Sean McHugh | Eclectic Autodidact: Keeping your cool sans AC


Summer is coming down upon us like the wolf on the fold, and with it ride its horsemen of heat, humidity, insects, and cutoff jean shorts. As one of the 10 percent of Americans who do not own an air conditioner, I am investigating alternate avenues for tempering the temperature. I figure that I at least owe these less energy-intensive methods a shot before I succumb to the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy that is conditioned air.

• Fan Service: Fans somehow seem more honest than air conditioners. Sort of like how chopping vegetables oneself, even in a food processor, seems more like traditional cooking than buying them pre-chopped. A fan, however, does not cool a room, it cools the people inside it. If no one's in the room to receive the breeze, the fan is relegated to its night job of budget white noise machine. You can also leave a bowl of ice in front of a fan and let it distribute the cooling air through the room. Also, if you are good, pixies will take the ice and leave water for you in its place.

• The Inverted Green House: The heat solution for the early riser. You leave your windows open all night and then at the crack of dawn, spring into action and batten down the hatches and pull down the blinds. In theory, the cool night air will remain trapped within the house until the breezes of the next evening punch in for second shift. The only downside is if you actually plan to stay in the house during the day, you're forced to dwell in a twilight existence like a consumptive heroine in a 19th-century novel, and having to turn on lights to read at noon in July seems like a basic failure of life. Also, I don't like struggling with rollup blinds clearly intended to induce pratfalls first thing in the morning.

• Advanced Window Chicanery: A simple command of thermodynamic laws as rendered into clich├ęs will inform you that hot air rises. Thus, any home equipped with double windows can open the top of the windows on one side of the house and the bottom on the other side, forming an inverted slide for air currents. Cooler air flows in, through the house, and escapes as it begins to warm. The efficacy of this depends on your house being designed for ease of air flow, and not, for example, to serve as a set for the chase scene in a stock episode of Scooby Doo before being subdivided into apartments.

• Retreat Below Ground: Another approach that is hamstrung by dwelling in a third-floor apartment. My building does have some form of mysterious undercroft, but I wouldn't venture down there without, at the very least, a fedora and whip. Thus, without a basement to hide out in, this stratagem must be repurposed into Hang Out with the Ground Floor Neighbors. Maintaining a relationship based on exploiting them for their altitude would be precarious, and there's only so many times one can drop in claiming to be "just passing by" before they pick up on the unspoken "because I cannot enter or leave my home without doing so" at the end of the sentence.

• Appeal to Ra: Another option to deal with the ever increasing summer heat is to go right to the source and beseech the great Ra, who is Horus of the Two Horizons, for mercy that he might not send his vengeful eyes upon us. Unfortunately, it turns out that burn offerings only make your house hotter.

• Showering Six Times a Day: I understand that this is common in some cultures in more equatorial climes. It's a dramatic departure from the puritanical attitude toward vertical tubs that is often held in the north ("Though shalt not shower more than once a day and only for the purposes of hygiene."). But somehow, even on the hottest days, the depths of fridigity my shower can reach manage to be unpleasantly cold.

• Spicy Foods: Supposedly, foods high on the Scoville scale can help prevent overheating. The idea is that hot foods (as measured in number of pepper icons next to the listing on the menu) will make you sweat without actually increasing your body temperature. The sweat evaporates and, voila, your plate of vindaloo has filled your belly as well as cooling you down. The only downside is that you won't be able to appreciate it over your tongue melting.

• Build a Weather Machine that Increases Rainfall Resulting in a Cooler Summer: I mean, uh what?


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