Alternatives to Air Conditioning: Becoming Independently Cool

skylight open close up blue sky

Summertime means hot days. Ditch your dependence on the energy hungry AC and adopt these methods of staying cool instead.


I am blessed to live in a place where we don’t need air conditioning. The air is dry, and the nights are cool. A ceiling fan pulls the night air into the house, and I close the windows during the day in hot spells. When it’s not uncomfortably hot, I open windows on the south and north sides of the house to let the southern breeze blow through. Moving air is cooling, no matter how hot it is!

Eco air cooling

AC in not environmentally friendly. The compressors use a lot of energy to run, and the coolant releases greenhouse gasses in frightening numbers. Ironically, the refrigerant used before the 1980s was destroying the ozone layer. Its replacement in use now is disrupting the climate with CO2 emissions.

If you want to have a smaller carbon footprint and save some money on your utility bills, there are cleaner alternatives to conventional air conditioning. You may not be able to get away with them in the low desert (Tucson and Phoenix) or the muggy southeast (Florida). For less extreme climates, though, they are worth experimenting with.

Heating and cooling strategy at the planning stage

I’ll start with the big stuff. When you build or remodel, think of cooling as well as heating. Place windows facing the prevailing breeze and on the opposite side of the house to create a cross-breeze that will cool down the house. Moving air is cool air. Even 100 can feel like 90 with a slight breeze.

Install windows that are specific for your region and placement in your house. The right low-e windows can let in the sun without its heat.

Elements to add

Skylights or attic vents can be opened to allow hot air to escape. Aid its journey by opening windows on the cool, shady side of the house on the bottom floor. You will create a chimney effect that will suck out warm air and bring in cool air.

Insulation keeps hot air out in summer as much as it keeps cold air out in winter. Beef it up for year round energy savings. A light color roof will reflect the sun instead of absorbing the heat. Light colored drapes on windows keep the heat out, too. Ceiling fans moving counter clockwise pull in cool night air. Plant trees for shade on the west side of the house.

ceiling fan whirring

Evaporative coolers, or swamp coolers, are an energy efficient means of cooling in arid regions. Outdoor air is moved across a water source. As the water evaporates, it cools the air, which is then pumped into the house.

Simpler cooling and heat reduction during the summer

Maybe you’re a renter, or you’re not building or remodeling any time soon. There are simple ways for you to keep cool, too.

I already mentioned fans, opening windows to catch the breeze, leaving windows open at night (close them up during the day), and covering windows with drapes.

Cook as little as possible. That should be obvious! Grill outside, eat more fruits and salads, or buy pre-cooked meats and meals from the supermarket. Get take-out!

Try not to use other appliances if you don’t need to. Can you hang your clothes to dry instead of using the dryer? A retractable clothesline takes up no space in the yard or on a balcony. Indoors, you can use drying racks.

How about hand washing dishes instead of using the dishwasher? Light bulbs, TVs and stereo systems also give off heat.

Hang wet sheets over doors and windows. This will cool your space with the same principle as a swamp cooler.

Keep your own body heat down. Eat light, and stay hydrated. Eat cold foods as much as possible. What a great excuse to eat popsicles and ice cream!

Sleep outside. Pretend you’re camping. Make it an adventure in a tent in the backyard or on the porch.

Just another summer

We all struggle with the heat every summer, sometimes for months, sometimes for a short spell. Get creative about staying cool, save some money, and lower your carbon footprint. Fall will be here soon.

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