Keeping it Cool
April 26, 2004 7:45 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to cool down an upstairs apartment without air conditioning? (mi)

We live in West Hollywood, California and due to a spring heat wave that started this weekend, its 90 degree in our apartment (it was 100 degrees today). All the windows are open, the shades are closed, and the living room and two bedrooms have two standing and one ceiling fan running on high in each room. The front and back doors can't be open because we don't want the animals (3 cats and 1 dog) to go outside (our landlord won't let us have screen doors). Last night, we kept all the fans on low, and then turned them to high when we woke up. We've lived here for four years, and we dread hot weather because we bake.
posted by lola to Home & Garden (28 answers total)
I know someone who places a shallow tray of ice cubes directly in front of the fan. Sort of Raymond Chandler-era, but it apparently helps.
posted by philfromhavelock at 7:56 PM on April 26, 2004 [1 favorite]

Meh. It's been stupid hot the last couple of days. I feel your pain - I live near downtown L.A., and I too have no air conditioning. (Well, I have an air conditioning unit, but I live in a loft and it basically just cools the few feet directly in front of it.) I have managed to keep it reasonably cool, but I don't know if you can do any of these things, since apartments have different rules than live/work spaces like mine, but here are a couple of ideas.

Try a window fan, or a box fan in a window, pointing out. This pulls the hot air from inside and blows it out. Combine that with a few oscillating fans or directional fans in the apartment.

Get reflective tint for your windows. Some landlords won't allow this, but my grandmother, who lives in Phoenix, swears by the stuff. She has reflective tint on all the windows in her place and swears it's dropped the temperature in her place by 15 degrees in the summer.

Hope that helps.. maybe you can find a used window A/C unit on Craiglist??
posted by bedhead at 7:56 PM on April 26, 2004

Short of central air, I would suggest a whole house fan. Those suckers move some serious air. I've seen doors slam shut and curtains suck in at 30 degree angles when they come on. For those that have them, they swear by them. They cost about $200.00 to install and are worth every penny. Do you own the house, is it a possiblity for you? If so, I'd hit the home improvement megamart and start pricing and asking the gray-hairs about them.

I once knew a man who figured out how to circulate cold water through his water/radiant heating system. It actually seemed to cool the house down. It was well water and the water temp was about 60 degrees, in Michigan... so I guess that helped a fair amount. Probably not much use in LA
posted by Dean_Paxton at 8:09 PM on April 26, 2004

Sorry, I totally missed the whole "...our landlord..." part. Well, there are free-standing and portable air conditioning units. I know that specifically what you didn't ask for but, given the limited options, it's the best way to deliver real cold, really fast.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 8:14 PM on April 26, 2004

Getting air circulating through the house at night is good for cooling down.

You said you cant have screen doors but what about those baby/dog gates you install across the bottom of a doorway?
posted by vacapinta at 8:20 PM on April 26, 2004

Would it help if you could get some of the air outside to come in? If your house is really stuffy, as bedhead says, put a box fan or windowsill fan in a window pointing *out.* This will push air out that window, and draw it in from all the others in the house. This should cool all the other rooms quickly, and eventually the room with the fan will cool down as well, once all the hot house air has been pushed out. You need to make a good seal around the fan in order for this to work. Use magazines or pillows if your window isn't the same size/shape as your fan. A circular fan, especially one on a stand, is useless for this. You need a box fan or windowsill fan. Those whole house fans look promising.

If the air outside is even hotter than your apartment, obviously you don't want to do this. But if opening your windows is generally a good thing, this will get the air exchanged faster.

Ceiling fans just stir up the air in the room, creating friction, and therefore heat. Unless they are cooling your body with direct airflow, turn them off.
posted by scarabic at 8:21 PM on April 26, 2004

My grandparents would open the house wide before bed, arrange fans for air flow (north-facing fans pointed in, south facing fans pointed out), and take turns waking up early to close all of the windows. Kept it sealed like a clean room all day. Of course, if the nights are hot too, you're probably screwed.
posted by Kwantsar at 8:22 PM on April 26, 2004

Agreed on the box fans-in-windows configuration. Think of it as turning your house into a computer case: fans on one side of the house blowing hot air out, and fans on the other side drawing cooler air in. Even if the outside air temperature isn't much better, the movement of air truly matters.

Also, if you're going to try the ice method, find a local grocery or food supplier that sells dry ice, preferably in huge blocks. Not only is it colder than normal water ice, but it also sublimates, preventing incidents involving spilled water.
posted by Danelope at 8:29 PM on April 26, 2004

Response by poster: Try a window fan, or a box fan in a window, pointing out.

We are cursed with casement windows (two windows that meet in the middle, hinged at the sides and are cranked open). Would it be possible use standing fans?
posted by lola at 8:38 PM on April 26, 2004

Ack. That window arrangement sounds tough. I guess I would second others' suggestions to use a second fan on the other side of the house pointing in. Just do your best with positioning them, and try to seal the gaps as best you can.

Dry ice is wonderful stuff. But isn't it usually CO2? I might think twice about how much to introduce to your home. Not that CO2 is all that toxic, but I guess just make sure you're well-ventilated if you're going to use it.
posted by scarabic at 8:52 PM on April 26, 2004

Hmm... I'd be a little leery of dry ice if you have animals — isn't there a possibility that the CO2 will accumulate on the floor & suffocate them? Of course, if you've got all the windows open, it probably wouldn't be an issue, but if I was in your place I'd find a place that sells blocks of ice instead.

Quonsar Jr.'s suggestion is a good one, too. You basically want to close the place up tight as a drum as soon as the outdoor temperature rises above the indoor temperature.
This basic arrangement has gotten me through two Chicago heat waves thus far.

Finally, if any side of your apartment has a particularly large number of trees on it, set up the air circulation at night so that it draws air from that side. It's amazing how much the transpiration of water from the leaves cools down the air at night.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:01 PM on April 26, 2004

This diagram might help:

How to Make your own air conditioner
posted by o2b at 9:09 PM on April 26, 2004

Response by poster: A circular fan, especially one on a stand, is useless for this. You need a box fan or windowsill fan.

scarabic, I overlooked your comment that answered my previous question. Thanks.
posted by lola at 9:12 PM on April 26, 2004

Does your lease forbid air conditioners? They're not expensive at all (150 will get you one that will last for years).
posted by amberglow at 9:18 PM on April 26, 2004

If skilfully employed, a box fan, some plywood, and some cardboard might overcome the casement window problem.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:19 PM on April 26, 2004

isn't there a possibility that the CO2 will accumulate on the floor & suffocate them

Well, the implication was that there would be a good circulation of air moving through the space. Google tells me that a pound of dry ice yields 8.3 cubic feet of carbon dioxide gas. Compared to the cubic feet inside of an apartment, I'm not sure this is significant amount to present a hazard. But don't take my word for it. (Buh-doomp DOOMP!)
posted by Danelope at 9:26 PM on April 26, 2004

Ahh, well. The good people at the Straight Dope apparently set me straight. Sorry I killed your pets. But hey, you can use all that dry ice to preserve them forever!
posted by Danelope at 9:29 PM on April 26, 2004

I'm a little confused RE: casement windows. Couldn't you just turn a fan like this sideways? That's what I did at college, and it worked fine.
posted by Hildago at 9:56 PM on April 26, 2004

I survived two blistering Chicago summers without air conditioning by taking long cool showers before bed, then climbing right in without drying off at all and letting the ceiling fan blow directly on my wet self. Drinking ice water and sucking on ice cubes also helps. I know you're looking for suggestions on keeping your apartment cooler, but it's really all about feeling cooler, so don't overlook the simple solutions.
posted by bonheur at 10:02 PM on April 26, 2004

All the windows are open, the shades are closed,

try opening the shades. You won't get any airflow even with open windows if there's anything covering the window. Even a screen in my experience prevents the flow.

you have my sympathy. right now i'm sweating in my upstairs room as well. Weird weather were getting in california.
posted by Miles Long at 10:19 PM on April 26, 2004

I can't have a window air conditioner either -- bedroom window slides horizontally and has burglar bars in front of it, and my other window is a sliding glass door in the kitchen. So I bought a portable air conditioner last year, and I'm very happy with it. It's got an exhaust hose for the hot air to go out the window (and there's an aluminum fitting to block the gaps around the hose), and it cools my small bedroom very nicely. (Last summer, I usually ran it for 30 mins. or so right before I went to bed. If I went to bed with it running, I'd wake up freezing at 2am.)

You may also want to look at James Dulley's website. He's an engineer who writes a newspaper column about energy efficiency. Here are his reports on window film, whole-house fans, and portable A/C units. (I sprung for the complete buyer's guide on the portable A/C units before I bought mine, and it was well worth the $3.)
posted by Vidiot at 11:09 PM on April 26, 2004

I have no personal experience with this, but evaporative cooling systems sound interesting (supposed to work best in dry heat areas such as California), and there are portable units, some of which are pretty inexpensive and seem like they would at least keep your immediate area cooled.
posted by taz at 2:02 AM on April 27, 2004

One trick to keep in mind with window fans is that they work much better if you can mount them at the top of your windows so you're blowing out all the hot air that's risen up there. In fact, you may even be able to get good circulation by mounting a fan up top that blows out and leaving the bottom half of the window open to pull cooler air in.

I've used this technique in our small kitchen to great effect. It used to be exhausting to cook in summer, because all the heat from the oven and stove just rose to the ceiling and stayed there. It was worse for me, being half a foot taller than my wife. I could feel the difference if I bent down. Once I put the fan up top in the window and got it going, the heat problem was gone.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:05 AM on April 27, 2004

Vidiot, James Dulley's website is an exceptional resource. thanks.

Lola, having a fan pointed right at you helps a lot. Drink lots of cold beverages. How are the pets coping? My dog likes to chew ice cubes. Consider clipping any longhaired pets.
posted by theora55 at 7:54 AM on April 27, 2004

re: evaporative cooling systems

If the humidity is low, these can work very well. I grew up with a swamp cooler and have one at my house now. The only time that it doesn't work is when the monsoon drives the humidity up. I have never tried the portable units, though.
posted by eckeric at 9:22 AM on April 27, 2004

I live in LA as well. By the tar pits, in one of those old spanish buildings sans air conditioning. While I ditto the box fan suggestions, I've also found that keeping the windows closed and the shades drawn all day helps to keep the temperatures down. Maybe it's because of the stucco, but these old buildings do a good job of retaining their interior temperatures. If your building is similar, you may want to try everything in your power to cool the place by night, then keep as much warm outside air and sunshine out of your apartment as possible.

Also, it helps to spend a lot of time at the library, movie theater, or shopping mall. $1.25 Starbucks coffee is a small price to pay for 2 hours of air conditioned relief!
posted by herc at 9:40 AM on April 27, 2004

Evaporative coolers do not work at all in humid areas and, if the humidity is high enough, can actually make things worse.
posted by dg at 4:48 PM on April 27, 2004

My approach was to take a cheap fan, put some eyebolts through the base and hand it upside down from plant hooks in the ceiling, pointing out on one side of the apartment and in on the other. I set them to turn on at 3:00 via a timer and off sometime during the night. The kept the temperature manageable.
posted by plinth at 5:09 PM on April 27, 2004

« Older Why can't my PC access eBay suddenly?   |   Roasted Salted Nuts Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.