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The 10 best ways to cool down a room without AC

Hannah Roberts,Zoe McDonald   

The 10 best ways to cool down a room without AC
  • To cool down a room without AC, make sure to use window fans, ceiling fans, or tower fans.
  • Keep your room cooler all day by covering windows to prevent heat from sunlight coming in.

Summers are getting hotter, and extreme heat events are only becoming more common, including in places like the Pacific Northwest, where less households have air conditioning than in other parts of the country.

So, what can you do when the heat hits?

Fans are a powerful tool, especially if you don't have air conditioning or are running it at a higher temperature. Fans are generally cheaper to buy and install than AC units. Plus, they are better for the environment because they use less energy.

In fact, AC costs homeowners about $29 billion each year, according to the United States Department of Energy (DOE). Fans are far more energy-efficient and cost-effective.

If you have some fans on deck, you can optimize how you use them for the best, coolest results. There are also plenty of other steps you can take to keep your home cool.

Here are 10 ways to cool down a room using fans and other items you can easily buy or might already have in your home:

1. Put window fans to work

Window fans are installed in open windows to draw cold air in and push hot air out, and can be set up to cool an entire house. Here's how to use window fans most effectively.

Only turn window fans on when it's cooler outside than inside. In order for window fans to cool your home, the outdoor temperature must be lower than the indoor temperature. That's going to be at nighttime or early in the morning.

Window fans are installed with a fitted sheet metal mounting that slots into an open window and seals around the edges. So, you don't have to worry about opening or closing that window.

However, other windows in your house should remain closed during the hottest part of the day and — when safe — open at night and early morning.

Important: Don't run a window fan during the hottest part of the day because it will draw in the hot afternoon air, making your home warmer, not cooler.

Use more than one fan to create a crosswind. Window fans work best when you use more than one to create a crosswind, which pushes the hot air out and draws the cool air in. To do this, setting the fans up in the right location is crucial.

Here's how to be strategic about your window fans' placement:

  • Fans blowing air into your house. "You want the cooler air to blow inwards, so place one fan or more on the coolest side of your home that sees lots of shade — this will ideally be on the north side which gets the most shade — facing in towards the house and away from the windows," says Nathan Kipnis, FAIA, founder of Kipnis Architecture and Planning and specialist in the sustainability and energy efficiency of architectural design.
  • Fans pushing air out of your house. Then place an equal number of fans on the opposite side of your home facing out of your windows to push the hot air out. "Pushing air out on the south side is ideal," says Kipnis.
  • Keep as many inside doors open as possible. This will help maximize airflow throughout the house.

Quick tip: Ideally, you should have an equal number of fans pulling cool air in as pushing hot air out. However, if you have an odd number of fans, then it's generally better to have more fans pulling cool air in.

Work with the design of your home. If you live in a multi-story home, place the inward-blowing fans on the lower floors where it's cooler and the outward-blowing fans on the upper floors. This method will rid your home of the warm air rising to the upper stories.

"Bringing air in low on the north side and pushing it out high on the south side is ideal," says Kipnis.

2. Optimize your ceiling fans

Ceiling fans circulate air in the room by pushing it down. However, they can not lower the temperature like a window fan or AC unit. But they can still cool you down.

That's because their breeze creates a slight wind chill effect that can help sweat evaporate from your skin, which cools you down. So, it's not your home that it's cooling, but rather your body.

Here's how to use your ceiling fans most effectively:

Make sure your ceiling fan is rotating counterclockwise. In the summer, make sure your fan is rotating counterclockwise. This will push the air straight down and create that wind chill effect. Follow the instructions in this DelMar Fans guide to safely check and change the direction of your ceiling fan.

Turn your ceiling fan off when you leave the room. Make sure you turn ceiling fans off when leaving the room because they cool people, not rooms. It's a waste of energy to have them switched on if there is no one there to feel the wind chill effect.

Combine a ceiling fan with your AC unit. If you have a ceiling fan in the same room as an AC unit, it helps blow colder, air-conditioned air throughout the room. This can cut your energy consumption and reduce how hard your air-conditioner has to work.

"You could set your AC unit four degrees higher, combine it with a ceiling fan, and feel just as cool," says Kipnis. "And the key thing with AC is that it dehumidifies the air which is what helps make the fan even more effective."

It's worth noting that all ceiling fans work more effectively in dry air, "Because the sweat on your skin evaporates more quickly than if the air was humid, so you feel cooler," says Kipnis.

3. Create an icy breeze with tower fans

Tower fans are narrow, tall, and portable, meaning they easily fit into the corner of most rooms. They create airflow by oscillating from left to right.

Again, they work by creating a wind-chill effect rather than lowering the temperature of the room.

Use ice for extra cooling. If you're really struggling to stay cool, for instance, during the peak of the day when it's hottest outside, place a bucket of ice or a large, frozen water bottle covered with a damp cloth in front of your tower fan as a homemade AC unit. The ice cools the air pushed out by the fan, which then circulates around the room.

Best tower fan

Get the cold air moving with selections from our guide to the best fans. Our favorite tower fan has the lowest noise levels and the best energy efficiency of any large fan we tested:

4. Cover windows to block sunlight

Around 40% of the unwanted heat in your home comes through windows, according to the DOE.

Blocking that sunlight from the moment it starts to shine can make a big difference in how a room feels, especially if the room faces east or west.

Here are some of the best window covering options for blocking solar heat:

  • Insulated window quilts or cellular shades. Just as insulated shades can block heat from leaving your home, they can also keep it from getting in. You can increase their efficiency by keeping them tight around the edge of the window.
  • Curtains. Hanging medium-colored curtains with white backing "reduces heat gains by 33%," according to DOE. They recommend choosing tightly woven fabrics in light colors to reflect sunlight. And, two layers of fabric is better than one. In a pinch, you can hang sheets or blankets over your windows as makeshift curtains.
  • Window films. Window films help block ultraviolet rays from entering through windows and can reduce the amount of heat that comes through. You can find clear or reflective window film (reflective film will be more effective at driving heat away) in rolls that you can apply yourself.
  • Exterior shutters or awnings. Closed shutters keep much of the sun's heat from reaching windows in the first place. Awnings are also very effective, reducing heat gain from the summer sun by up to 65% on your home's south side and by 77% on the west-facing side. The DOE recommends choosing light-colored awnings to reflect the most sunlight.

Quick tip: If your room is really in need of a cool down and it's cool enough outside to open a window (like at night or early morning) try hanging a wet sheet in front of the open window.

5. Block air leaks

Air can leak into and out of your house through even tiny openings around windows, doors, walls, and floors. This is not only a waste of energy, but it can also devastate your attempts at keeping it cool.

Weatherstripping and caulking can help prevent that precious cool air from escaping.

To find out where air may be leaking in your home, inspect obvious spots where different materials meet — door frames, window frames, wall joints, and exterior bricks, stucco, or siding. Also, check where any exterior parts lead inside, such as around dryer vents, plumbing, and cable or internet lines.

You can also have a professional conduct a blower door test to help you specify where all your air leaks are.

6. Avoid using heat-emitting appliances and electronics

Appliances like your dishwasher, oven, stove, washer, and dryer can emit a lot of heat when they're in use.

Avoid using them if you can — especially during the hottest part of the day.

If you need to use one of these appliances, try shutting off the room to contain the heat and prevent it from spreading to the rest of your home.

If you have a computer that emits heat, shut it off. Also check your light bulbs. Incandescent bulbs can put off heat, so try to keep them turned off.

7. Use exhaust fans

You may not be able to use your gas range, but you should certainly use the exhaust hood above it. Turn it on to suck heat up and out.

You can also turn on your bathroom fans to help suck humid, warm air out.

8. Focus efforts on your home's lowest level

Since hot air rises and cool air settles, you'll have an easier time keeping the lowest level of your home cool.

If you have a cooler lower level, you can use it to ventilate your entire home. If there's a cool breeze outside, you can open windows on the lower levels to encourage the air to flow in.

Then, open windows on the upper level to create a vacuum and encourage the rising hot air to flow out. This is what the DOE refers to as the "chimney effect." If you have fans, you can use them to speed up the process.

If your lower level is a basement with no windows, try setting up a fan in the doorway toward the rest of your home and opening upper windows to let rising hot air out.

The DOE notes that this method works best in dry climates and at cooler times of day.

9. Dehumidify your room

While humid heat is not necessarily more deadly than dry heat, it does affect how your body cools itself. When moisture levels in the air are high, it makes it more difficult for your sweat to evaporate. The evaporation of sweat is imperative for body temperature regulation.

Note: According to the EPA, it's best to keep your home below 60% humidity, and ideally between 30% and 50%.

You can dehumidify a room by purchasing a dehumidifier. If you don't have a dehumidifier, these methods can help reduce moisture in the air:

  • Open windows, but only if it's cool enough outside.
  • Turn on fans to help evaporate moisture.
  • When showering, run your bathroom fan, open a window, or simply take cooler showers that don't put off as much steam.
  • If you see condensation on windows or other surfaces, this is a sign of high humidity. Wipe it away with a towel and try to find the source of the moisture.

Best dehumidifiers

Remove excess humidity from the air with one of the best dehumidifiers we've tested, which can also help to prevent mold and mildew growth.

10. Invest in bigger projects to cool your home

The world is warming, so battling the heat and finding ways to keep it outside of our homes is only going to become a more common issue.

Luckily, there are some larger home projects and renovations you can do to keep your home cooler and more efficient in the future. They include:

  • Try a cool roof. Look into getting a "cool roof," which might entail painting your roof white or installing a roof with reflective materials to drive away heat.
  • Go green. Plant trees outside your home to provide shade and induce natural cooling via evapotranspiration, which is when moisture from a tree evaporates and cools the surrounding air.
  • Paint your home's exterior a light color. While dark exteriors draw in heat, light-colored exteriors can help reflect it away.
  • Start a rooftop garden. Also called a green roof, a rooftop garden can be around 30°F to 40°F cooler than a regular roof.

Insider's takeaway

Cooling down a room in the peak of summer or during a heat wave might seem like a difficult task, but it doesn't have to be.

Fans can be an energy-efficient and cost-effective way to beat the heat during the summertime. You can use window, ceiling, or tower fans to cool down a room — with a few special tricks to make your fans even more effective.

From the moment the sun comes out, window coverings can make a drastic difference in how much your home heats up. You can keep even more heat out of your home by locating and blocking air leaks and turning off any appliances or electronics that emit heat.

If there's a breeze outside, you can open windows and create a chimney effect, where windows on the lower levels pull cool air in, and heat rises out of your home's windows on the upper level.

For the long-term, smart upgrades like a "cool roof" or shady landscaping can help keep your home cool summer after summer.


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