Broken AC—how to cool apartment in meantime?
July 19, 2020 3:11 PM   Subscribe

I live in an apartment and my AC was working fine this morning, and now while still blowing what feels like cool air, my apartment is HOT. Management office is closed on Sundays—what can I do to keep it somewhat cool in here?

It’s 93 out right now and we’ve fortunately passed the hottest part of the day. I’ve got one ceiling fan in my living room and already plan to sleep in that room.

I don’t have any table fans. I’ve closed all the blinds and made it as sun proof as possible.

I’ve got a central air system—I checked my HVAC filter and it seems fine, but if anyone has any simple troubleshooting ideas, I’m the opposite of handy but willing to try!
posted by nancynickerson to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Homemade swamp cooler

The prevailing method seems to involve making something out of a bucket, PVC pipe, etc., but you can abstract out the general principles and just put some cool water/ice in front of an air vent -- as long as it's not too humid where you are and you don't cause water to drip into your system.

It will drip. Incorporate something to catch the drips.

Also - it's worth buying a fan. They're fairly inexpensive and efficient at cooling you.
posted by amtho at 3:37 PM on July 19, 2020

Best answer: We went through this recently and ultimately needed to replace the whole HVAC system. From the start of the break until the successful installation of the new system it was ten days. Not to bum you out, but I would prepare for a few more days of this, and definitely buy a fan. I am not a professional but I also don't think there's much you can do until the management office responds.

If your main concern is comfort for yourself, I suggest running a washcloth under cool water and draping it somewhere on your body. Rinse and repeat as needed, and you can experiment with wrapping an ice cube in a washcloth and/or using more than one at a time. Good luck!!
posted by witchen at 4:00 PM on July 19, 2020

Best answer: I know this doesn't directly help you now but just wanted to point out that here in Texas, depending on jurisdiction, AC being broken when outdoor temp is >90F is an emergency the way that heat being broken is in other parts of the country and emergency service would be required of the landlord in some situations so don't wait if your indoor temp stays well over 80-85 and such rules apply in your jurisdiction?

check the AC unit for ice and if its old and frozen over, it may need to shut off entirely for a few hours and thaw to regain the ability to exchange heat. if it does this again it may need new coolant, a professional deep clean, or both.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:16 PM on July 19, 2020

Definitely check for ice, that is a frequent problem when ac units are overtaxed, which happens during heatwaves. If you let it thaw out, it may be able to run fine again, though I’d still want to have it looked at.
posted by skewed at 5:05 PM on July 19, 2020

I know that depending on where you are/personal risk assessment, you may be trying to avoid physically going to stores, but (in the US), places like CVS/Walgreens/etc often have table fans for sale. I have a small Honeywell fan that works surprisingly well, and I've seen similar models available at these kinds of stores.

I also have been known to wrap ice packs in some t shirts/towels, and line them up around me as I go to sleep. But this is probably not a super great idea, since technically there's a limit on how long you should use ice packs...
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:36 PM on July 19, 2020

Best answer: It may be easier to cool yourself than to cool your apartment. Put a wet cloth on the back of your neck and direct the fan at it, to cool the blood going to your head and make you feel proportionally much cooler. (How much utility this has while you're sleeping depends on your personal dampness aversions.) Running your wrists under cold water is also surprisingly effective. In general it is a good idea to cool the parts of yourself where blood vessels are close to the skin.
posted by babelfish at 8:29 PM on July 19, 2020

(Actually I guess I don't know if the neck towel trick has to do with cooling the blood going to your head, and now that I type it out it looks very...Galenic. I don't know why a cold neck helps. That really is why the wrist thing works though.)
posted by babelfish at 8:30 PM on July 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cold shower, don't dry off (leave your hair wet too) stay naked, and get the fan blowing on you. My tried and true method. If your furniture allows for it, get a thin top sheet, get it wet (not dripping, but very wet) and drape that over half your body, again with the fan blowing on you. I've also wrapped an icepack in a pillow case, and kept it on my groin during the night, which is shocking at first, but helps. Or put it on the back of your neck, if you normally use that icepack for your lunches, hahah. And keep drinking lots of water so that you can sweat.
posted by hasna at 8:47 PM on July 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have been dealing with my shitty AC in my apartment for years.

Where I live, if the temperature outside is above 80 (! that always seemed low to me, in Central Texas), this is an emergency and you can call your apartment's emergency maintenance number. There will be one -- this is what you call if there is an issue with locks or the only toilet in your apartment. It is likely that wherever you live, it being 93 is hot enough that not having working AC qualifies as an emergency. Don't feel guilty about calling this. It is their duty to provide it.

In the meantime, yes, open up the panel in your apartment and see if it is full of ice. It won't be a subtle thing, you'll open it up and there will be ice everywhere. If so, turn the unit off so it can start to thaw.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:59 AM on July 20, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks y’all! I was shocked to learn that here in SoCal, AC is NOT considered a renter’s right. And witchen called it; they’re not getting a tech in until next week! They did bring me a portable AC which is doing an okay job for now.

I took to heart all of the self-cooling advice, and took several cold showers last night. I’m reluctant to buy new fans because I’m moving cross country in less than a month and don’t want to schlep them, but if this portable unit doesn’t pass muster I’ll mask up and get one.
posted by nancynickerson at 3:41 PM on July 20, 2020

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