How to stay cool when your AC Breaks Down

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It’s never pleasant when the AC breaks down — especially if it happens in the middle of a heat wave. Although nothing can totally replace the chilly effect of air conditioning, some DIY tips and lifestyle tweaks can can make your place feel a lot cooler.

Don't get stuck in front of your fan all day – tips to keep you cool
Don't get stuck in front of your fan all day – tips to keep you cool (Image: Monkey Business Images/Monkey Business/Getty Images)

Use Fans to Cool Down

Run ceiling fans counter-clockwise, which pulls hot air up and away from you. While this simple switch won’t actually lower your home's temperature, it can make the room feel up to 8 degrees cooler, said Danny Lipford, a home improvement expert and host of nationally syndicated TV and radio program, Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford. However, this particular cooling effect only works if you're in the room.

If the outside air is cooler than the air inside your home, a few strategically placed fans can indirectly cool your home by drawing in the cooler air. Place a paddle fan in the window, facing outward or turned to "exhaust" mode, to push hot air out of the room. The resulting negative pressure draws cool outside air in through your other windows. For more effective cooling, place a second fan in another window, facing in, to push the cooler outside air into the room. If your home doesn’t naturally have a cross-breeze — for example, if you live in an apartment — this fan system lets you create one.

You can also use fans with a mixing bowl of ice and water for a temporary "swamp cooler" effect, said Lipford. Simply place the bowl directly in front of the fan. The air chills as it passes over the bowl, generating a pleasant cool breeze.

Warning

  • Don't put indoor fans in your windows if it's raining, nor leave them running unattended if it will rain. If water blows into the fan's motor, it can pose a fire hazard.

Avoid Generating Heat

Tweak your housekeeping to stay cool. Save any laundry for the evening or early morning — your washer and dryer can up the heat and humidity in your home, so you’ll want to avoid using them during the warmest part of the day, recommended Lipford. You'll also save by using these electricity-hogging appliances only during off-peak times. Lower your water heater temperature to 110 degrees, and unplug any electrical devices when they’re not in use to reduce heat emission, said Lipford.

Cooking generates lots of heat and humidity, so keep your oven and stovetop use to a minimum. Instead, make more meals in a slow cooker or microwave, or grill your food outside, said Lipford. For extra cooling, focus on raw foods like smoothies, salads, sandwiches and gazpacho.

Cool down with chilled, hydrating meals, like a nutritious gazpacho.
Cool down with chilled, hydrating meals, like a nutritious gazpacho. (Image: pilipphoto/iStock/Getty Images)

Block Out Solar Heat

Windows radiate the sun’s heat into your home, and keeping them covered midday is essential to keeping cool, as long as you have the right curtains. “Dark colors attract heat, so heavy, dark curtains can really increase the temperature of your home,” said Jennifer Adams, interior designer and host of Home & Lifestyle on Ownzones. Instead, go for light, gauzy curtains. They’ll still let some natural light through, but they won’t heat up your home. Blinds and shades have a similar light- and heat-blocking effect.

For a longer-term solution, consider using window films, which you apply to the inside of your windows to reflect heat and light and prevent the sun from warming your home. By blocking out the sun's rays, your place will stay cooler, instead of heating up during the day. Darker window films block the most natural light — though they also offer the best heat protection — while lighter films offer some heat-shielding benefits without significantly changing your view. You don’t need to add the films to every window; just cover the windows that get the most sun — typically ones that face east or west — to keep the most heat out.

Tip

  • Layering sheer curtains looks beautiful and lets you customize how much light gets in, said Annie Talajkowski, an interior design expert at Bellacor. Close each layer for more window coverage — and more cooling — or pull back all but one layer for lighter heat protection.

Warning

  • Check with your window warranty or manufacturer if your windows are still under warranty. Applying films may void the warranty on the seal.

Freshen Up Your Decor

A plush area rug and velvet sofa might keep you cozy in the cooler months, but they won’t keep you cool in the summer. Consider rolling up your area rugs and leave your floors exposed, recommended Joe Jankoski, an interior design expert and VP at Hunter Douglas. Not only are hardwood floors easier to clean, but they feel cooler than carpet.

Make over your chairs and sofa with cool, breezy cotton slipcovers, said Jennifer Adams. Cotton is cooler to the touch than cozier fabrics, and slipcovers also protect your furniture from fading during the sunny summer months.

Avoiding Heat Emergencies

If you're without AC in an extremely hot environment, you might be at higher risk of health problems due to heat, including medical emergencies like heatstroke. Staying cool is particularly important for older adults and children, who tend to be more sensitive to heat. Early symptoms of heat cramps include excessive sweating, severe thirst and muscle cramps. If the heat exposure continues, it can progress to heat exhaustion, which causes nausea and vomiting, dark urine, headaches and dizziness. Signs of heatstroke -- an emergency that requires immediate medical attention -- include rapid breathing, a weak pulse, abnormal behavior and confusion, or even seizures.

Prevent heat emergencies by drinking cool liquids. If you notice symptoms of heat cramps, lie down in a cool place, like a basement, with your feet raised a foot off the ground, and apply cool damp towels to your skin to lower your body temperature, recommends the University of Maryland Medical Center. Lying in front of a fan can also help you cool off.

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