Natural Cooling Methods: How to Keep Cool Without Air Conditioning

These natural ways to cool yourself and your home will help you save money on energy bills and rely less on air conditioning, even through scorching summer weather.

| August/September 2015

Fifty years ago, about nine out of 10 U.S. residents spent summertime in homes without air conditioning. Suggest turning off the AC in summer these days, however, and you’ll frequently encounter wide-eyed disbelief. Our society has come to regard refrigerant-based air conditioning as an indispensable technology, and has forgotten about plenty of other cheaper, simpler ways to beat the heat.

Come Out of the Cold

The central problem with our dependence on air conditioning is its voracious energy appetite. At current usage rates, air conditioning U.S. homes, businesses, schools and vehicles releases fossil carbon and fluorocarbon refrigerants that have a total annual global-warming impact equivalent to a half-billion tons of carbon dioxide. Eliminating these emissions from air conditioning would benefit the atmosphere as much as shutting down 140 typical coal-fired power plants would.

Air conditioning also eats a sizable chunk of our budgets. In the United States, I estimate that our collective annual electric bill for cooling our homes is about $30 billion. The yearly cost per household ranges from about $200 in the Northeast to more than $450 in the sweltering South.

So, how do we wean ourselves off of this energy-intensive habit? The range of natural ways to cool your home depends on where you live: in the North or South, on a forested hillside or in an urban heat island, in an apartment or a house. But whatever your situation, you can find natural cooling methods to stay comfortable without air conditioning — starting by adjusting your internal dial.

Your Inner Thermostat

Fifteen years ago, thermal comfort researchers Richard de Dear and Gail Brager — citing research that had examined thousands of human subjects in studies from around the world — pioneered the “adaptive model of comfort.” This principle shows that our bodies’ preferred indoor temperature isn’t fixed. Rather, our tolerance for hot air shifts depending on the temperatures we’ve recently experienced. Superfluous reliance on air conditioning thus hampers our ability to acclimate to higher temperatures. The more you expose yourself to higher temperatures, the more you’ll feel comfortable without switching on the AC.

In hot weather, we need help shedding the heat our bodies generate. Air conditioning does that, but only a small portion of the energy it consumes helps cool your body. A lot more of its energy goes into chilling concrete, brick, wood, metal and empty space. Many of the following alternative cooling practices are aimed more specifically at cooling people.

8/22/2017 4:44:50 PM

These are great tips! I've been using the ChiliPad (last tip here: It's also been saving on our cooling costs and lets us pick our sleep temp! It's amazing!

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8/10/2017 8:52:23 PM

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7/3/2017 2:36:54 AM

Oh...also, there are cooling collars..IDK what else to call them. I got a few at BedBathBeyond. Wet the cloth, put it around the back of one's neck. Helps cool at places the blood circulates most, to help prevent heat-stroke. Works nicely!

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