Sweltering heat, wildfires, droughts — it’s hard to stay cool on an open grill. Yet, as climate change roasts the planet, many of the energy-intensive tools we use to combat the heat are only fueling global warming. Chief among them? Air conditioners, which are growing in popularity as temperatures climb. Yet AC gorges electricity — which is still primarily produced by fossil fuels — and emits greenhouse gasses called hydrofluorocarbons.
So the hotter the Earth becomes, the more our response will crank the temperature. Doesn’t sound sustainable, does it?
Yet, at the same time, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, including the most eco-conscious, willing to ditch their AC altogether. Instead, let’s compromise. It is possible to rely on air conditioning less frequently, using simple, sustainable methods to cope. With that spirit in mind, here are ten heat hacks to keep cool — without burning the planet.
1. Dine spicy
Heatwave? Have a habanero. A red hot pepper might not sound like the most appetizing — or intuitive — snack during the blazing summer months, but it will help keep you cool. That’s because of the naturally occurring chemical capsaicin, which triggers the body’s cooling system: it makes you sweat. Alternatively, if the idea of jalapenos in July doesn’t fire you up, limit the amount of meat in your diet. Protein puts your metabolism into overdrive — and the more your body works, the more water it consumes. Instead, opt for vegetables, fruits, and salads. Lose weight, not water.
2. Dress light and loose
Pale colors reflect light, so by swapping out the blacks, olives, and charcoals in your wardrobe for pastels and whites, you’re donning a sun-deflecting suit of armor. Likewise, the more restrictive your clothing is, the harder it is for your body to purge heat, so shed the tight clothes (within reason, of course) and loosen up — preferably exchanging synthetics for such natural fibers as cotton and linen — in short sleeves and shorts.
3. Stay hydrated
How many glasses of water should you drink a day? There is no one-gulp-fits-all formula, but consuming several glasses should be part of your day-to-day routine. The heat just makes it harder to stay hydrated. To combat this, steer clear of liquids that accelerate dehydration — including alcohol, energy drinks, and sugar-packed sodas — while consuming foods that naturally contain water, such as watermelon, strawberries, spinach, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Signs of dehydration to look out for include headaches, muscle cramps, and dark urine. If you’re experiencing any of these, especially after being in the heat or following a workout, you should find someplace cool and drink lots of — you guessed it — water.
4. Don’t just drink the water
Instead of pouring it into a glass, stream cold water across your wrists — one of the points on your body where you can feel your pulse. Other spots include your temples, neck, the insides of your elbows and knees, and the insides of your ankles. Your blood vessels are near the skin in these “pulse points,” so applying an ice pack or cold sponge will lower your body temperature quickly. Or if you want to settle back and relax, sink your feet into a tub or bucket of cold water.
5. Stay out of the light
As much as we know too much sun can damage us, we also crave it — especially if you live somewhere that endures winter. But if it’s possible, shelter indoors between 2 and 4 p.m. because although the sun is at its highest at noon — which you might assume is the hottest time of day — it takes a few hours for the atmosphere to reach peak-heat.
Put another way: wandering around mid-afternoon is like strolling into an oven after the timer has beeped to tell you dinner is ready. Wouldn’t you rather climb in when the oven is only getting warm or cooling off? By late afternoon, more heat is being expelled from the atmosphere than is coming in as the sun declines.
6. Ghost your oven
Speaking of kitchen appliances, avoid using your oven or stove unless you want to roast alongside the food you’re preparing. Instead, use a microwave or pressure cooker — or transport your meal outside to the grill. It will prevent the temperature from ticking up in sweltering surroundings and save money while reducing energy consumption.
7. Color your world — or at least your home
Color scheming your clothes is not the only way to shield you from what the sun throws at you. Switching up your décor can make a difference, too. Dark-colored curtains, for example, will insulate you from the heat — and minimize sun damage to your walls and furniture. Similarly, you can install mini-blinds or apply reflective film to your windows. If you want to heat-proof from the outside, paint your roof white.
8. Invest in a vertical garden
We all know the benefits of introducing plants to your home. For one thing, they filter pollutants and carbon dioxide, enhancing air quality. But so-called “green walls” or vertical gardens can also lower the air temperature. That means less AC, lower power costs, and less damage to the environment. For apartment dwellers who do not live in their own home, and don’t want vines crawling the walls, turning to waterproof, multi-tiered planters can prove just as effective.
9. Get a cool night’s sleep
You spend a third of the day sleeping, so being comfortably cool is critical. Among the quick hacks you can try at bedtime to help you snooze, take an ice pack — even ice swathed in a towel — to snuggle with, or simply drink a glass of cold water. And although there are cooling pillows and mattresses you can purchase, something as low-tech as sleeping under a damp sheet can do the trick just as well.
10. Create a chill cross breeze
If you’re cutting down on the AC, throw open the windows first thing in the morning — before it heats up outside — to get the air circulating through your home. If you’re impatient, invest in a fan — which consumes a fraction of the energy an air-conditioner does — to boost ventilation. Placing a bowl of ice in front of your fans will further help chill your surroundings.