How to best cope without air conditioning?
June 9, 2014 11:25 PM   Subscribe

I moved to the Pacific Northwest; absolutely none of the apartments I've toured feature air conditioning. How do I use the amenities I do have to improve comfort and quality of life?

Until 2 years ago, I lived in the South and Midwest, where air conditioning is, in the modern era, a base assumption of existence. I recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, where AC is apparently mostly optional. This is fine during the fall, winter and spring seasons, but the summers here have been unusually warm, and really I don't really know what is and isn't effective at keeping my apartment cool during this time.

The tools at my disposal:

* a second story apartment with a metal roof
* tall vaulted ceilings in the living room and master bedroom
* bidirectional ceiling fans in every room
* east and west facing windows, with venetian blinds
* a cheap box fan
* a bit of tree cover
* relatively cool nights

My current strategy & theories

When the outdoors cools off after the sun sets:
* open an east and west window, and induce a draft by placing the box fan in a window to intake cold air
* ceiling fans continue to be on

Before I leave for work in the morning:
* close the blinds (to raise the apartment's albedo)
* leave the ceiling fans off (hot air rises, so using a fan to mix air in a room raises the average temperature)
* keep the smaller bedroom door closed (it's mostly a storage room, maybe this slows the heat transfer rate?)
* windows closed to keep out the hot air and allergens (persistently high allergens in Oregon)

When I get home from work:
* turn on ceiling fans (perspiration + air movement produces cooling)

Obviously the night regimen works at cooling the apartment off, no complaints there outside the week or two where outdoor temps reach 100 degrees. But it'd be great if I could reduce the indoor temps when I arrive home for work, and there are mysteries still, like what changing the rotational direction of a ceiling fan really accomplishes.
posted by pwnguin to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Buy a window unit for your bedroom. Spray yourself with a hose.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:35 PM on June 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

This isn't going to make your apartment cooler -- only help you cool yourself down -- but always have chilled water on hand (for drinking), as well as refrigerated moist washcloths.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:40 PM on June 9, 2014

I keep spray bottles of water next to my bed, couch etc. Makes any fan feel like AC!
posted by acidic at 11:49 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's really not hot for extended periods of time in the PNW, which is why A/C isn't common. But if you don't want to buy a small unit, then you can just freeze water in a bottle and stand it in front of a fan and sit in front of that (or several 2L bottles in front of the box fan). It'll cool you off. Drink cold water, freeze washcloths and hang them around your neck, find a small fan and carry it around with you as you move room to room--you have to find ways to keep yourself cool rather than cool the entire house.

Otherwise, it sounds like you're doing all you can. You can also use the box fan to suck hot air out.

Good luck!
posted by thatminx at 11:50 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

NW lifer here. Honestly, if here's a breeze during the day, leave the windows open - moving warm air feels better than still stuffy apartment air after a long day. Use the box fan strategically; point it inwards at night and outwards during the day.

Also, be outside a lot. Remember the 9.5 months a year it isn't hot and it's dark at 4.30.
posted by pdb at 11:53 PM on June 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

We just don't have air conditioning in most homes here, sorry. It makes global warming extra fun! You'll get used to it.

Keep your apartment cool by keeping it dark during the day. Get black-out curtains and keep them closed when you're not home. Blinds are spectacularly ineffective at this.

You can find stand-alone air conditioners (you hook the hose up to a window) and window units at most places that sell appliances and some big box stores every spring. Often there are sales, but more often everyone goes nuts buying them and nobody gets another shipment in until the next year. So scope the sales out, or order online. Personally, the price and annoyance of these is not worth the four days of hot a year I must endure - I just go to the mall where there's AC and come back after dark. But they are drastically more effective than you might think they are. They've improved over the past decade a lot.

Set the box fan in the window and point it out during the day (pushing hot air out) and in at night. Honestly I'd open the windows when I got home if I were you, even if it's hot. Take a quick shower and laze around evaporating and it will feel great. If this is an allergy thing, consider an air purifier?

Simple but effective: popsicles, wearing light colored clothes, spritzing your face and sitting by the fan.
posted by Mizu at 12:01 AM on June 10, 2014

Yup, keep the windows open some during the day. Helps especially if you don't come home until it starts to cool out.
posted by flimflam at 12:02 AM on June 10, 2014

Usually the done thing in places where central AC doesn't come standard in all homes is to invest in a window unit. I actually have a "portable" AC, which is on casters on the floor and vents out the window with an air hose, making it nominally* more flexible than something permanently installed in my window. Use the window unit as needed, which in my West Coast experience (in SoCal, so probably hotter, though maybe also drier) is really only on especially hot nights.

Keep your windows open as much as possible when you're not actively running the AC. I'll often run the AC when I get home from work, early in the evening after the heat of the day. Then, when it's cooled off enough, I'll cut the AC and open the windows to let in the cooler night air. Not sure if this is an option in a less desert-like climate. Personally I prefer to keep the windows open during the day if I'm at home, to let the air circulate. I don't really see the point of sitting in a hot box on the principle that I'm "keeping out the hot air". It is invariably cooler outside than it is in my closed up apartment.

Basically, forget everything you ever knew about life in a humid climate. The air outside is your friend.

*Basically I can put it in a closet during cooler parts of the year.
posted by Sara C. at 12:05 AM on June 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

It seems like the West Coast is dry when it's warm, even in the Northwest. Try a swamp cooler. Or make a homemade one. There are tons of plans, from complicated ones down to "pack dampened sphagnum moss in a frame in front of the fan."
posted by Foam Pants at 12:26 AM on June 10, 2014

go on craigslist RIGHT NOW while they're still sort of cheap, and buy a portable air conditioner. You can usually get one for under $200. I've also, two different times jumped in a car and gone to every local goodwill/value village and found one for under $50.

you can fit the hose into any window type, even if you have stupid casement/etc windows that most ACs wont fit in without some kind of cheesy home made rigged up plexiglass/plywood adapter job.

Everyone here acts like AC is pointless/not necessary/for overly sensitive people, but i've lived in a couple places where i would have died of heat stroke without it(like, outside temp 80f but clear sky, inside temp >100 with the windows open), and visited many more. But everyone just buys small fans and goes "you don't need AC here, it's a stupid waste of electricity anyways!".

There's always a huge run on the banks so to speak of ACs in a couple weeks right around the beginning of july. You really want to hit it before that and just get one.
posted by emptythought at 12:32 AM on June 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Replace the cheap box fan with something more powerful. I like this style because you won't accidentally knock it over and it's easy to stick in a window or in front of an open door, where it will pull cooler air into the house.
posted by neushoorn at 12:36 AM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I live in similarly climated Oakland and am an A.C. addict originally from Tennessee. Here's what makes me not die:

1. Get a box fan for every room. Put them i the windows. It will sound like a jet taking off in your place, but it's crucial to maximize the amount of cool evening air you can suck in. I've got fans of all price ranges and styles, but a nothing moves the thermometer down at night like a box fan in the window.

2. Wear a sarong and spritz yourself with a spray bottle all the darn time.

3. Nthing get an air conditioner for your bedroom. Next to "brain doctor for my anxiety disorder", ours (one of the the 'portable' kinds) is the best investment for my mental health I've ever made.

Everybody out here is like "It's only hot a few weeks a year, you're fine, it's fine." But you know what. But you know what? When everyone is going crazy because they can't get it below 82 in their houses and they can't sleep, I'm resting like a perfectly cool baby in my glorious 70 degree bedroom.

I only use it maybe a total of 6-8 weeks a year maybe, but it's so so so worth it. In short, emptythought speaks the truth. Trust in this wisdom, and soon you'll be falling in love with your new, cool, mechanical best friend.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:45 AM on June 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

A fan pointing out the window is good in theory and ceiling fans are nice, but unless your ceiling fan is stronger than the average neither of those things is going to make you feel all that cool, even if the temperature does go down a bit. What does feel a whole lot cooler is strong wind directly on your skin.

Try your box fan or get a regular old fashioned fan, and point it at yourself. Especially when you first get home.

(And personally I'd give that a chance for a few days before buying an AC unit. I've found that if I get used to AC I can't get by without it, but also that I can get used just as easily to living with fans and really greatly prefer it.)

I also agree with leaving the windows at least somewhat open, barring allergy problems.
posted by trig at 12:57 AM on June 10, 2014

Your plan of opening windows at night and closing windows and blinds during the day has worked quite well for me in the past (in disgusting Michigan summers). If your house is decently insulated, the cool night air you've trapped inside should not heat up much over the day.

I'm currently in Oakland, where I just keep my bedroom window open with a fan in front of it at all times. Well, sometimes I turn the fan off when I get too cold.
posted by ktkt at 2:05 AM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You seem to be focusing on right when you get home, so I will too -

This may not do anything to lower the ambient air temperature, but will make you feel comfortable. Get a bottle of the peppermint-scented Dr. Bronner's liquid soap. And as soon as you get home, jump in the shower, and take a cool-temperature shower using that soap.

They put enough menthol in that stuff that it is actually tactile. Dress lightly when you get out of the shower; between the menthol, the damp skin, and the fans in the house, you will feel MUCH more comfortable.

(Only one caveat - be careful using it around your junk because WOO MINTY)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:33 AM on June 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

We just don't have air conditioning in most homes here, sorry. It makes global warming extra fun!

But it also helps slow global warming. Air conditioners are energy hogs. If you're comfortable at night and you're gone during the day, you could help the environment by forgoing the A/C and just spending time outside after work, or parking in front of a box fan with a cold drink and a spray bottle. It's not so bad.
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:30 AM on June 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

One thing that would help a lot is an awning over your west window. Shade makes a huge difference.
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:35 AM on June 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

See, I'd just buy a portable air conditioner. Just wheel it around your home, some of the models featured have dehumidifying capability which can be a BIG help in comfort levels.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:52 AM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can try getting a dehumidifier, this will help you feel cooler especially if there's high humidity.
posted by lullu73 at 7:14 AM on June 10, 2014

Oh! And as well as/instead of a dehumidifier, look into a few Damp Rid things; I've got a few scattered through my apartment in summer (in humider-than-you'd-realize New York) and they do help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 AM on June 10, 2014

On 90 - 100F days, get the hose and spray down the roof a few times. It will help a little.
posted by theora55 at 8:42 AM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of ceiling fans have "winter/summer" switches on them -- one setting that moves warm arm from the ceiling down into the room (winter setting), and one that moves cooler air up toward the ceiling (summer setting). You might want to get on a chair and look on the base of the fans to see if there's a small switch for that.
posted by jaguar at 9:02 AM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've seen these DIY coolers lately and wanted to give a go at one but haven't had the opportunity. Looks like it may be a decent, somewhat inexpensive solution to a sporadic need for light cooling. And bonus - it's a cool little project!
posted by dozo at 10:15 AM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

you can fit the hose into any window type, even if you have stupid casement/etc windows that most ACs wont fit in without some kind of cheesy home made rigged up plexiglass/plywood adapter job.

Just a note about this. Casement windows also pose a problem with portable A/C units because the window kits still don't fit. There are ways around it, though. I just literally hang the hose out the window and close the window as much as I can to hold the hose in place. This leaves a gap of 4-5 inches which is obviously not energy efficient but a 90F apartment is not human-being-and-cat-staying-alive efficient, so it's trade-off. I have a tiny apartment, however, so even with 6x8 windows my electric bill is never more than $30.

My neighbor's solution was to cover the screen with a huge piece of clear plastic shower curtain, cut a hole through the plastic, and then tape the hose to be flush with the plastic against the screen. I plan on trying that later this season when it really starts to heats up.

it's easy to stick in a window or in front of an open door, where it will pull cooler air into the house. (emphasis mine)

A little more out-of-the-box thinking: All my windows are west-facing, but I also get unobstructed ocean breeze so I always assumed bringing air in from that direction was the coolest solution. However, since we mostly get off-shore winds when it is hot there is really no cool breeze coming in during the summer. Recently I realized that the hallways in my building, which has an open-air atrium-y center, was really much cooler, so I tried keeping the front door propped open just a crack* and placing the fan in front of that. The cross-breeze is now so strong you have to be careful not to get your fingers slammed when you shut the door, and so far I haven't had to bring out the A/C.

Many of my neighbors keep their doors cracked and it's a safe area, but I realize this won't work for everyone. My point is to keep an open mind about where the air might be coolest.

*The apartments here have these security latches so the door can't be opened.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:13 AM on June 10, 2014

I also live in the Pacific Northwest, and am enjoying (ha) some unseasonably warm weather as we speak!

In my experience the best strategy is opening things up to replace all the air at night, and then sealing everything back up during the day, just as you have been doing.

However, it's very important when you seal things up to not just close the windows, but close the blinds as well. If your blinds don't make things very dark, think about getting curtains to go over them. You want to block as much sun as possible. I installed blackout curtains over the venetian blinds in one of two identical bedrooms recently, and that room stays much cooler. The more sunlight you are blocking during the peak sunny hours, the better.

If you close the windows but forget to close the blinds, you may come home to find your apartment has turned into a greenhouse. This is the worst of all the options.
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 2:57 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

A big problem is the radiant heat that windows absorb so look into UV (UVA?) film for your windows. Ideally you would apply it to the outside of the window but the inside will still help and should be a big step up from only keeping the blinds closed.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:12 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

An AC unit in the window. I lived on the third floor of a home in the Southern U.S. for a month or two during a heat wave before the window unit was installed.

If you can sleep while warm, you'll be fine, but the humidity and heat made my sleeping horrid. I got by with my gigantic cups of ice water and multiple fans. I was also playing games on a gigantic computer though, so that didn't help my condition. I have a low heat tolerance threshold as is.
posted by bibliophilia at 3:06 PM on June 11, 2014

Here's some advice: don't feel bad if you'd really rather just get an AC unit and be done with it. As a transplant from the middle states, I've noticed the same thing as emptythought - some (but definitely not all) PNW residents have a weird superiority complex about not needing air conditioning and like to lecture you about the evils of AC. (Which I understand, but there are a lot of reasons why having an air conditioner in the PNW might be necessary and the "oh, we don't need AC" holier-than-thou routine gets old fast.)

Other than that, insoluble uncertainty's advice about blinds and blackout curtains is spot-on. Keeping things dark is key. Keep doing what you're doing with pulling in the cool night/early morning air and then sealing things up before you leave. Just make sure the blinds are closed and add the dark curtains to the mix. Also, you might actually want to keep the ceiling fans on - air circulation can help. Definitely flip the switches on the fans to see which directions cool better. You might even mix it up, as the push/pull effect could create air movement you wouldn't otherwise get.

Here in western Oregon, temps seem to reach their highest point from 3-6pm and then cool down (which is really weird to me, since where I'm from it gets hot around 10-11am and stays the same temperature until well after sunset). So you might try to plan around that by getting home earlier/later if possible.

Don't get a dehumidifier. For one thing, modern AC units already dehumidify as a function of the heat exchange process. For another, dehumidifiers vent their excess heat directly into the immediate area and will only make the room hotter. (Trust me, we have a 70 pint dehu that works really well in the winter for basically heating our small apartment while also its doing its intended job.)
posted by i feel possessed at 4:40 PM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone. Things got busy at work and home, so I didn't get a chance to properly threadsit, but I did read suggestions from time to time.

I'm concerned mainly relaxing after work, and getting to sleep at night; and for all the 'it doesn't get very hot in Oregon' chatter here and elsewhere, it's broken 100 degrees multiple times since I've moved here. And of course, it also snowed a good deal in March when I arrived and everyone was all 'it never does that'. And then it did it again next year enough to cancel school twice. Climate change is real, I suppose.

I don't have casement windows, so that's not a problem. But I'm not really interested in a window AC unit as there's window screens I don't want to mess with. A portable AC unit may be a good solution.

On the non-AC front it sounds like the consensus is to leave the windows open, or invest in blackout curtains. Blackout sounds appealing on multiple fronts, I may look more into that. Depends on how bad the allergies get I suppose.
posted by pwnguin at 7:19 PM on June 11, 2014

the consensus is to leave the windows open, or invest in blackout curtains.


You are really going to have to leave the windows open a lot of the time, during warm weather. Keeping the windows closed is probably why you feel that you're having a harder time with the heat than others.

Could you just pop a zyrtec some nights?
posted by Sara C. at 8:02 PM on June 11, 2014

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