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23 Jun 2022

How to keep cool without air conditioning

Air conditioning is expensive – and uses masses of energy. Here are some other ways to keep cool in a heatwave

Wandering into an air-conditioned shop or spending the day in an air-conditioned office can feel glorious when the weather is hot.

But, in a country where we only get a few weeks of hot weather each summer, most people don’t have that luxury at home. 

And while it’s possible to get air conditioning units installed, or to fork out for a portable air conditioner, they can be expensive and bulky and they use a lot of energy. 

In fact, an air conditioner will use the same amount of energy in one hour that a fridge uses in a day.

Read on for some other ways to help keep cool as the mercury rises.

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Use an electric fan – and use it well

Boy standing in front of electric fan

Usually a cheaper option than air conditioning, we test electric fans and can help you buy the best – be sure to check our electric fan reviews

Whether you opt for desk fan or a tower/pedestal fan, remember that a fan won’t cool the air; it will just move it around. You feel cooler because the breeze helps to evaporate moisture off your skin. So don’t bother leaving a fan on in a room with nobody in it, as you’re just wasting energy.

When setting your fan up, try to position it at the same height or lower than you, such as on the floor or a low table, with the unit pointing up. That will blow the cooler air up, rather than pushing warmer air (which rises to the top of a room) down onto you.

Discover more tips for getting the most out of your electric fan.

Ready to buy a fan? Read our guide to the best electric fans for 2022

Close your windows, blinds, and curtains in a heatwave

Woman shutting curtains

You might think that an open window will create a breeze, but,  unless you live near the sea where wind speeds tend to be higher, you won't necessarily feel as much benefit from it as you expect. 

Keep the windows shut when the air outside is warmer than inside, and you’ll keep warm air out of the house. Open the windows when the air outside is cooler. 

And, if you’ve ever stood in a greenhouse on a warm summer’s day, you’ll know what a heat-trap a sunny room can be. 

Make sure you pull curtains and blinds down to keep the sunshine out of bedrooms while they’re not in use.

Take a cool or lukewarm shower

Woman taking a shower

Don’t be tempted to turn the dial right round to freezing when having a shower. If your body is subjected to extreme cold, it will try to regulate its core temperature by retaining heat. It will then increase blood flow to your skin to warm it up, making you feel even hotter.

Taking a cold shower might make you feel better for a short time, but your best option is using cool or lukewarm water, and then letting yourself air dry rather than towel-drying yourself. 

The action of water evaporating off your skin will create a cooling effect on the surface of your skin. 

Wear the right clothes at night

Woman in cool pyjamas

Trying to sleep in a heatwave can be torture, and you may think the easiest way to keep cool at night is to completely strip off. 

In fact, it’s best to wear some clothes (although make sure they’re thin, loose and cotton-based), as they will act as a wick for your sweat, increasing the surface area for sweat to evaporate and helping you feel cooler.

Avoid feeling sweaty at night: check out our mattress reviews to find a mattress with a cooler feel. 

Eat cooling and hydrating food

Person eating a salad

In a heatwave, cold salads, chilled soups, pre-cooked meats and quiches, and fruit (think melon and citrus fruits) are quick and easy foods that don’t require cooking and save you from having to heat your home up further by turning on the hob or oven. 

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, says: 

‘Older people can be at risk of dehydration and overheating when it gets hot, especially if they live somewhere that is hard to keep cool. Drink plenty of fluids and eat normally, but be sure to include cold food, particularly salads and fruit which contain a lot of water and help us stay hydrated. 

Zhuzh up your summer salad: follow our tips on how to choose the best extra virgin olive oil.

When might an air conditioner be worthwhile?

Portable air conditioner

The tips we've rounded up can be useful, but if you’re spending a lot of time at home and you have a room that gets hot, even when the weather isn’t especially warm, it might be worth investing in a portable air conditioner.

This could be the case if the room is south facing, so gets a lot of sun, or if you keep valuable items in the room that you don’t want to overheat, such as computing equipment, models or artwork.

If you do decide to buy an air conditioner, check out our guide with advice on tips on buying the best portable air conditioners to ensure you get one that’s effective, quiet and doesn’t use too much energy, or head straight to our air conditioner reviews.

Watch out for the symptoms of overheating

Whatever steps you take to stay cool, watch out for symptoms such as:

  • muscle cramps in your arms, legs or stomach
  • confusion
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • extreme thirst
  • nausea or vomiting
  • heavy sweating
  • a fast pulse.

That's particularly important if you're more vulnerable to the heat. 

As we said before, as you get older, your body becomes less efficient at being able to warm up or cool down, and so can be more at risk of issues during extreme weather. 

For more information on how to protect yourself from the heat, you can call Age UK’s free advice line on 0800 169 6565 or visit Age Concern's advice for older adults in a heatwave.