Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Staying Cool


The last two days here in Maine were pretty hot, and while I know it's all relative, when one lives in a place where the average high temperature during the summer is in the 70s, and the mercury rises above 90°, it's hot. 

It got me thinking that I've spent a lot of time here talking about ways to stay warm, but I've neglected to address - in a post all by itself - how to stay cool.

For us, here at Chez Brown, it's opposite sides of the same coin.  We don't have central heat, which means we can't simply set our thermostat to keep our house at a regular 68°F during the winter.  We also don't have central air conditioning (or any artificial cooling for that matter), and so we can't set our thermostat to 78° during the summer.

In fact, while we do have a thermostat attached to our furnace, those who read here regularly know that it's just a thermometer.  The furnace hasn't been used since 2008.  We heat with wood, and so there's no thermostat. 

Most of the tips we use to stay warm during the winter can be used, in reverse, to stay cool in the summer.

Shade is your friend. 

Many years ago my family participated in a class where we learned all sorts of awesome outdoor "survival" skills.  The class wasn't about survival, though.  It was about reintroducing skills that our ancestors knew and used on a daily basis and helping us find ways to incorporate those skills back into our lives.

On one particularly hot day, our instructor moved us to the side of a granite-bedded stream in an area that was thickly shaded by deciduous trees.  Beside the stream bed in the deep shade of those lovely oaks and maples, we made birch bark baskets, staying cool and comfortable.

As modern folks, we've forgotten how to use shade to our advantage.

Inside my house - even without any artificial cooling - stays 5° to 10° cooler than the outside, and it's because we've learned to take advantage of the sun.

At night, we open the windows and turn on the window fans to draw in the cool, night air.  It's wonderful, because not only do we have this lovely cool air blowing over us at night while we sleep, but the white noise also drowns out the sounds of traffic on the road outside.

In the morning, when the sun is on the easterly side of the house, we close the heavy drapes and turn off the fan. 

As the sun moves around the house, we close and open windows and blinds or curtains, taking advantage of the shady sides of the house to help keep things cool.

Nothing Like Water.

One of the best ways for your body to regulate its own temperature is adequate hydration.  During the summer, we drink a lot of water and iced tea.  Yes, I do actually sweat a lot, but sweating is a good thing, as it's our body's natural cooling mechanism. 

Water is excellent for drinking, but it's also amazing for keeping us cool in other ways. 

Back to that class, we were sitting next to a stream, and we were able to put our feet in the stream.  One of the best ways I've found to cool myself quickly is to splash water on my feet and ankles, hands and forearms and face.  It's actually pretty amazing how much better I feel just from that very simple act.  

It's even better if I'm in an area where I can get a cool breeze and let the draft dry me.  It's like sweating, only without all of the salt. 

Cooling herbs.

One summer, we had a really awful hot day, and our power went out.  Not that it mattered to me, much, because having electricity didn't change the temperature inside my house. 

My neighbors, however, were an elderly couple and not having power WAS an issue for them.  I had ice packs in my freezer, which we put around their shoulders and neck to help them keep their bodies cooler.

I also filled a pan with cool water and added a few drops of peppermint essential oil. 

Several years ago, I switched to using Dr. Bonner's soaps, and one of the first flavors that we purchased was peppermint.  The first time I took a shower with it, my whole body tingled ... and felt cool. 

One day, I decided to take a bath, and I was using this soap.  It's hard to describe the feeling, but here I sat in this tub of warm water, but my body felt chilled, because of the soap.  That's when I discovered the power of peppermint to cool.

So, by the time my neighbors' power went out on that scorching day, I already knew how to help them stay cool, and putting their bare feet into a pan of peppermint water did the trick ... and the smell was lovely.

There's a reason those Southerners invented a mint-based drink for their summer cocktails - and it wasn't just an opportunity to showcase their Kentucky Bourbon.

Ice, Ice Baby

After living her entire life with a mom who is kind of over-the-top about creating a lower-energy lifestyle, Precious has learned a few tricks on staying cool when the mercury fills the thermometer.

The other day, when it was super hot here, I saw her walking around the house with a rice pack around her shoulders. 

We call them cold things and they stay in our freezer - all of the time.  When my children were younger, and they suffered a bump or bruise, they used the cold thing.  It's almost more effective than a kiss-to-make-it-better. 

In our non-AC home, we know that cooling off with a cold thing works.  So, she was putting the cold thing around her shoulders.  When I was still doing transcription, I would put a cold thing in my lap or at my feet while I typed.  On particularly sultry nights, someone is usually sleeping with a cold thing.


None of this is secret knowledge.  Most of what I know or have learned about staying warm or cool, I discovered by observing animals in nature.  When it's hot, the animals hunker down, usually in the shade.  A dog will dig a little shallow in the cool dirt and lay with his belly against the ground.  The chipmunk will dig a little burrow where he stays in the heat of the day.  A moose will find a nice stream or pond and get into the water.  The animals' techniques for staying cool work for us, too.

Humans have managed to survive and thrive in every climate on the earth for tens of thousands of years.  It's only been in the last hundred that we can no longer manage even the slightest fluctuation in our comfortable temperature range.

But if we learned to work with nature, instead of against her, our lives can be a whole lot more comfortable - even without all of our modern conveniences. 

1 comment:

  1. Great ideas! Well we'll use air conditioning in the one hundred plus degree temps in the summer here in Boise we also have ceiling fans and floor fans. We have heavy insulated curtains on all of our windows and that really helps keep the heat out at night. We also have a huge maple tree in our backyard on the left side which creates a huge amount of shade. Staying hydrated is key for sure as we have a really dry climate here. My grandparents used to take me camping out into the desert in a cabin when I was little and we always put wet hand towels on the back of her neck since we stayed in a cabin that had no AC and it was in the hundreds. We drank a lot of water and stayed in the shade and played card games. We dress for the weather and survive just fine. Right now I have our windows open and it's about 75 outside but we'll close them soon and keep the cool air inside. We also sometimes run our air conditioning/furnace floor fan by itself to just circulate the air and filter out the pollen. It moves here through the house into the warmer and cooler areas and helps it feel cooler.

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