Heatwave alert: How to cope with hot weather when you have no air con
Is the sun your friend or enemy? Here are some ways to cope with hot weather in countries that are ill equipped for a heatwave…
I live in a temperate isle. That means our weather is fit for hobbits, ranging from ‘rather lovely’ to ‘quite unpleasant’ with a few extremes of bitter cold and semi-scorching heat on either side.
And yes, I did use the word ‘scorching’ to reference the UK. Seriously; every summer we get enough sun that it literally burns my plants.
The good news is that we rarely get anything much tougher to deal with than ‘ugh, what vile weather’. The bad news is that we simply don’t have the national infrastructure in place to deal with a truly bitter freeze – the kind most likely to put vulnerable people at risk – or, for that matter, a sultry heatwave.
In a place like Spain, upwards of 33 degrees is a standard summer. The houses are built for it. The land, buildings and people understand the fierce heat that awaits. It’s why siesta was invented. In a place like England, several days of 30 degrees or more means that THE WORLD, IT BURNS.
These tips may help you get through your own heatwave if you don’t have air con, you don’t live in a whitewashed house with thick walls, and you’re in all ways completely unprepared for anything more than a touch of sun behind the clouds and a light breeze.
Dealing with hot weather is a serious business. It’s important to keep yourself, your pets and loved ones as cool and comfortable as you can. Especially when we are dealing with lockdown languor and underlying stress that could bubble up like lava from a once-dormant volcano on top of everything else.
A cold wet towel is a quick way to combat heatwave
This is a trick I taught myself through necessity when travelling through India in June one year. Temperatures of 42 degrees were the norm. If you rinse a towel in cold wet water and wring it out, you have a cool covering to use how you wish. Go to sleep under it. Throw it over your legs as you lounge on the sofa. Wrap it round your shoulders as you return from an essential work or shopping journey into the World of Lava outside.
Use your fridge or freezer to cool down cloths…
If you have space in your fridge, you can bag up a bedsheet and stick it in there to help you sleep more comfortably at night.
You can also place a wet cloth in the fridge for when you need it.
And yes, I have been known to bag up smaller items like pants, bras, playsuits or pillowcases and cool them down in the freezer. It’s a short-lived joy but deliciously refreshing and I regret nothing.
… Or just wear delightfully damp clothes.
I can’t say for certain if this is a guaranteed way to catch a summer cold or not, but I’ve found myself increasingly wearing wet clothes around the home on purpose. I am fully in touch with my inner pond hag on this matter. If I’m not in activewear (see my thoughts on working out as magic or ritual over at Luna Luna) you’re likely to catch me in playsuits or swimear dampened in a cool shower. If it’s not captured as evidence on a video work call, no-one has to know.
Know your body’s cooling points
The most prominent cooling points on your body are your neck and your wrists. Ensuring these are cool will help the rest of the body to regulate its temperature with the grace of an orchestra conductor, not a dog with a stick.
Ways to keep your wrists and neck cool can include liberal use of cooling mist sprays, or wrapping a cold wet cloth round them.
Wet wipes are often recommended but they’re single use and not very eco-friendly…
Also, your head is the closest thing to the sun. Making your hair damp can help you feel cooler for longer than a nanosecond as the water evaporates off over time.
Finally, get to know your psychological cooling points. I feel a whole lot better in hot weather if my feet are cool and damp, not hot and dry. I’ve nothing scientific to back this up; it simply works for me.
In this personal essay I am steadily revealing myself to be some kind of bipedal toad. I am okay with this. I suspect you are too. I see you, my Bufonidaeic friend.
Multiple lukewarm showers and drinks
I’m one of those people who keeps forgetting that cleanliness and grooming is wonderfully healthy, and best done regularly. My story? Firstly, I am Exceedingly Busy, and forget to do things that haven’t been prioritised. Secondly, I have Very Bad Hair, which shuns the water as a vampire does the noon sun. Too often, I treat water as a luxury, not a necessity. Not in a UK heatwave, though.
It’s fine to have multiple showers. They don’t have to be full-on affairs, but enough to cool down your core. You’ll immediately feel fresher and more capable. If you’ve ever seen the speed with which a wilting, apparently ‘dying’ tomato plant recovers to full strength when watered at the roots on a hot day, it’s like that. That wilting tomato plant springing miraculously back to attention is you after your third shower of the day.
A cold shower can shock the system, but lukewarm showers in hot weather will help you flourish once more.
Similarly, we all benefit when we rehydrate often.
Use open/closed doors and windows to your advantage
The minute the sun comes into your home – through a window, say – it’s going to come into contact with all manner of surfaces and generate heat.
You do not have air con. You do not have castle-thick walls designed to keep your home cellar-cool. You probably don’t have a whitewashed exterior reflecting away the sun’s heat from your home’s walls.
The only thing you do have is a degree of control over your doors, windows, and curtains.
Keep any doors, windows and curtains facing the sun closed. Do not let that sun enter. Forbid the sun entry at all times. It is an invader, not welcome in your home. You may be tempted to open a window, at least – but that will just let hot air in. Your home may look like a dark cave, but hopefully it will start to feel like one, as well.
You can, however, open any doors and windows that are in shade. This will help to draw heat out of the house as the air moves around.
If you don’t have curtains or blinds, this is not the time to be house-proud. Please – put comfort first, not aesthetics. A bedsheet slung over a window will do, if it helps to keep the sun out. Darker sheets are more likely to trap heat than lighter ones; if you have a choice, you can opt to use lighter-coloured sheets to block the sunlight in your windows. It’s your call. It’s not an entirely dualistic scenario, but dark curtains and sheets essentially keep out the light – and light curtains and sheets keep out the heat. Which will help you to sleep and function better in your waking hours?
Keep cooking to a minimum
An oven chunks out a lot of heat, and a hob brings its fair share of heat into the house, too. If possible, open doors and windows in the area where you cook by the evening time, when the sun has lost the majority of its power.
Consider cooking meals that don’t need an oven, and use as little hob or general cooking time as possible. If you’re a purist you can aim for raw plant food and salads all the way. And sandwiches. Sandwiches are one of life’s wonders. Pasta-based salads mean you’re only chunking cooking heat into the house for as long as it takes to cook the pasta.
I tend to go with ‘rice and something’ meals, where the majority of ‘cooking’ lies in prepping vegetables and spices. I boil water in a two-thirds water to rice ratio, cook the rice in the water in a lidded pan on a medium heat for ten minutes, then take the rice off the heat and leave it to finish softening for around six minutes just from the steam trapped by the pan’s lid. Whatever is happening to the vegetables tends to happen in under ten minutes of frying, sometimes with a splash of water to add steam to the cooking process.
If possible, include food with a high water content in your daily intake. Smoothies or tomatoes, for instance. It’s not a necessity, but helps you feel replenished. And you do need nutrients and salt to replace what you’ve lost through sweat, too.
Notch your skin survival up to Factor 50
Unburned skin may not necessarily make you feel directly cooler, but never underestimate the power of the sun; especially if, like me, you live in a country where sun is a welcome but rare visitor.
I treat going outside like going into a green and pleasant radzone. My white skin is prone to redness and burning, so it’s factor 50 on my face, factor 30 elsewhere. And wide-brimmed hats, if I think I’m going to be exposed to a long stretch of unbroken sunlight for any length of time. I hate hats. In summer, I learn to love hats. Mainly because I’ve suffered from heatstroke too many times.
If you are blessed with melanin, you are better-protected against the sun’s harmful rays. However, no-one is completely immune to sunburn or skin damage/disease related to the sun. Take care, loves. Love your skin, protect it, and stay out of direct sunlight for excess amounts of time – particularly when the sun’s heat is at its fiercest.
Fan + ice or wet towel = cool
Let us say you have a fan, because it’s cheaper than air conditioning. Do you have ice? If so, you can place a plate of ice in front of the fan and it will help cool the room a little more than with just the fan alone.
If you don’t have ice, do you have a towel? You can place or hang a cold wet towel in front of your fan and it will behave in much the same way. You don’t want to block the fan completely, just for safety reasons, but hanging your towel over a chair placed directly in front of the fan can work.
And best of all is when you wear intentionally damp clothes in the presence of a fan. It’s as close to heaven as you’re going to get when your home is hotter than the third circle of hell.
If your country calls it a heatwave, it is.
There’s not a lot to be gained in comparing what really constitutes a ‘heatwave’ in different countries with completely different climates.
You know if your home is too hot because of the hot weather, loves. And you are better-placed than anyone else to know when it’s getting so hot that it’s a problem.
Take care in the sun, and love it in all its summer splendour. Autumn will bring its own delights and changes, but for now, summer is here. Own it, and make the hot weather work in your favour if you possibly can.