Q&A: How can residents stay cool at home when they lack air conditioning?

Updated: 22 May 2020

Answer

Residents can use low-cost measures to cool their homes and themselves when air conditioning is not available.

Strategies include: closing windows and blinds during the day, creating nighttime cross breezes, drinking cool water before feeling thirsty, and wetting clothing.

What can be done?

Help educate residents on low-cost strategies they can use to cool their homes without air conditioning, including:

  • closing blinds/drapes/shutters during the hottest parts of the day to reduce direct sun exposure
  • when it is cooler than 35°C (95°F) opening windows on opposite sides of the building, then using an electric fan to pull cool air into the living space and a second fan to blow hot air out. This creates a cross-breeze.
  • avoiding cooking hot food indoors during the day when it’s hottest
  • unplugging large electronics, such as televisions, that produce heat
  • in low-humidity environments, using electric fans and a setting a bowl of cold water or ice in front of the blowing air to create a cool breeze

Note: As we improve our knowledge of COVID-19 transmission pathways, particularly in high-density areas, guidance that involves using air circulation and window coverings to minimize the risk of heat-related illness may be updated.

Help educate residents on the most effective ways to cool themselves down, including:

  • wearing lightweight, light-coloured and loose-fitting clothing
  • avoiding strenuous activities, especially during the hottest parts of the day
  • drinking cool water before feeling thirsty; avoiding alcoholic and caffeinated beverages
  • when it is not humid, wetting clothing or taking a cool bath or shower and allowing the water to evaporate from the body to cool off.
  • keeping water cool for drinking and bathing by storing it in the coolest and darkest place in the home, such as the basement/cellar

Provide residential assistance and incentive programs, including:

  • Use and, if possible, expand air conditioning installation assistance programmes for the most vulnerable people.
  • Distribute electric fans to those who lack them; but educate residents that fans are only effective if the air temperature is below 35°C (95°F), and best used in rooms with one person. Where ceiling fans are used, ask residents to ensure they are set to an upward air flow.
  • Support and expand utility payment assistance programmes; work with utility suppliers to ensure that no one’s supply is cut-off due to non-payment.
  • Support and expand programmes that provide low-cost building improvements, such as painting roofs in lighter colours and adding shading to sun-facing windows.
  • Expand government support for housing weatherization programmes (this is also known as ‘weather-proofing’) to increase insulation, add shading to sun-facing windows and affix reflective materials to roofs in order to reduce indoor temperatures.
  • Provide mobile water stations in areas that lack a piped water supply.

References

Dietz, L., Horve, P.F., Coil, D.A., Fretz, M., Eisen, J.A. and Van Den Wymelenberg, K. ‘2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: built environment considerations to reduce transmission’ in Msystems 5(2), 2020.

Hansen, A., Bi, P., Nitschke, M., Pisaniello, D., Newbury, J., & Kitson, A. ‘Residential air-conditioning and climate change: voices of the vulnerable’ in Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 22(4), pp. 13–15, 2011. https://doi.org/10.1071/he11413

Lane, K., Wheeler, K., Charles-Guzman, K., Ahmed, M., Blum, M., Gregory, K., … Matte, T. ‘Extreme heat awareness and protective behaviors in New York City’ in Journal of Urban Health, 91(3), pp. 403–414, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-013-9850-7

Sampson, N.R., Gronlund, C. J., Buxton, M.A., Catalano, L., White-Newsome, J.L., Conlon, K.C., O’Neil, M.S., McCormick, S., Parker, E.A. ‘Staying cool in a changing climate: reaching vulnerable populations during heat events’ in Global Environmental Change, 23(2), pp. 475–484, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.12.011

Semenza, J.C., Rubin, C.H., Falter, K.H., Selanikio, J.D., Flanders, D., Howe, H.L., & Wilhelm, J.L. ‘Heat-related deaths during the July 1995 heat wave in Chicago’ in The New England Journal of Medicine, 335(2), pp. 84–90, 1996.

Sheridan, S.C. ‘A survey of public perception and response to heat warnings across four North American cities: an evaluation of municipal effectiveness’ in International Journal of Biometeorology, 52(1), pp. 3–15, 2007. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-006-0052-9