6 Cheap Ways To Stay Cool Without Air Conditioning

Some like it hot. Some like it as cold as ice. But if you’re living without air conditioning and stuck sweating it out in a hot house or trying to get some sleep in a sweltering apartment, then chances are you’re feeling a little too hot to handle these days.

Various zones around the world are experiencing a heat wave of sorts this summer. My home province, British Columbia, is currently roasting at 38 degrees Celsius, that’s just over 100F. I’m sure my American friends in Texas and Las Vegas are thinking me a lightweight. But if you’re not acclimatized to dang hot weather and don’t have air conditioning, then coming home after work feels like getting out of the frying pan and into the fire.

ceiling fans air conditioning ice

Since I’d rather be as cool as a cucumber at night, I’ve found some hot ways to stay cool on the cheap. These DIY cooling tactics won’t replace central air or an air conditioner, but you just might feel more comfortable in the heat. Here are 6 cheap ways to stay cool without air conditioning:

1. Get a Fan

I’m not talking about becoming a Squawkfox fan on Facebook, but rather investing a little cold cash into a simple fan. There are many types of fans on the market these days and they vary in cost, power usage, and placement. Here are a few of the more popular types:

  • Ceiling Fan: Classic ceiling fans are a frugal way to put the freeze on the summer heat. Ceiling fans are amazing for moving air in a larger room and can circulate the stuffy out of any situation. They start around $40 and can go up to hundreds of dollars depending on size, power, blade number, and style. Standard 30-inch 6-blade ceiling fans are best suited for medium-sized rooms up to 8 x 10, such as a small kitchen or bedroom. If your room is bigger, then you’ll need a larger fan to fit.
  • Tower Fan: A tower fan is a large upright fan that uses an internally rotating cylinder to move lots of air quickly and efficiently. Many tower fans also contain an air filter so they’ll clean and freshen the air as it circulates. They cost around $30 for a small unit and up to $120 for bigger towers. If you’re into using remote controls to cool your environment and have allergies, then a tower fan just may be your best friend.
  • Window Fan: A window fan is great if you’re short on space, have a low ceiling, or just want your fan out of sight. Window fans keep you cool by mounting directly into a window and can easily be moved to any room with a window view – so you can stay cool in your living room in the evening and then chill out in your bedroom at night. Many window fans do double duty since they can be used to draw in fresh, cool air from outside or to exhaust stale, hot air from the inside. They cost around $40 and are easily stored in a closet until they are needed next.

2. Turn ON The Blower

Running the blower (or fan) for your centreal heating system will move air around your home and give you some heat relief. Turning on the blower won’t keep you chilled like air conditioning, but you’ll take the stuffy out of upper floors and move stale air from main floors. The blower will also move cool air from the basement to the rest of the house.

3. Move Into Your Basement

If your home is blazing hot and you can’t handle the heat upstairs, try sleeping in the basement to cool your costs. Setting up a bed and sleeping below ground is free and can help you catch some ZZZs when the weather is unbearable. I’ve spent most of this summer slumbering in my basement and I think it’s an awesome use for an often unloved space. If you’ve got kiddlets then make it a game and lay out some sleeping bags and pretend you’re camping. You may just have some frugal fun while you’re at it.

4. Plant a Tree

Planting trees on the south side of your home can help reduce summer cooling costs. Deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in the fall, provide ample shade in the summer, keeping your home cooler while letting more warming light through in the winter. Planting trees around your home can have the added bonus of increasing your property value too. A smaller deciduous tree costs around $50 and can pay for itself in energy savings and increased property value.

5. Close Drapes and Blinds

Your existing drapes and blinds can be closed to shut out the heat during the day and opened to keep you cooler at night. Drapes tend to shield you from sizzling summer heat by shading your home from the hot afternoon sunlight. So don’t forget to shut the blinds before heading for work and open them at night to chill a room out.

6. Find a Friend

Finding a friend with air conditioning may be a cool move if you’re living without drapes, don’t have a basement, or prefer to live fan-free. Cool friends boasting a place to “chill-out” might just prove golden for the hottest of summer nights. So if you can’t handle the heat, then be sure to bring your besty a bottle of summer spirits for helping you out in a hot situation. ‘Cause that’s what friends are for.

Got any cool tips for keeping your place chill in the hot summer months? Share away!

Your two cents:

  1. Davina July 31st, 2009

    Hi Kerry. I’m making good use of my fan I can tell you that. The type of fabric you wear helps too; as I’m sure you know, 100% cotton breathes better than other fabrics.

    And to stay hydrated, besides drinking lots of fluid, avoid caffeine, alcohol and drinks with lots of sugar in them as they cause the body to loose fluid.

  2. Bleu July 31st, 2009

    Putting a cold washcloth behind your neck will provide some temporary relief, as will holding your wrists beneath cold running water for a few seconds.

  3. Carla | Green and Chic August 1st, 2009

    Using a cooling vest and other personal cooling devices when the weather is 80 and above saves me from feeling ill due to MS. For those who need it, there are a lot of different types and styles out there. Google search: MS cooling devices or personal cooling devices.

  4. Joe August 2nd, 2009

    1. Close drapes and blinds while away at work.
    2. Drink water (repeat)
    3. Buy a low-cost air conditioning for your house/flat/room to sleep better at night.

    And please, don’t drive the car around to simply benefit from the air conditioning. Burning up fuel to cool you down is NOT frugal … at all.

    Stay cool!

  5. Eris August 2nd, 2009

    I’m disappointed that 3 of these are only for people with Houses. What about all us apartment dwellers? Most of us have some form of radiator heat (no blower), no basement, and can’t really get a tree in front of our windows.

  6. Jan August 2nd, 2009

    Well, three out of six isnt bad.

  7. Kerry August 2nd, 2009

    @Davina Ohh I know I’m supposed to stay hydrated. But a nice glass of vino sure makes the heat taste sweet. 🙂

    @Bleu I just placed an ice cold washcloth on my dog’s head. She loves your suggestion!

    @Carla I’ve never heard of a cooling vest. Very cool tool. 🙂

    @Joe Awesome suggestions…especially with regards to driving.

    @Eris I was an apartment dweller for decades and I feel your pain. Depending on your rental there may be limited options for getting cool in the heat. When I rented I steered clear of upper floor units due to the heat. I’ve always lived in basement suites and lower levels to stay cooler in the summer. Lower level units are also a frugal bonus because they tend to cost less than upper units. If you’re still “hot stuff” in your apartment unit it may make sense to get an inexpensive air conditioning unit for your place – one you can move with.

    @Jan Guess 50% is pretty darn good. I like your math. 😉

  8. dave August 3rd, 2009

    My 2 cents? DO NOT buy the ‘made in china’ A/C unit… I’m a A/C tech in the industry for 30 years and have found the compressors on these units do not last or endure… You’ll be tossing it in a landfill somewhere within 2 or 3 years depending on where you live and how much you run it or paying to have the refrigerant recycled and possibly the components… It’s getting difficult or impossible to purchase USA made units similar to these communist-made units but you gotta demand it from providers… We have established standards for a reason; USA mfrs already know what it takes to provide quality products, we’ve been doing it for years… ‘Getting a fan’ only blows around hot air, if it’s 85°F then you’re only blowing around 85°.
    A/C is for comfort mostly and in some cases necessary for equipment function.. Computer rooms come to mind..
    The average homeowner needs to know to clean systems regularly each year, keep filters clean.. Wash away dust or dirt accumulated in cooling/condensing coils on a regular basis.. cheers, kooler

  9. aman August 3rd, 2009

    Great post. Cool tips to cool. Most of your links to the products are directed to Amazon US and NOT Amazon Canada, which is sad. I hope future links will be towards Amazon Canada.

  10. Adrienne August 4th, 2009

    Thanks for the ideas Kerry! I’ve been reading your blog ever since I used your resume tips (thanks!) this past spring.

    I live in a 3rd floor condo, and my poor husband has to work from home all day in the heat. We’re much too cheap to pay for A/C so here’s how we’ve stayed as cool as possible:
    – keep as many inside doors closed as possible. Even though its hard to get air circulation in a condo, its easier for a fan to cool down smaller spaces.
    – of course hydrate as much as possible, and use lots of ice!
    – ice cold showers… often multiple times a day
    – put a bowl of ice water in front of your fan – you’d be surprised how much difference it makes!

  11. Bleu August 4th, 2009

    These are such great ideas that everyone is sharing.

    Adrienne, I read somewhere that taking a tepid shower is actually a better way to stay cool than taking a cold shower, because a cold shower causes the body to work harder to adjust to the heat afterward. I haven’t tested that theory, though.

  12. passingby August 5th, 2009

    i guess you forgot shopping-malls.

  13. Kerry August 5th, 2009

    @passingby My goal is to keep you guys outta the shopping malls. 😉

  14. Alex August 5th, 2009

    Here’s another tip:
    buy reflective plastic film, cut to cover a window, wet the window with water, and attach the film. The film will stick without any glue and is easy to take off. Just be careful to get any air bubbles out from under the film. If it does fall off, try adding some soap to the water.
    There are kinds of film, which are reflective, yet they do let some amount of light through, so it won’t get totally dark in the room. If you can’t find that, you can still use the opaque film, but you probably don’t want to cover the entire window. It will help, though, even if you cover the window only partially.
    The cost – next to nothing.
    The effect – you’ll be amazed, how cool it can be even in rooms with windows facing south.

  15. BigAssSuperstar August 6th, 2009

    With the dehumidifier running so much this summer, our basement is usually hotter than the upstairs!

    We have a heat recovery ventilator that we run in the winter, but the installer told us not to bother running it in the heat and humidity, since it, well, brings hot and humid air inside as fresh air, which would just make things worse. So far we’re surviving with ceiling fans and strategically opened windows.

  16. Justin August 8th, 2009

    Another way to cool is to fill a pan with ice water and set it under the fan so it blows over the top of the water. It will create a cool breeze for the room.

  17. Frugal Trenches August 11th, 2009

    Great post! I also put a cool cloth on the back of my neck and that really helps!

  18. Meaghan August 13th, 2009

    take advantage of stores and shopping malls that are blasting their air conditioning…just be sure not to blow your money in the store!

  19. Susanne August 14th, 2009

    I have window fans in all three bedrooms upstairs, and two ceiling fans downstairs.
    When I was pregnant we used a block of ice in front of the fan to chill the air. Cheap and works great. I had an airconditioner, but the problem is that the unit was not very effective on the fan setting and much to heavy to remove on a cooler night so it had to be run on the a/c setting permanently which cost a lot of hydro $$.
    We have curtains on all our windows, you’d be surprised at how much of a difference even a bamboo blind or a sheer can make, for both heat or chill. Open all the windows and acclimatize. I use a horse trough for the kiddies to splash in to keep them cool. Or just douse my head in cold water… faster than the shower and works at cooling me off.

  20. roberto August 19th, 2009

    Strangely enough I find the 6th tip to be the most valuable. You get to connect with friends and relax from the heat. A win win situation. If you can’t find anyone to visit then try taking a nice long stroll at the shopping mall and window shop a little.

  21. Erin May 20th, 2010

    Great tips! One thing though: if you’re going to sleep in your basement, make sure you have at least TWO exits in case of fire, and if one of them is a window, practice getting out of it quickly.

  22. Nicole August 18th, 2010

    Frugal is one thing, but I STRONGLY object to what Meaghun suggested. It is wrong to go into a business and use a resource and not make a purchase. I don’t care if it’s air conditioning or soap and toilet paper. You are costing that business owner money, and those amenities are provided as a courtesy to the business’ paying customers. How about instead of leeching (You don’t have to like the word “leech”, but if you are one, accept that you’re being called on your BS and if you have a problem with it, STOP LEECHING!), you make a small purchase in consideration of the business? You wouldn’t go to a friend or family member’s house when it suited you just to use their AC or bathroom without providing something (even if in this case it was just your companionship) in return would you? And if you would, you’re no kind of friend I would want… Think about the fact that you are not contributing, and that YOU are partly to blame for costs going up. Why do you think some places have access only under lock and key now? Because IT’S. FOR. CUSTOMERS! If you’re not a customer, you don’t belong in the store, and are loitering. Also known as trespassing, or… just being a bum.

  23. Jace June 13th, 2011

    Find the free night at your local museum, or go to the library. Also the beach or sitting under a shady tree. Sometimes just sitting with your feet in a bucket of cool water.

  24. Linda June 18th, 2011

    I’m an apartment dweller with a south facing, sliding glass door. Sunny! I plant climbing Malabar spinach and pole beans in pots in front of the door. As the plants climb, they create a cooling – and edible – curtain.

    Since my apartment is on the top floor, I must admit I really enjoy heading into an air-conditioned environment periodically, even if only for half and hour. The public library is a great place to chill.

  25. dan July 10th, 2011

    I like to sleep with the ac but dont want to ac the whole house so I tape a plastic tarp over one air conditioner duct and put a cot underneath it to act like a tent. I block off the other ducts.

  26. Terri September 3rd, 2011

    You can also wrap a couple of gel ice packs in pillow cases. Great to sleep with too!

  27. Lynda September 11th, 2011

    We keep our windows closed during the hottest part of the day and run fans inside, then once the outside temps drop in the evening, we use multiple window fans to draw cooler air through the house. Also, we put exterior bamboo blinds on the west facing windows that do not get shade, they help more than interior shades from the blasting afternoon sun.

  28. Elizab eth March 18th, 2012

    I love frozen grapes. A handful really cools me off during the hot weather and they are good for you too!

  29. J and J May 7th, 2012

    I’m not sure about anyone here but here where I live people buy rubbing alcohol and rub it on their arms and legs to open the pores on your skin to let more airflow into your body. I never tried it but working at a retail store I’ve notice I’m always pushing rubbing alcohol like crazy at any given season. Curiousity kicks in and I asked a customer why buy alcohol since first aid season is over, he replies ” Are you serious, we use alcohol to cool our bodies” o…k I said to myself, but I’m asuming by the winterfresh alcohol, you don’t want to be smelling so much of the pure alcohol…

  30. concerned June 29th, 2012

    @J and J
    DO NOT use rubbing alcohol! It’s toxic to the body once it absorbs into your skin. It an all to common misnomer that you should use rubbing alcohol. You can do some net research to verify what I’m saying.

    -peace

  31. MKEgal July 7th, 2012

    Rubbing alcohol does not absorb into the skin. Yes, if you drink it it’s bad for you, but on the skin (esp. in front of a fan) it evaporates quickly, which cools you. I have a large bottle & a washcloth sitting by the couch, & there’s a fan 3′ away, blowing on me.

    Someone mentioned gel ice packs. I have a couple of small blocks, meant for lunchboxes, maybe 2x4x1″. Wrapped in washcloths, they’re perfect to tuck under my arms. Lots of blood flows through your armpits, so this helps cool more of you quicker. (And for the better-endowed women, they can be tucked under the breasts too.)

  32. Darwin July 11th, 2012

    Open windows on east or north side of home and elevate a box fan in front of a west or south window.Place fan so air blows out of house.This will pull air from cooler sides and vent on hotter sides.And create wind tunnel effect.Also it pulls air from top side of home and vents it ,as hot air rises and cooler air falls

  33. Farm Girl July 12th, 2012

    My bedroom is on the south side of the house and it does not get shade!! i keep my blinds turned upward because it blocks out more sunlight so less sunlight=less heat. i crack my window open about 3-4 inches. I keep a smallish floor fan on my dresser and keep ot on medium to high.(putting ice water in front of it helps too!) I keep my door open and it faces north so it keeps the draft from the fan to the door to the window so it keeps my room comfortable with the air flow! I also like to freeze water in to large solid ice blocks and put them in gallon ziplock bags and put them under my neck when i am relaxing! (it helps with headaches too!) Then i just sit back and enjoy the cool air!! :]

  34. Amber August 7th, 2012

    Oe thing I did for my kids to keep them from overheating during the night and day was to buy dollar store couch pillow covers (lil ones) with a zip up or Velcro fastening and stick dollar store ice packs (frozen) inside. The fabric is thick enough to not allow frostbite when in constant contact with skin but thin enough for the child to feel the coldness. Lasts a good 3 hours and with three cranky children…it’s asolution

  35. Scott January 31st, 2013

    There is a company called Black Ice Cooling that makes an amazing product called the Cool Collar. You freeze it in ice water, the fridge or freezer, then put it on the neoprene collar and put it around your neck. It keeps your neck VERY cool for about 90 minutes. If you have two of the units, you can rotate by wearing one and having another one in the fridge. It will easily freeze solid before the one you are wearing melts and loses its cool. But you can use them over and over and over again. Awesome invention and worth the money.

  36. tnxm September 7th, 2013

    I think you just on fan at number 3 then open window so that is not so hot ok at you just plant a small tree and make your thing nicely then not hot take bath with cold water put ice at your body then it will be ok call your friend to blow you with fan ok buy paper fan to fan your self 4 free ok

  37. Stephen January 29th, 2015

    Hello Kerry,

    I’ve been a long time fan of your blog (mostly cause it helps me do fun things while staying inside my budget) and I just spotted this post.

    So my problem is that most of these aren’t really useful for me. I live on the top floor of a rather old apartment building so it doesn’t have any kind of central air, I get the heat from all the units below me, and sadly my fan just doesn’t keep up with how warm it can get in Calgary somedays. I keep the blinds in my room closed and have the fan blowing on me directly but still I have to wash my sheets almost daily due to the amount of perspiration that comes off. any tips for keeping cool while apartment living?

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