How can I survive a hot, hot summer without cool, cool AC?
May 29, 2007 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have tips for surviving a summer in very hot temperatures without AC?

I'm in Cairo and unfortunately it looks like the only apartment I can get my hands on has no AC at all. I know in these cases the normal suggestions is "get a window unit" but I have no idea whether this is in fact possible, both from a logistical and economic standpoint.*

Here are the lovely temperature details: temperatures in Cairo during the summer are never below 30C (86F) during the day and generally hover well above the 35C (95F) mark. Many days are closer to 40C (105F) and I've been told that the temperature will get up to 45C (113F) a few times over the summer.

I've survived one 41C day already, but I did have AC although I spent much of the day hanging out in the front hall of my apartment building, which didn't have any AC. Walking outside in the heat was nearly unbearable, I couldn't believe how hot it was.

So, if anyone out there has experience living in very hot weather, that would be greatly appreciated. I'm perfectly comfortable in 25C (77) - 30C (86F) weather. Right now it is only 31C and I feel "hot" but I'm not sweating all that much, if that helps give you a frame of reference.

* That being said, if it turns out getting a window unit is possible, I will certainly go for it and put my experience here on the page for posterity
posted by Deathalicious to Home & Garden (43 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I open all my windows at night and close them all during the day. It's better than nothing.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:20 AM on May 29, 2007

As a native Texan I'll suggest:

* Fans are your friend!

* The giant multinational appliance companies (LG, Samsung, etc) do make cheap portable air conditioners that are kept on the floor and have a hose going to the window frame. It's not like the 1970s anymore where you have to stick a bigass Fedders in the window.

* If you can get a box fan, put it in the window blowing into the room and hang a wet cotton sheet in front of it. Ouila - instant evaporative cooler that will cool your place down a bit for an hour or so! I see that the Cairo dewpoint temperatures have been hovering in the 50s the past few days so this ought to work okay; the worst case is that it will just take longer to evaporate and won't cool as much.

* Find ways to spend time / do work in air conditioned shopping centers.
posted by hodyoaten at 12:23 AM on May 29, 2007

At home, get a fan, go bareback, and drape a moist towel over yourself. Regularly visit the refridgerator. At night, aim your fan at yourself.

Spend most of your day in places with AC. Libraries, shopping malls, supermarkets, cars, etc.

It's not too bad.
posted by BeaverTerror at 12:26 AM on May 29, 2007

Added idea: at nighttime have a fan blowing in one window and another fan blowing out the other so you get a constant supply of outside air. Awhile back I did some studies on heat wave deaths and apparently apartment buildings get very hot at night because they're tremendous heat sinks. By setting up the fans this way you'll get great relief at night. During the day the apartment should be cooler than outside and you'll probably want the fans off.
posted by hodyoaten at 12:27 AM on May 29, 2007

7 summers in Tokyo taught me a thing or two.

cool showers before turning in are great.

stay hydrated.

a single mosquito being let in isn't worth the air if it buzzes your ear like those f-ers are wont to do.

and, of course, electric fans are, er, cool.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:35 AM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: If you can't get an AC unit of some description, you might want to at least look at getting a evaporative cooler or, as hodyoaten suggest, rig up your own. Try this if you're feeling more ambitious! However, small and very portable AC's should be available - even in Cairo. While they work best in sash windows, plastic sheeting and duct tape will work wonders.

Failing that, get a good basic fan (box fans are quietest) and a water spritzer and just give yourself a quick spritz now and then. Wear as little clothing as possible and make sure it's made from natural fabric - cotton, linen, and hemp are great. Light colours are your friend.

At night, if you don't have screens on the windows, obtain a mozzie-net, make sure your sheets are good quality cotton and sleep nude with the fan blowing over you.

Good luck.
posted by ninazer0 at 1:11 AM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Keep a bottle of baby oil in your fridge and apply a little at night after a cool bath or shower.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:21 AM on May 29, 2007

Light, breathable clothes, in light colours (to reflect the sun). Wet a hand-towel, wring it out, and drape it around your neck. Or do the same thing on your forehead when trying to sleep.

As SCDB says, close your windows during the day, and open them at night. Closing the blinds/curtains during the day might also help keep out some heat.
posted by robcorr at 1:27 AM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: The average adult loses 30% of body heat from their head. Pay attention to cooling your head, and the rest of you will remain substantially happier. Outside, always wear an appropriate hat - the pith helmet crowd may have looked like tourists, but they knew a thing or two about physiological cooling. If pith helmets aren't in your style range, Panama hats, or at least Indiana Jones fedoras need to be. Add a do-rag which you can wet with water and wear underneath for evaporative cooling, under a real Panama, and you've got a terrific start on getting outside without dying.
posted by paulsc at 1:51 AM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: If you have a choice of apartment types without AC then it may be a good idea to look for one which uses traditional design techniques to stay cool: shutters to close during the day, stone or tile floors, nearby trees used to provide shade, windows designed to allow a through breeze in the direction of the prevailing wind, use of light heat reflective paint colours and so on. Modern buildings without AC are often designed for the poor but old-pre AC buildings would be for everybody. So an old building may be best.
posted by rongorongo at 1:51 AM on May 29, 2007

Good advice so far. Does Egypt have the equivalent of the bamboo sleeping mat which is the traditional Chinese summer stand-by? Definitely makes for a more comfortable night. Otherwise I try to keep the apartment shaded in the day and the air moving as others have said. The cold showers are a great relief too.
Survived many summers with no AC in similar temperatures to those you describe. Better still if you can be flexible with active times, and rest up in the worst parts of the day as people traditionally did.
posted by Abiezer at 2:02 AM on May 29, 2007

Keep a couple of gallons of water in the fridge. Drink a big glass. It's good for a quick cool-down.
posted by DarkForest at 2:49 AM on May 29, 2007

If you have hair, and you're home without plans to go out again that day, just rinse your hair and leave it wet.
posted by Martin E. at 2:54 AM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

what is the humidity like in cairo? i ask because i moved to a place without humidity (or at least very low humidity) in the past year and thought it was bad that none of the places had a.c.'s. i then found out that they have these things called "swamp coolers." they are fans that blow across water. they keep my apartment extremely cold even when the temperature outside is in the 100F zone. i'm told by my neighbor that they only work if the humidity is low.
posted by catseatcheese at 3:28 AM on May 29, 2007

Water, lots of it!
posted by Hates_ at 3:29 AM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: Stay low: low bed, low chairs. Keep away from the ceiling.

Minimize physical activity: go to room B, get everything you need, and go back to room A; don't walk back and forth between A and B.

Minimize cooking: you'll add less heat to the apartment and less heat to your body.

Use cool lighting, or no lighting when possible.

Don't stand in front of an open refrigerator: the fridge generates more warm air from the back (going directly into your room) than it does cool air from the inside.

Figure out which way the breeze blows and make sure you take advantage of it without hindering it. Think about the placement of large pieces of furniture: don't unnecessarily impede the air flow between important doors or windows. But do try to position important furniture (desk? bed? couch?) where air can move across you.

Fans make heat and noise, so don't use fans randomly (or at all, if you can help it). If you're hanging about in one place (in front of a PC, perhaps?), use a small one that blows directly on your bare skin, not swishing about all over the room uselessly, or use a big one placed to assist (not fight against) the natural air flow through the place.

If your apartment opens on a stairwell, figure out how to maximize the air flow up through it: can certain doors, windows, or skylights be left open there, and can you leave your door open while you're home, without trouble? If the open door makes a big difference but you can't risk the loss of security, can you install a steel bar door (like the typical bars over a window) to allow you to keep the door open?

And stay the hell out of the apartment as much as possible if there's somewhere cooler and pleasanter in the area. Find a (relatively) cool cafe or a shaded park where you can spend some time, somewhere you can sit still and watch the hot world.
posted by pracowity at 3:30 AM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: Hi! Queenslander here, with summers that hover around the 30C- 35C. We got off lightly this year, but preceeding it were two summers featuring 42C heat with excrutiatingly high humidity. Here is what I have learned from my suffering:

Drink as much water as you can manage. It's already been mentioned, but it's the most important piece of advice you'll get here. Aquire many ice cube trays and a plastic container. Fill the container with ice and top it up as often as you need, because ice water is a marvellous way of keeping cool. And you can suck ice, too. If you don't like the flavour of water put a bit of strawberry or orange into a pitcher to add a bit of zing. Avoid sugary drinks because they'll just dehydrate you. Have a big drink before bed, and keep water by the bed so that you do not dehydrate overnight. Do not leave home without a water bottle, and the bigger the better. If you do get dehydraded (headachey, dizzy, orange urine) drink electrolyte beverage like Gatorade or Pedialite until you feel better. They may be sugary but they will replace the salts you lose while sweating and help rehydrate you better than plain water will. Staying hydrated will let your body do a lot of cooling of its own, and will make life so much better for you.

Standing fans are great. They can be moved around your home and are generally cheaper than air conditioners. I also carry a hand fans (the type that Victorian ladies are known for) to create the cool when I'm out and about.

If you leave the house make sure you wear sunscreen, a hat and long sleeves, because sunburn will make you feel even worse. The pith helmet sounds like a great idea. Parasols and pale umbrellas are also awesome, but they don't work too well if it's windy.

Either spend as much time as you can in shops/offices/whatever and benefit from the air con, or avoid it altogether. You will adjust to the heat so much better if your body isn't re-setting its thermostat every few hours. I avoid air con as a rule during summer, and consequently survive it much better.

Be naked whenever you can. Sleeping in the buff helps no end. Management does not endorse following this advice around strangers children or small animals with pointy teeth. Wear an apron if cooking with fats.

Talc any jubbly bits you might have - buttcrack, under boobs, armpits, whatever. It'll stop you getting heat rash. And heat rash is almost as bad as sunscreen for spoiling your day.

Mosquito coils will allow you to sleep with windows cracked, safe from bugs.

If you can manage it, take a nap during the worst part of the day, and be more active at night.

Loose, flowing clothes will help with air circulation. Light colours are best, but I manage the above temperatures in my black threads, provided I stick to to light fabrics.

A spray bottle - the type used to water ferns and assist with ironing - filled with ice water can be kept on hand to mist your face. Also useful is a container of ice water with a face cloth to dab your face with. A damp face cloth draped over the neck is also surprisingly cooling.

If you're a lady, avoid wearing any make-up heavier than a tinted moisturiser. It'll leave your pores open, and your skin will love you for it. If you're a gentleman, avoid wearing make-up heavier than a tinted moisturiser. Your skin will also love you.

Eat cold food -salads, cold meats, fruit, whatever. Ices, like sorbets, granita and gelati are also marvellous. I find that dairy weighs me down a lot in hot weather, but if you like ice-cream then apply to your organs as required. Consider it medicinal.

Finally, check out what the locals are doing, too - clearly they've been coping with Cairo for a while now. You should be able to poach some of their tips.
posted by Jilder at 3:34 AM on May 29, 2007 [3 favorites]

Erm, let's try "heat rash is almost as bad as sunburn for spoiling your day." See? Even thinking about sunburn is bad.
posted by Jilder at 3:37 AM on May 29, 2007

Are you enduring a single summer in Cairo, or will you there long-term? If it's long-term, I think you should really try to get AC of some kind. My worst heat experience here in Greece was with a heatwave that moved in from your neck of the woods; it was 46C in my (then) apartment. (Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.) I became quite ill... and got money from my parents to get an AC after that. We don't use it a lot, but I'm not risking another spell like that one without it.

In that kind of heat, fans blowing incredibly hot, dry air at you is no help at all, and seemed to me, in fact, worse. If fans are your only option, be sure to put a bucket of ice water in front of them or something.

But, mostly, I wanted to chime in to say that if you are new there, and haven't done it yet, try to find an expat group in the city, or at least contact some other American or Brit Cairenes, and get their advice on how to handle things, including finding a good apartment, and options for AC, or surviving the summer, generally. You can google for Egypt/Cairo forums and blogs to look for contacts. (Here's one blog, and another, and one forum.)

Also, if you haven't rented the place yet, this guide may help you a bit.
posted by taz at 4:23 AM on May 29, 2007

When it's really unbearable I take a few faceclothes and wet them, then put them in the freezer. Put these around the back of your neck and it really cools you off. Helpful when you have to work around the house or can't sleep because it's unbearable.

Trying to sleep when it's really hot is tough for me. I find CRISP sheets, a fan and a water bottle sprayer help. These are for a dozen or so unbearable nights so not a perfect every day solution.
posted by beccaj at 4:24 AM on May 29, 2007

There are lots of good tips in this thread, but also remember that people lived in hot locales for thousands of years before the advent of air conditioning. When it gets really unbearable, just remember that many other people lived their entire lives like that.

That said, go get yourself a Panama hat!
posted by Caper's Ghost at 5:03 AM on May 29, 2007

Give your feet a cold water bath (keep someting you can put water in under your desk). It worked wonders in the Great Hot July of 2006.
posted by Baud at 5:49 AM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: Cold showers, but not actually too cold -- if the water is solid cold, your pores will close up in defense so that will actually be counterproductive afterwards.

Also, this sounds like an excellent topic for talking to your neighbors and getting in a little language practice.... There's no better advice than advice from people who've dealt with a situation for years.
posted by lorimer at 5:55 AM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Representing Phoenix here.

Drink lots of water, as much as you can stand without vomiting.

Try to wear only natural fabrics and in light colors.

At night, if you don't need a lot of lights on leave them off, and during the day, keep windows as shaded as you can.

Don't spend any more time outside during the day than you have to (unless you want to).

Drink lots of water.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:24 AM on May 29, 2007

an internet search for homemade or diy air conditioners turns up a lot of ideas
posted by probablysteve at 6:26 AM on May 29, 2007

get two shoebox size plastic containers, fill them with water and ice and put your feet in them. For some reason getting my feet cold cools off the rest of my body substantially.
posted by any major dude at 6:52 AM on May 29, 2007

I had a dorm room with no AC. I had my fan at night, drank lots of water and I did have one trick; before going to sleep I would take a spray bottle, fill it with water and squirt a good misting all over my sheets. It was in no way soaking but did cool the bed enough so that I could shut down for the evening without being preoccupied by how hot I was.

Funny thing, after 3 months of that bullshit I went back to Mom and Dad's just to find I sort of missed those 90 degree nights.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:02 AM on May 29, 2007

I know this is no fun, but during the day you should turn your computer (and as many other appliances as possible) off. One because your computer dislikes the heat even more then you do, two because it kicks out a lot of heat which you don't want. They're alright at night, when everything is cool.

Some nights it will be mightily cold outside and you will be tempted to close the window. Do not do it! Just find a blanket.

Some mornings it will be a nice, lovely temperature with a nice, lovely breeze blowing in from the outside and you will be tempted to leave your windows open. Do not do it! Close your windows and go outside instead.

Some mornings you will be tempted to oversleep and think that you can close your windows a little later then [shortly after dawn]. This is a very bad idea, and you will regret it. Train yourself to close windows in your sleep.

If you start to become dizzy, pour cold water over your arms and legs, as opposed to your head. If that doesn't work promptly, then request a hospital.
posted by anaelith at 7:08 AM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wearing a real cotton abaya will help a lot if you are wandering around out in the heat. Seriously: deck yourself out. There's a reason for flowing robes in hot climates.
posted by OldReliable at 7:58 AM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: I lived through a 105F+ summer in an upstairs apartment with no A/C. I thought it would build character and save lots of money.

I bought a fan unit that fits in a window and has two blowers. You could make one blow in and the other blow out, which circulated the air, or have both blow in, both blow out. This helped.

If you've got windows on opposite sides of the room, or at least on two walls, I'd install fans to move air through the room, not just into the room.

Good luck! This will not build character
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:59 AM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Fill your Nalgene bottle with ice water, wrap it in a small towel and sit with it between your legs.
posted by summit at 8:00 AM on May 29, 2007

I actually loathe AC - it puts me out of whack. Didn't have one when I lived in Australia, and don't now I live in Japan. I actually carry a jacket around with me in Summer because the trains and buildings are too cold!

On the other hand - I chose a location and apartment which makes it more comfortable to live sans AC. We are on the 4th floor and get a nice breeze through the entire place - often from the nearby sea and mountain.

Other tricks are:

- last year a company here came out with this menthol lotion which you put on in the shower and then rinse off. So tingly and cool!

- gel eye packs - keep em in the fridge and whack them on for extra cool

- fans - loooove fans

- scheduling - a tricky one depending on your job, but taking a siesta and then working later when it's cooler is good

- water, cool filtered water - mmmmmm

I have been training for years though - so it can take a while to get used to it. Make sure your energy levels don't drop too much - and if it gets too bad find a cheap cinema and watch a lot of movies.
posted by gomichild at 8:45 AM on May 29, 2007

Get up shit early every day. Do stuff.
Stop doing stuff at around 10am and find aircon hangout at which to, hotel, friendly contact...get a few of these, preferably not too far from each other, so they can become regular haunts.

Go back to doing stuff when the sun goes down, applying all the above cures and coping tools.

Did I say get up realllllllly early?
posted by peacay at 8:59 AM on May 29, 2007

keep a book nearby... use it to fan if you dont have a electric fan nearby.

Take showers.. easy cooling off

Eat fruits like apple, watermelons etc, they contain water and keep you hydrated

smoothies are amazing in summer

when i was living in india with extreme heat and sometimes no electricity.. these definetely helped.
posted by radsqd at 9:07 AM on May 29, 2007

I survived in Houston (which I've been told is slightly cooler than Cairo, but not a lot) without a/c one summer. I wouldn't want to again.

I found that thin, loose, covering clothing (very worn thrift store long-sleeve cotton shirts & slacks mostly) kept me coolest, even though it seemed silly at first to be covering up, but the breezes went through the thin cloth pretty well. I kept my hair very, very short, and usually had a damp cloth on my head. Spent as much of the day as possible on my covered balcony in the breeze with a whole whole lot of unsweetened iced tea. Took a lot of cool showers.

Kitchen was a separate room with a door & the only place I had anything electrical going. Shut the rest of the apartment up during the day to keep the sun & warmth out & retain the cool from the night for as long as possible, opened it up after it cooled a bit after sundown with fans to move the humid nasty air through.

I tried to move as little as possible.

I think the iced tea actually made the biggest difference, cooling me off from the inside.

And avoid A/C as much as possible. It will just make the heat feel worse.
posted by fidelity at 9:09 AM on May 29, 2007

Response by poster: Poster of question Deathalicious says:
Spreading the best answer love around a bit.

It sounds like people are evenly divided between "sneak into AC'ed buildings" and "avoid AC at all costs". I've spent summers in less extreme locales (temperatures generally 25C-30C, 80-90F) moving between AC and non-AC without de-acclimating too much, so I might just try to find a kind of balance, only seeking out the AC when I really feel like I have to. In any case, most businesses, restaurants, cafes, and schools have AC so avoiding it is impossible.

My job is very flexible as far as hours are concerned -- in fact, I work from home -- but I do have school every morning from 9am to 12pm which means of necessity I need to be outside during that time and the walk home from school will probably be the hottest time of the day, unfortunately.

As far as clothing suggestions: I am definitely planning on getting my hands on lots of light, loose clothing once I figure out just where the locals buy it. Even if I could find a pith helmet or panama hat, I'm afraid that's out -- hats rarely fit my head well -- either they squeeze my head (giving me a headache) or flop around on it loosely. I guess my head must be one of those in-between sizes. In any case, I really don't wear hats (except for stockingcaps in winter).

The galabaya might be an interesing choice in another Middle East country, but in Cairo it seems that they aren't generally worn except by the lower working class and poor. I'm worried that at best I'd look silly and at worst I might cause offense by wearing one. However, I do applaud the idea.

So, good ideas all around. Since AskMe's stick around for a while, I'll post mini-updates here on the thread as developments unfold.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:25 AM on May 29, 2007

Response by poster: Oh and my job involves working on a computer, so turning it off entirely is not an option. I do kinda like the idea of sleeping during the hot hours, though. Maybe a 6am-2pm, 8pm-2am day might do the trick, although I do like getting my 8 hours of undivided sleep.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:27 AM on May 29, 2007

Hey there. Lots of good advice, but I can't see if anyone's suggested curtains. Yes, keep your windows closed during the day, but also try to keep as much sunlight out of your home.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:49 AM on May 29, 2007

I have a silk tanktop. I soak it in cold water. I put it on.

Silk dries quickly and it cools my entire trunk. I've re-wet my tanktop six times in an afternoon before. It definitely makes everything better. Anything that dries quickly would work for just feels so classy.
posted by crinklebat at 11:11 AM on May 29, 2007

get a nice short haircut for starters, buzzed off if possible

and during the day i'd cover the windows so keep sunlight from pouring in which will heat the heck out of your place....if you can get some reflective stuff that would be ideal but white fabric will work
posted by Salvatorparadise at 11:28 AM on May 29, 2007

Might want to have a look at a cooling vest. They cost you a little bit, but if you are stuck inside, they could make you feel alot better.
posted by bigmusic at 1:20 PM on May 29, 2007

If you are the type of person who can bear exercising in the heat (with plenty of water!), about 5 days of it will acclimate your body and make you sweat much more efficiently. Ease into it though, or you'll get heat stroke. I lived in Palm Springs, and got to the point where I could go jogging in 105 degree heat (water water water). For years afterward it would take 100 plus degree heat for me to even notice.

What makes things really unbearable are hot nights, hopefully you wont have that issue, as the desert usually gets incredibly cold at night.

I hope you have an energy efficient laptop computer, as your average desktop seems to generate about 300Watts of heat.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:43 PM on May 29, 2007

Best answer: UPDATE: I didn't get the apartment I thought I would. The one I did get has an AC unit. Been using it sparingly though--I mean, this week it's only gotten to the low 30s. I'm practically freezing in here!
posted by Deathalicious at 3:43 PM on July 4, 2007

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