16 July 2013

Top 3 tips for keepin' cool inside during an Excessive Heat Warning

Here at the homestead we're in the middle of an official Excessive Heat Warning, a severe weather condition where there is "heat index of at least 105 F [41 C] for more than 3 hours per day for 2 consecutive days, or heat index more than 115 F [46 C] for any period of time." In the mid-Atlantic we experience a spell of the former situation a few times every summer. Here's how Rowhouse Livin' prepares and bears!

1. Keep the thermostat up and use fans. We're blessed with a central air conditioning system in our home, but this tip works well with window-mounted room air conditioners, too. We set our thermostat at 78-82 F (25-27 C) (or set your window unit at "low" instead of "high") when the outside temperature begins to be unbearable. By itself, this air conditioner setting isn't the most comfortable, particularly if you're cooking or baking. However, when we use a box fan or two to stir the air around, we find it's totally acceptable.

It's not cool, or high-rise office building cold, but you know, nobody promised you a meat locker. That is to say, there's no reason to keep your home 35-40 degrees (20 degrees C) below the outside temperature. It's wasteful of your own money; it burdens the power grid; and, anecdotally, it makes you whinier about the heat outside when you contrast it to the bone-chilling cool inside.

The only risk here is what happens in some tragic cases during city heat waves. Some fatalities are caused by people running fans with their windows closed, while not running air conditioners at all. Without letting the heat escape through a window (or an air conditioner) in some way, fans simply turn the home into a convection oven (PDF, section 4.2.2). So don't try this tip without an air conditioner! It's a strategy for lowering the electric bill by cutting back on air conditioning, not by eliminating it completely.

2. Keep a jug of water in the fridge. This practice was standard operating procedure when I was a kid. Today, during a heat wave I'll fill a 2-quart pitcher with cold tap water and pop it in the fridge in the morning. I'll top it off with more water if we don't finish it by the end of the day, and I'll clean it a few times per week. It's devilishly refreshing to gulp down a glass or two of water after running errand in the heat, or hauling groceries or a briefcase home on foot.

Plus, tap water is cheaper than sweet mixes, sodapop, and instant iced tea. And it won't add empty calories to your diet while you're cooling down your core.

3. Keep your clothing loose and cool. And here's where you learn too much about me. I wear a housedress in the summer. Instead of wearing a t-shirt and jeans, khakis, or even shorts, I put on an old, oversized, sack-like sundress. It's a thin cotton weave, so it allows circulating air to touch my skin and keep me cool. It's old and stained, so I don't care if it gets dirty while I'm doing housework. It's ugly, so it gives my daughter an opportunity to roll her eyes at me and think I'm goofy. But I like it, because it helps me tolerate a higher setting on the thermostat when we get this ridiculous weather.

Now, if only it had pockets. Maybe I'll haul out the sewing machine and add one or two once the heatwave breaks.

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