Summer in the Terminal City
July 27, 2009 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Help resolve a dispute among co-workers. Vancouver is a wonderful city, everybody says so. It just doesn't happen to have been built for serious summer heat. Yet now it is hot (and getting hotter) and here we are in a "home office" that will start to absolutely bake in roughly one hour (when the afternoon sun hits the windows). Given that we have no air conditioning and that we are on a deadline this week and so must stay "on the job", how best to keep this place as cool as possible ...?

My strategy (based on something I remember my grandma doing way back when in sweaty pre-airconditioned suburban Montreal): shut all windows sun-facing windows now, pull the white reflective blinds and essentially keep the coolish air we have now for as long as possible. We do have a fan by the way.

The counter strategy (based on hystrioncally presented "common sense"): don't do anything until the sun starts to hit, then pull the blinds, but leave the windows open which, to my mind, would just let the hot air in far more quickly, wouldn't it?

Please help us. We know all about dealing with rain but this summer heat stuff just makes our brains melt.
posted by philip-random to Science & Nature (31 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
What my family has always done in Texas (where we do have AC, but it's often no match for humid and 105F weather) is keep the blinds closed ALL THE TIME. Put blankets or sheets over doors with windows, or even over your blinds if they don't block the light.

If you take advantage of the temperature drop at night and don't let the heat in during the day, it keeps things cooler than they'd be otherwise.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:58 PM on July 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Temporary A/C rental unit maybe?

I did a little googling and found these folks in Vancouver.

I didn't look at costs and I have no idea what your budget/tolerance might be, but if I found one that quickly and easily there's got to be a wide range of solutions out there.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 12:59 PM on July 27, 2009

Not much directly to add, but Lifehacker recently did a week on DIY stuff to keep cool, with a couple directly related to methods to keep rooms cool. There might be some stuff linked over here that would be helpful:
posted by cheeken at 12:59 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

You need a) a cross breeze - open windows on opposite ends of the house, and prop them open so they won't slam shut and break. Fans help this, too; and b) shade - do something to keep the sun from shining directly in the house.
posted by The World Famous at 12:59 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Your granny's strategy worked for me in similar circumstances in Melbourne. Unless the breeze is cool, which it doesn't sound like it is, keeping the relatively cooler air inside moving by using the fan should be less awful. Good luck. Stay hydrated.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:01 PM on July 27, 2009

Best answer: You're right - close and cover the windows first thing in the morning or at any rate well before it starts to heat up inside. Keep them closed and covered until it cools off. If possible, open them wide all night with fans running to pull the cool air in. If you have anything resembling insulation, this will really help a lot - it's how I keep my air conditioning free house nice and "cool", as in, a few degrees cooler than outside anyway - all summer. Ceiling fans help too. For desperate measures, get a bag of ice and put it into an open cooler, then put a big box fan on the other side of the cooler so it's directing the cool air coming off the ice around. This only kind of works but when it's really hot, kind of is better than nothing.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:02 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I feel your pain, I really do. My solution was to take my laptop to the nice air conditioned coffee shop across the street, tuning out everybody else with earphones. YMMV. They apparently have free wifi in all the libraries too, if you have a card, or ask for guest access. I'll be watching this thread for better answers, because I too am seriously suffering. So far, all I've been able to do is make sure the fans are on full blast by the windows during the early morning hours, to get as much of the slightly cooler air in.
posted by cgg at 1:02 PM on July 27, 2009

Response by poster: You need a) a cross breeze - open windows on opposite ends of the house

It's not a house, it's a west facing apartment, though there is a north corner. So we're keeping that window open. The issue is that for a cross-breeze, we'd have to open (and leave unshaded) one of the west-facing windows.
posted by philip-random at 1:02 PM on July 27, 2009

If you can get movement, allow the air in. Otherwise, you're just loosing heat into the room by having the window open.

Whatever else you do, though, cover up the window with the densest material you can. Use cardboard if necessary. I've tested this with two SW facing windows on the same frontage. Cutting out the sunshine as early as possible is key.

Also, if you do get overheated, I find that drinking a large glass of chilled water in one go cools me down very quickly.
posted by Solomon at 1:03 PM on July 27, 2009

I lived in a townhouse for four years that had no air conditioning in an area that would regularly get into the 90's in July and August. We tried everything to keep it cool in the summer and here is what worked:

1) Close all of the windows in the morning. Get blackout blinds/light reflecting blinds/ etc. and pull those down when you close the windows. If we were at home, we would leave fans running for some air circulation.

2) Once it cools down in the evening open everything up and put fans in the windows to pull as much air through the house as possible.

3) Rinse, repeat.

We would only open/uncover windows during the day if it was raining and the temperature dropped significantly and was accompanied by wind.
posted by Kimberly at 1:16 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you have, or can get an electric fan, can spare a few plastic wastebaskets for the afternoon, and can send someone out for 20 to 30 pounds of ice, and a carton or two of table, or better yet rock salt, you can be more comfortable:

Dump any trash from the wastebaskets, and fill 70-80% with ice. Sprinkle a handful of salt over the ice (this will drop the temperature of the resulting slurry below the freezing point of water, improving the "efficiency" of your rig). Arrange wastebaskets in front of fan so that a couple of parallel channels for air flow are present. Start fan.

You've essentially made a low tech "swamp cooler," except that unlike most real swamp coolers, yours is not exploiting the evaporation of water to achieve cooling, but the phase change of ice turning into water. In a closed loop situation, keeping down the humidity as much as possible helps the "heat index", and this little rig will do some dehumidifying, too, as condensation from the air forms on the outside of the wastebaskets (you might want to put some plastic trash bags and paper towels under the wastebaskets before filling with ice, to protect the floor, in anticipation of this). Your cost of operation per hour is far greater than it would be for a real air-conditioner, but there's nearly no capital investment required (assuming you already have a fan).

Close the windows and blinds as soon as you can, when you get this running.
posted by paulsc at 1:23 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Keep the blinds closed sooner rather than later, keep windows open, get a fan, and get a towel to wipe off the sweat.

My only other advice would be to learn to love the heat. The great thing about Vancouver is that it's a dry heat. I like it.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2009

Here's a test, close the windows, go for a walk outside in the heat for an hour. Come back to the office ... is it refreshing or oppressive? Oppressive means that it's hotter than it is outside, and you'd benefit from outside air coming in.

Also box fans in open windows make a big difference.

Credentials: Lived in unshaded brick apartment building in Atlanta without effective a/c for 8 years.
posted by samsm at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2009

This looks horrible, but tinfoil in the windows facing the sun really does help reflect heat away. They make something that is more marketable than tinfoil, but it costs a bit more. You can get it at most hardware stores, I believe.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:28 PM on July 27, 2009

Best answer: Have you and your coworkers tried your grandma's strategy? I wouldn't have expected it to work, myself, except that I accidentally did it on the first few hot days this summer. When I just don't bother opening the blinds at all, even in the cooler morning hours, the room stays much cooler in the hotter midday hours. Instead of opening the windows for a breeze, I just leave a fan on to move the cool indoor air around. It feels a little cave-like, and fresh air would be nice, but I'd rather be comfortable inside than have fresh-smelling but hot air blowing through my house.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:32 PM on July 27, 2009

If it is warmer outside than inside, you should keep all of the windows closed (unless it is muggy inside, or someone had mexican food for dinner last night). Once the temperature outside gets at all cooler than inside, open up the windows. Having one fan on the shady side of the house blowing air in, and another fan on the sunny side of the house blowing air out is most effective.

If you have the capability (and at this point it is probably not likely), having blinds or curtains hung up OUTSIDE of the windows is much more efficient than having them inside. Even temporarily stapling up some blankets over the windows will help a lot. It will work even better if you leave an air gap between the blanket and the window (Attach the bottoms of the blankets to chairs that are several feet away from the house). The goal here is to keep the sun from ever touching the window, and in essence you are creating shade.
posted by markblasco at 1:35 PM on July 27, 2009

I've lived in aquarium condos in Vancouver for the last five years, and for me it all comes down to blinds and fan controls. Blinds are 100% closed to sunlight (actually, I just leave them closed). I have three fans on two walls, and one of those fans is a remarkably helpful unit from Crappy Tire that has two fans and a switch that changes the direction from inside to outside. I work from home too, and it's late afternoon, early evening that's hottest, but bearable in my south/west facing corner suite.

One trick my girlfriend has been trying is to turn the fans around (so they're blowing out) when the air being blown in is hotter than the ambient temperature. It seems to be helping.
posted by fatbird at 1:46 PM on July 27, 2009

Mr 26.2 is a mechanical engineer and this is what he does when the house gets too hot.

Take two fans.
Position fan 1 to blow air _out_ of an open window. Put the fan as close to the window as you possibly can. This blows some of the hot air out of the house.
Position fan 2 to blow outside air into the house.

Essentially, by forcing air out of the space you're helping draw cooler air into it. It's similar to how a whole house fan cools the place very quickly. It won't be the most efficient air exchange but the place will stay cooler.
posted by 26.2 at 1:49 PM on July 27, 2009

You should also give some thought to keeping *yourself* cool. Lots of ice water - ice in refrigerated water. This will cool you off from the inside.

Make sure you're dressed as cooly as possible. Take off your shoes and socks.

I've also used a cool washcloth - wipe down the arms, neck, & face for instant cool.

Finally, I recently purchased some neck bands with those super-absorbent crystals in them at REI (an outdoor-sports store). These, fully soaked in water, kept in the refrigerator, are awesome for keeping cool; I just wear one until it's less cool, then swap it out for the one currently in the refrigerator. For clarification, it's something like this.
posted by amtho at 1:52 PM on July 27, 2009

Best answer: Oh - and don't forget the time-honored tradition of giving up during the hottest hours. I mean siesta, of course: just take a long lunch (or even better, a nap) 2:30 - 4:00 or so, when it's hottest.
posted by amtho at 1:53 PM on July 27, 2009

Ceiling fans are important because the circulating air can make you feel five to ten degrees cooler. If you don't have a ceiling fan, then what you want is a circulator fan, such as the Vornado. I really like to have one of these relatively near my feet if I'm stuck working in extreme heat. You can go with either vertical circulation, or angle it from one corner of the room to another, depending on your particular architecture.
posted by dhartung at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2009

I live in Vancouver. I work from home. I have floor to ceiling windows. I installed heavy curtains and thick vertical blinds. I have a fan. Life got much better, both in winter and summer. My hydro bills dropped dramatically.

But, for some reason, I am cooking in my office today. It's really bad. I blame the rainstorm on Saturday night for making it seem hotter now than the last time it was this temperature.
posted by acoutu at 2:42 PM on July 27, 2009

I once lived and worked from home in an apartment that had walls that faced east and west. It got HOT! If you have access to the outside west wall, try wetting it down during the hottest part of the day - it really helps, especially if you have thin, uninsulated walls like we do in northern California. I also used to create a swamp cooler by filling the bathtub full of cold water and blowing a fan over it and then out of the bathroom.

If you have really high ceilings, I wouldn't recommend a ceiling fan. Sometimes it's better to just let the hot air sit on the ceiling where it belongs.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:25 PM on July 27, 2009

Seconding the neck coolers with the water crystals inside. I swear by the thing, it really keeps my temp down.
posted by jockc at 4:26 PM on July 27, 2009

Take your laptops somewhere air conditioned and work there.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:28 PM on July 27, 2009

A water mister can help too, to spray on your sweaty, melting, flushed face. Put some lavender in it.

Somebody noted the other day that our air conditioning (I'm out at UBC) works quite well up to about 24 degrees and then it just can't handle anything further. Yay.

The great thing about Vancouver is that it's a dry heat. I like it.

Are you mad? From what hell-hole did you come from, exactly, that this is considered "dry heat"? *whines pathetically, melts some more*
posted by jokeefe at 4:44 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Can you block the sun before it gets inside? One of the standard Japanese practices is to hang/prop up reed blinds (or some other thing) outside the windows, shading them from the sun. Even with the blinds drawn, you're still heating up the blinds inside your house, which then heats up your house.
posted by that girl at 6:05 PM on July 27, 2009

Stop heat from coming in the windows as best you can has already been addressed. Other steps:

Turn off and unplug anything not needed.

Use Compact Flourescent or true Flourescent for any lighting needed, and use as little of that as possible.

Use laptops instead of desktops (not likely a short term option, but they use far less power).

Basically every 100 watts of power consumption going on is like putting another person sitting in the room with you.

Do take advantage of cool night air to ventilate. Close windows when the outside temperature gets up to inside temperature. Close them a several degrees earlier if the humidity is high outside as it likely is in that sort of weather (latent heat is the name for humidity in the air when dealing with cooling, and it causes a lot of discomfort and takes a lot of energy to remove).

If you have reasonable humidity you can use a 'swamp cooler', basically air blowing over water, to cool the air by adding humidity to it. I don't recommend this long term inside, but if you have good night ventilation it might be okay for a couple days.
posted by meinvt at 7:29 PM on July 27, 2009

Compared to Toronto or Chicago or Dallas or Port of Spain, Vancouver (and Portland and... Los Angeles) is indeed a dry heat. Blessedly dry. Compared to Calgary or Regina or Missoula, Vancouver is humid.

Blinds. Shut when the sun is out.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:48 PM on July 27, 2009

Go to a Waves or other wireless coffee shop. Last time I was at Waves, I was freezing.
posted by acoutu at 8:45 PM on July 27, 2009

Response by poster: Lots of good stuff here. Thanks to all.

BEST ANSWERS reflect ease of application given the fact that little time or cash was available to affect a solution. For the record, it did indeed get hot today in Vancouver. But by:

1. closing all sun facing windows a good hour before the sun hit them
2. pulling the blinds
3. also draping dark sheets over the two main windows of concern
4. keeping the fan on
5. having a brief siesta at the hottest point of the day (4:30 PM)
6. taking couple of nice cool showers (the advantage of a home office)

We not only made it through the day, we actually had a productive day.
posted by philip-random at 10:41 PM on July 27, 2009

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