Keeping Cool
June 6, 2005 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Do you have any clever tricks for keeping your apartment cool during the summer?

I live on the third floor of an apartment building, due to the way the windows are, I can't mount my air conditioner, and the one in the unit is on the opposite side of the apartment from me (and mostly useless). Aside from putting fans in front of windows, are there any good tricks to keeping a room cool?
posted by drezdn to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Cross breezes. I'm guessing you have vertically split windows (french windows) from your description. If you happen to have double-pane windows, open the tops on one side of the apartment and the bottoms on the other side.

It's also important to keep heat out in the summer. Drapes help a little bit, but much better is to stop the sun before it gets into the apartment in the first place. If you can rig something up on the outside to block even part of the sun your apartment will be cooler.
posted by OmieWise at 5:06 PM on June 6, 2005

This is how I survive the summer in an airconditioner-less third floor apartment: Keep the shades down on eastward-facing windows in the morning and westward facing windows in the evening. If you put something reflective on the back side of your window shades, that might help keep some of the heat outside, too. Get a crossbreeze going if you can. As soon as the sun sets and the temperature cools, put a fan in a window blowing inward to draw in the cool outside air.
posted by rhiannon at 5:07 PM on June 6, 2005

If there is any way to attach some bamboo (or plastic that looks like bamboo) blinds to the outside of the building, this creates a shady space between the window and the blind during the day when the sun beats down. (I realize that being on the 3rd floor probably precludes this, but thought I'd mention it).
Otherwise, close all windows/shades/curtains tightly before the temperature starts to go up during the day. Leave everything buttoned up until the temperature starts to go down - we usually wait until there is at least a 5-10 degree difference in the outside air and inside air before opening up. Then, put fans everywhere you can to circulate the air - cross-ventilation is key. If you have double-hung windows, open the top and the bottom, this will create a convection current and speed up the exchange of hot air/cooler air.
It is very important to leave the place closed and as dark as possible during the heat of the day - I found when I did this in Denver, I could get it to cool off much faster than when I didn't. If you're in a humid climate, this may not work, but it's worth a try.
posted by dbmcd at 5:08 PM on June 6, 2005

Above my need for food and cable television is my need for an air conditioner. I keep my place at about 63 F all year round. Perfection.

But there have been times when my A/C breaks and the heat rises to about 100+ F in the Florida summers. When that has happened I start soaking towels in cold water and pretty much cover myself in those. I try not to move much. I keep the blinds closed to keep the hot sun out. Yes it gets stuffy inside, but it beats the heat and humidity shooting in. After about two days it becomes completely unbearable and at that point I leave for a place with A/C, usually a family member's house, until it's fixed.

I don't know how hot it gets at your place in the summer, but I feel for ya. I am a creature of the cold.
posted by Servo5678 at 5:24 PM on June 6, 2005

I really wish I could find a google image of the classic Roz Chast New Yorker cartoon (a google search reveals that it is from 1984 but gives no image): Tubhampton, Fanhampton, Roofhampton.
posted by matildaben at 5:32 PM on June 6, 2005

If you have double-hung windows (and screens that will keep bugs from coming in at the top), I'd open only the top parts of windows on opposite sides of the apartment. Air near the ceiling is naturally hotter than air near the floor, so it's the upper air you want to move out. If you've got an attic trapdoor, try opening that, but check to make sure hotter air isn't coming down from the attic. (Attics can get brutally hot if there isn't adequate ventilation up there.)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:42 PM on June 6, 2005

My air conditioner was often on the fritz when I lived in Texas. We would freeze 2-liter bottles of water, then put them in a bowl in front of a fan. Sit directly in front of the fan. It is nearly bearable.
posted by kamikazegopher at 5:42 PM on June 6, 2005

One option is to put the air conditioner in the window just as you would a fan. You might have to get a little creative with mounting (table?) and condensation drainage, but it's certainly possible; I've done it, and been much happier as a result.
posted by trevyn at 5:45 PM on June 6, 2005

i duct tape alumiunum foil on windows and and it cuts down on the heat quite a bit. Not all of the window, just the upper half. Of course, it's ugly as all getout.
posted by puke & cry at 5:47 PM on June 6, 2005

Oh, also swamp coolers, if your heat is relatively dry. Evaporation is an endothermic process, so blowing a fan over water will actually cause a temperature decrease, though humidity will increase. No personal experience.
posted by trevyn at 5:48 PM on June 6, 2005

You should be able to use one of these air conditioners, they just need a small open window hang a dryer-like hose out of.
posted by Marky at 5:49 PM on June 6, 2005

I just wanted to mention that I had very bad luck with the "dryer hose" portable air conditioners; basically, they were woefully underpowered and abnormally expensive. You could feel cool air coming out, but the room never actually got much cooler.

A true "split" air conditioner that circulates refrigerant between an inside unit and an outside unit should work much better.
posted by trevyn at 5:56 PM on June 6, 2005

My mainstay is the wet-tshirt trick. I use A/C only as a last resort, to sleep, in my bedroom. (Minneapolis, MN). Otherwise, take a t-shirt, wring it out somewhat (dripping is not pleasant) and put it on. Evaporative cooling! When you start to warm up, wet it again. You need to be ok with damp chairs, but it really helps. It's a version of the wet towels that Servo5678 mentions above, but less restrictive for activity. And it's very flexible - do it when you think it is worth it. And so low-tech.
posted by judybxxx at 6:12 PM on June 6, 2005

It is possible to create an air conditioner with a styrofoam cooler, a small box fan, and a package of ice. Cut a hole in the top of the cooler lid, and lay the fan down on it. Cut a hole in the side of the cooler (above the waterline of where the ice will melt) and dump the ice into it. I've never tried this, personally, but have always meant to.
posted by Hildago at 7:47 PM on June 6, 2005

Elaborating on the key crossflow idea, pick a window that you spend the least time near, and preferably one that isn't very visible from outside -- sounds like maybe the one with the A/C unit it, or next to it. Put a window fan in that window and set the fan to blow out. Even if you can't get an A/C unit to mount into the window (e.g. due to french doors), you should be able to rig the fan in there somehow. One key is to block the space above the fan, which is trivial with a vertically-sliding sash window, but may be harder with french style windows. But you simply must block the window above the fan to get the desired crossflow -- consider spending a few bucks on having a removable framed window made, perhaps with plexiglass, that you'd install above the fan. Also, mounting the fan at the top of the window would be ideal but is too much of a hassle for my purposes.

Open up 2 or 3 other windows across the apartment to feed the crossflow -- it's totally cooling. Do not set the fan to blow in. Do not run ceiling fans, unless you also have very good cross flow working, because ceiling fans move the heat from the ceiling down to you and further actually add heat to the room (basic thermodynamics). If you have good crossflow then it might be OK to run the ceiling fans but I still discourage it.

I've had this fan in two apartments and one small house now, in downtown Atlanta, and it's fantastic. Note: Atlanta summers are 95 degrees every day and 100% humidity. This particular model is A) multi-speed, B) reversible, and C) has a thermostat, so you can set it to kick on in the afternoon when you're not back yet and you'll come home to a cool house. Assuming of course that you can leave your windows open and not get robbed. I actually have my house windows alarmed in a way that allows me to keep them open.

Here are some other window fan models. I'm a big fan (cough) of cross flow, having been raised in a house with a monstrous attic fan.
posted by intermod at 7:47 PM on June 6, 2005

This might seem obvious, but if it's a humid heat, a dehumidifier might help a bit.
posted by greatgefilte at 8:48 PM on June 6, 2005

I have a blower in my 3rd floor apt. window, which moves about 1350 Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM). I bought it for a completely different purpose, but when the summer rolled around I stuck it in the window, I hate "AC air". I generally have it aimed at the ceiling, displacing hot air, but sometimes I tilt it down to blow a stream across me while sleeping. It was about $75.

My ideal setup would be two smaller blowers , 1 mounted on a plank of wood, installed in the upper pane, with a piece of conduit attached so that it can directly pull air from the top of the room + another one to draw from outside. With that solution, it seems almost any apt. should be able to reach outside temps.

As for clever (maybe): I like to soak a thin beanie in water.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 9:03 PM on June 6, 2005

Response by poster: The window is actually a strange one that only opens at the bottom by turning a crank (cranking out and forming a V).

Thanks for all the advice, I think I'm going to try the pan of water trick.
posted by drezdn at 9:08 PM on June 6, 2005

I put one fan in the window in front of my computer blowing the outside air towards me. I place one fan sucking air out in the other window. And I keep the shades about halfway down the window.
posted by angry modem at 9:19 PM on June 6, 2005

My place is incredibly hot and humid and the living room has a large sliding door, so installing an air conditioner is out of the question. This fan has worked incredibly in making the room cool, and is extremely quiet. Can't say enough good things about it, and keeps the electricity bills low, compared to A/C.
posted by Blue Buddha at 9:25 PM on June 6, 2005

As an aside, Seattle issued its first-ever "heat advisory" the Friday before last, prompting a collective eye roll from everyone who's ever lived somewhere markedly warmer (aka Damn Near Everywhere). Interesting factoid, though, a local newscaster said that you should not attempt to use just fans if indoor temperatures are 86 degrees F or above-a convection oven type atmosphere is produced, obviously not recommended unless you're a pork roast. 86 degrees or higher---moisten your skin surface, either with a spray bottle or draping with a wet towel.
posted by DawnSimulator at 9:48 PM on June 6, 2005

See those veins on your inner wrists? See how close they are to the surface of your skin? Get some ice-cubes (in a plastic bag) or those lunch-box cooler things and strap them to your wrists. It'll cool you off, really quickly. Also, on the inside of your thighs next to that big femoral artery. Or your neck. Really, anywhere where there's a whole lot of blood flow handy.

Many mammals (who don't sweat the way we do) use their own blood flow to cool off. For instance, when rabbits get hot, they perk their ears up to get some airflow through the nearly-exposed corpuscles in their large ears.

It works for people, too.
It's less messy than the damp t-shirt/towel option.

Cool baths and showers help. Especially before going to sleep. I find it nearly impossible to fall asleep when it's really hot. Lowering my body temperature beforehand really helps. Fans, too.
posted by Jon-o at 11:18 PM on June 6, 2005

greatgefilte writes "This might seem obvious, but if it's a humid heat, a dehumidifier might help a bit."

I second this. Dry heat is much more comfortable and manageable than the same temperature with high humidity...
posted by benzo8 at 1:09 AM on June 7, 2005

Similar to the wet t-shirt trick. Hang your wet clothes to dry on a rack in the apartment. This will cool down the room- someone more articulate can give the heat/energy transfer explanation. I've done this and it works.
posted by cushie at 2:01 AM on June 7, 2005

If you have tile floors, mop them down with cold water. Repeat as needed.

/Italian trick. Residential AC is rare & the older generation regards it as the cause of myriad illnesses & aches.
posted by romakimmy at 4:18 AM on June 7, 2005

cushie, it's the same principle as the swamp coolers I mentioned above: evaporation is endothermic; energy is required to overcome the intermolecular attractions in the liquid.
posted by trevyn at 1:41 PM on June 7, 2005

If it hasn't been mentioned above, the swamp cooler, misters, etc that rely on evaporation to cool don't work that great in humid climates like the Southeast.
posted by electroboy at 2:31 PM on June 7, 2005

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