up the inside of the house. One is if the windows are open and the hot air replaces the cooler air inside. Another way, even if the windows are closed, is that the sun’s energy passes through the glass and heats up the air inside (the ‘closed car on a summer day’ thing).

You can tackle this issue two ways: Put something over the windows that won’t allow the sun’s energy through, such as shutters; or put something just inside the windows that won’t allow the sun’s energy to get to the air inside – these can be inside shutters, or you can use insulated curtains. (See Urban Gardening). Something else you can do that will help immensely is to cool the air just in front of the windows by throwing those areas into shade. People have used everything from planting trees (though this takes a bit to take effect), putting up trellises and planting fast growing annual or permanent vines, or installing awnings. They all perform the same function – throwing that area in front of the windows into shade. “The temperature under a medium-sized tree is at least 3 to 4 percent cooler than the air around or above the tree. In fact, well-placed trees can reduce the need for air conditioning in a home or building by as much as 30 percent.” Trees Something else to remember is this – if you have windows on the North side of your living unit, they are going to be in the shade pretty much most of the day; that air will be much cooler. Here’s a trick for after the sun goes down: If you can arrange air flow with a fan pointing out in a window in another side (or if you are lucky, have an attic fan), open the windows on the north side, esp. on the first floor, and turn on the fan. That will pull cooler air in and pull some of the hot air out.

How to keep the air inside the living unit as cool as possible. There are several things that we take for granted that generate a tremendous amount of heat in a living unit – refrigerators, freezer, stoves, other appliances, computers and incandescent light bulbs. If you have not replaced incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (or if you want to really invest, LEDs), you can not only save a lot of energy, but also eliminate a lot of heat by doing so. Make sure your computer(s) are totally turned off if they are not in use. If you can put your freezer and/or refrigerator in an outbuilding or a shady outdoor porch, then you are moving a huge source of heat out of your house. If you live in a house with a basement, you have an absolute ‘cool air savings bank’ down there – you can put those appliances down there, where they will stay cooler and use less energy to keep things cool and therefore throw off less heat. You can also use the cool air in a basement as a low tech source of AC; with a big enough fan in the doorway, you can move some of that cool air to the first floor.

Basements are really wonderful things. During really hot weather, my kids were known to drag their computers down to the basement and with a long phone cord (you can find really long ones at places like Radio Shack) they were able to do their work, use the internet, and still be comfortable. Our basement was many times 20 degrees cooler than the outside temperatures. My son once or twice even slept down there. That’s another thing to remember: The lower you go in a living unit, the cooler it is going to be in the summer. This goes triple if you live in any large city in the MidAtlantic or Northeast. With the buildings acting like heat sinks during the day, and as radiators at night, the coolest place to live is…in the basement. The view might not be terrific, but you will be in the coolest part of the building and below the level of all that hot brick, asphalt and cement.

Some cities, such as Chicago, are encouraging commercial buildings to put in two major items on their roofs to keep the buildings cooler and to use less energy. The first are ‘green roofs’, which not only keep a building cooler in the summer, they also keep the building warmer in the winter and provide habitat for insects and birds, reduce CO2. The second is really low tech: paint the roof white. The overwhelming majority of commercial buildings in the US are covered in a roof membrane that is…black. Can’t get more heat absorbing than that. “Painting all roofs white could nudge the Earth’s albedo from 0.29 towards 0.30. According to a very simple "zero-dimensional" model of the Earth, this would lead to a drop in global temperature of up to 1 °C, almost exactly cancelling out the global warming that has taken place since the start of the industrial revolution…” white roofs
If you own a home and have a shingle replacement in your future…get the lightest shingles you can.

OK…so you’ve done everything you can to keep the hot air OUT and the cool air IN. You’ve eliminated as many sources of appliance-generated heat inside your living unit as you can…and you are still too damned hot. What can you do?

Well, the little guy in the photo has the right idea. Laying in a tub of even just luke warm water is going to improve the evaporative quality of what is going on – you will feel cooler. The more you drink, the cooler you will also feel. If you and yours have to get down to underwear (Aunt Toby leaves it to your discretion as to where ‘the line’ is) or a loose dress, then so be it. If things get truly unbearable, the cheapest time you may have is to spend the day at the mall. In terms of eating, Aunt Toby’s favorite thing to do when the weather is to NOT cook. That’s right. Make sure there are plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, and protein sources that do not need cooking in the fridge and eat out of that – cheese, hummus, dairy products. Take a dozen eggs and hard boil them – turn some of them into deviled eggs for a treat. If you have to cook – use the grill and do it outside. You can basically do anything you can do on a stove on top of a grill, from cooking veggies to grilling a pizza. But at least all that heat is out of the living unit.

If you have small children or an elderly person living with you who are suffering from the heat, here is a low tech trick. Once you know that they are adequately hydrated (and taking any medications for things like high blood pressure, etc.), put them in the coolest part of the living unit. If you have a fan use that. Take a small plastic bag and put some ice on it and wrap that in a tea towel and have them hold it on their necks. This chills the blood just a little bit going into the brain and fools it enough that you can keep a child comfortable for quite a while that way, as long as you have enough DVDs around. Aunt Toby has used that trick successfully to bring down fevers. If you have someone who is becoming ill from the heat, call up your local health department and find out if there are any centers for AC set up so that you can transport the person there for relief.

In the meantime, remember: It’s only April now. You have a little bit of time before June…July…August…September and it might be worth it to think about what you can do NOW to reduce the amount of heat you are generating inside your living unit…and reduce the amount of heat that is hitting your windows from the outside of your living unit. Worth a thought.

Photo courtesy of
This post can also be found at Aunt Toby’s blog, Kitchen Counter Economics

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Snarky housewife from Upstate New York. Into gardening, fiber arts, smallholder farming.