8 surprisingly efficient ways to cool your home without air conditioning

Experts share how to beat the heat and cool your home without investing in AC

without air conditioning
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Do you really want to head back into the office—or are you just longing for that sweet, sweet office AC? If you’re living in an apartment building or older home that doesn’t have central air or air conditioning, the onset of another summer working from home might seem stifling—but there are certain tricks you can employ to cool your home and keep your space more comfortable throughout the warmer months.

Trying to get ahead of the dog days of summer? We spoke to a handful of heating and cooling experts to get their insights on how to keep the temperature in your apartment or house as low as possible—without needing to invest in costly air conditioning. From using literal ice cubes to strategic fan use, here’s how to keep your cool all summer long.

Consider opening your windows (strategically!)

“One thing that may seem obvious, but that often isn't done, is simply to open windows when the temperature is lower outdoors than indoors,” explains Allan Lake, Founder of Good Guys Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.

In fact, a study of heat pump operation in British Columbia, Canada (a heat pump is like an air conditioner but it can also provide heating) found that many participants are using heat pumps to cool the interior when outdoor temperatures are below typical interior temperatures.

“Why would someone be using AC when it's colder outdoors than inside? It's likely because they want to cool down the house before going to bed, and their insulated home is still retaining heat from the warmer part of the day,” says Lake. “Being aware of the situation and opening windows beforehand could reduce or eliminate the need for AC.”

Use ceiling fans to create a wind chill effect

Ceiling fans are also a great alternative when you don't have an AC unit or are looking to cut back on your energy footprint. “Make sure to run fans counterclockwise during the summer months, as this motion has the potential to cool the room by 4-7 degrees F,” explains Steve Truett, president of Aire Serv.

Cool the room with ice

“Pour a glass of water, dump ice cubes in it, and place your hand above the cup. The air feels cooler here, doesn't it?” According to Truett, you can supersize this cooling effect by putting a big block of ice on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish. “The cooling effect from the ice helps keep the room at a more comfortable temperature.”

Toss out old school incandescent lights and put up energy efficient ones

According to Truett, lighting accounts for up to 12 percent of your energy budget, and those old incandescent lights give off 90 percent of their energy as heat, thus warming up the room more than homeowners may realize. Replace those bulbs w/ CFLs (use 75 percent less energy and last 10x longer) or LEDs (use 80 percent less and last 25x longer) for substantial savings and cooler rooms.

Invest in a great fan

Fans are cheaper and AC, hence, it will always be a great alternative. “If you have a spacious apartment you should get at least two electric fans to cover different parts of your home,” suggests Andrew Barker, founder of HomeownerCosts.

If you want to ensure your fan is working as efficiently as possible, consider picking up a Dyson Air Purifier Hot + Cool—which will work to keep your space temperate throughout both the summer and winter months while also purifying the air in your space. This can be especially useful if you live in an older building without central air.

Reduce heat coming from the outside

“South and west facing rooms are the trickiest ones to keep cool. Draw the shades over the windows to reduce heat and sunlight coming in from outside,” suggests Truett, especially during the part of the day when the sun is shining directly into your space. 

“Thick, dark curtains with a white reflective backing area (commonly known as blackout curtains) are the most effective for keeping a room cool that faces the sun.” If you have a natural cooling home design, there may be trees on the south and west sides that help shade your home in the afternoon.

Limit your use of appliances

Running the dryer, dishwasher and oven multiple times throughout the day can produce a lot of heat in the home. “Consider minimizing the number of times you do this or find alternatives that will keep the temperature inside the home down and at a comfortable level,” says Truett.

Place your fans strategically

At night, the key is to take advantage of the cooler outside temperatures. “Rather than just keeping a window open, you can actually improve your efforts to cool down your space by strategically placing your fans,” suggests Matthew Paxton, founder of Hypernia. Paxton suggests you pick a room in your apartment that you want to cool the most and open the window. Next, open a window from across the room you just picked and place a fan by it and point it outwards. This will blow the warm air out and suck the cool outside air in.

Kaitlyn is an experienced travel and lifestyle writer with a keen interest in interior decorating and home optimization. An avid traveler, she's currently splitting her time between her apartment in a century-old châteauesque building in Montreal and her cozy chalet in the woods (that she built with her own two hands... and many YouTube tutorials!). Her work has been published in Travel + Leisure, Tatler Asia, Forbes, Robb Report Singapore, and various other international publications.