Beating the Heat without Air Conditioning

We have lived without air conditioning for four summers now. 

Located in Northern California's Central Valley, where daytime temperatures soar into the 90s and 100s for up to three months or more, this has been a struggle at times.  Then we remember Native Americans, conquistadors and early pioneers endured the same and the hardship lessens.

Far from being martyrs, it began with lost jobs and a serious crimp in the family budget.  Food or AC?  The choice was clear.

How do you survive is the typical question. No, we do not spend countless hours in darkened movie theatres or wandering aimlessly in a cool mall.

Fortune smiles on us as unlike when living along Florida’s Gulf Coast, there is never smothering humidity here.

The house is completely tiled, making it cooler than carpeted houses.

There are no children to whine as the heat index rises. The cats are content with the occasional spritz of cold water as laying atop the sofa with cotton sheet coverings.

Here are some inexpensive, and mostly green, ways we have adapted.


A huge amount of heat is generated from our sun-filled side concrete walkway and fence.

Simply attaching two 8-foot by 6-foot tarps to the fence and eaves of the roof cut the temps at least 10-degrees.

Being that rain is rarely an issue from June until October, there is little chance pockets of water gathering

Another bonus is a friendly feral cat now uses one of them as her private hammock and her contented purrs can be heard in the afternoon.

 Creative gardening

With hanging recycled plastic bottles and containers, we expanded the garden to include the fences.  Not only did we gather peas, beans and spinach, but the vegetation absorbs most of the sun’s hot rays.

Plant a tree or redo a dying one

Tree shade provides much needed coolness.

Our small backyard has a peach, apricot and orange tree, along with a dead tree that provides a base for my clothesline. Unfortunately, the latter's bareness allows the afternoon’s searing western sun to cook one half of the house for hours.

Unable to afford a tree large enough to solve the problem, I stood outside the first year to ponder solutions. 

Then I noticed the neighbor’s wild grapevine hanging, like loose snakes, from their poplar tree. 

They did nothing to maintain the tree so I reached up and wrapped some vines into my tree's dead branches.  Within weeks vibrant, large and green leaves thickly festooned the tree and supplied the needed shade.

More bonuses arrive in late spring and early summer when young grape leaves are used for dolmas. In the fall we gather grapevine for crafts and fresh grapes.

Dress the part

Light-colored t-shirts are key.  I also adore an older seersucker dress as it allows air to move freely.

Close the window and block the sun

Depending on the coolness of the morning, the windows may be closed as early as 8:00 AM.  The deciding factor is simple.  If I feel more hot air then cool with my hand against the screen comfortable temperatures are being sucked outdoors.

I also use blinds, curtains and occasionally a lightweight blanket to block the sun and keep in the cool.

Eat light and cook early or outside

I recently read that the heavy use of AC could be a contributing factor to obesity. 

That makes perfect sense as weight is easy to shed when the summer heat keeps us from wanting to chow down on heavy food.  We naturally eat lighter and cooler fare.

Our garden provides much of the veggies and fruits we consume, and the blender is heavily used for smoothies and chilled soups.  

If I am baking, it is completed no later than 9:00 am to allow the oven’s heat to dissipate.

Cooking outside is another way to keep the kitchen cooler. Think about all those summer kitchens still found at places like Washington's Mount Vernon plantation in Virginia.  The only thing George wanted steamed was pudding on hot sticky summer days.

Become a fan of fans

Ceiling fans are used when the day is at its hottest. It will never replace AC, but is very comfortable when we sit under one to accomplish our tasks.

Most evenings we are blessed with the cool Delta breeze.  Placing a box fan in the bedroom brings us comfortable sleeping temps.

Appreciate humor, the power of persuasion and a garden hose

Recently, a ten-day heat wave of temps topping at 108-degrees gripped our region. 

By 5:00 pm our tempers were as heated as the outside. 

Project Cool-Down went into full operation.

Stripping down to our skivvies, we stood in buckets and turned on the garden hose.  In less than a minute we were drenched and had collected about 4 gallons of water for the garden.

Cooler and laughing at the craziness we wrapped up in thick towels and ran inside. There cool fan-powered breezes we sat with iced drinks and watched movies about cold places.

Doctor Zhivago, Cool Runnings and Fargo are a few used to lower our body temperatures - if only in our minds.

Living without AC has made not only us healthier - but our bank account as well.

It may not be for everyone - but it works for us.









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