20 Ideas to Keep Your Home Cool This Summer — With or Without AC

A woman relaxes on the couch with her fridge propped open with a fan blowing air on her.
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Three-fourths of all homes in the United States have air conditioning, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and it raises electric bills the most during summer. Every hour your air conditioner is off or on a higher temperature setting is the same as putting spare change in your bank account. And that spare change can add up to significant savings over three or four months.

“We can confidently say that your HVAC is the biggest bulk of your utility bill, so making adjustments there would be the biggest bang for your buck so to speak,” said Sally Thelen, spokeswoman for Duke Energy, which provides power in six states. 

Now there’s no reason to sit home and sweat when it’s 95 degrees outside, but if you know how to cool down a room without air conditioning, you can keep it off for a few hours here and there and you’ll be a lot cooler when you see your electric bill.

17 Tips to Keep Your House Cool Without Air Conditioning

The Department of Energy, Duke Energy, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and a few Floridians offered expert advice on how to cool your house without cranking up the AC.

1. Add a $20 Screen Door

Screens on the front and back door allow for great cross ventilation in the mornings and evenings, or all day if it’s too hot outside. You can buy a wooden screen door for about $100 and pay to install it if you aren’t handy.

But there are several options starting at $18 that you can install yourself by mounting them to your door frame with Velcro or a similar easy process.

2. Make Your Own DIY Air Conditioner

Make the air flowing through your house from Mother Nature or a fan cooler.

  • Fill a mixing bowl or shallow bowl with ice, and place it in front of a fan.
  • Hang a wet sheet in front of an open window.
  • Roll up a towel dampened with cold water and affix it to the front of a box fan.

3. Push out Hot Air by Placing Box Fans in Windows

Say goodbye to hot air. Put box fans facing out of the windows of rooms you’re using. Then turn on a ceiling fan to keep the cooler air moving.

No need to buy several fans, just move them from the family room or kitchen to the bedroom at night.

4. Close Doors to Unused Rooms

Closing doors to unused rooms so that cool air from a ceiling fan, a cross breeze or the air conditioner only needs to circulate in the occupied areas of the house. You can roll up a towel to block the space under the closed door.

5. Close Shades, Blinds and Curtains

You don’t have to sit in the dark all summer. But covering the windows during the hottest part of the day keeps the sun’s rays from heating your house more. Blackout curtains are extra effective at keeping cold air in.

6. Open Windows in Morning and Evening

If morning and evening temperatures are between 50 and 70 degrees where you live, open the windows then to create a cross breeze. Close them when the temps rise and the sun gets brighter.

7. Change the Direction of Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans should rotate counter-clockwise in the summer to create a breeze that’s going downward.

Hunter, the ceiling fan manufacturer, says you can set your air conditioner thermostat four degrees higher than your desired temperature with fans moving air in the right direction. Eighty degrees will feel like 76 degrees.

There’s a switch on the center module of most ceiling fans that changes the direction it turns.

(In the winter they turn clockwise with the fan speed on low so they recirculate the hot air that rises to the top of a room.)

A woman opens up a window at her home.
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8. Create A Cross Breeze

To get a good cross breeze of outside air on breezy summer evenings, open windows just a few inches. The less you open them, the more of a draft you’ll create. If your windows open at the top and bottom, open the lower glass on one side of the house and the upper glass on the other.

9. Use All Exhaust Fans

Ventilation from the fan above kitchen ranges and a bathroom exhaust fan improves the effectiveness of airflow through your house and reduces moisture.

10. Fill in Cracks and Leaks to Maintain Cool Air

Keep cool air in and hot air out by filling all leaks and cracks in your home. Use weatherstripping to seal air leaks around movable things such as doors and windows and caulk for filling in cracks and gaps in walls or stationary frames around doors and windows.

11. Use Cotton Sheets to Stay Cool in Your Sleep

Cotton is one of the most breathable materials, so make sure your sheets are cotton.

12. Wear Clothes Made of Natural Fibers to Stay Cool by Day

Clothes made from natural fibers such as cotton or linen allow for more airflow and less sweat than synthetics when it’s hot. Make them your summer fashion choice when you are trying to keep cool without AC.

13. Sleep and Socialize In the Basement

Heat rises, so if you have a basement, set up a temporary sleeping area there. Some families have summer lunches and dinners in the basement. And it’s definitely where the kids should play. (Don’t crowd too closely or you’ll experience too much body heat.) If you have a two story house, sleep on the first floor.

14. Turn off Unnecessary Lights

Again, no need for Summer 2021 to be all dark. But if you want to keep your house cool without AC, always make sure you turn off lights in rooms you aren’t using because the light bulbs emit heat.

15. Use Appliances at Night

Run your dishwasher, washing machine and dryer at night when it’s cooler.

A woman makes food in her kitchen as her toddler feeds her.
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16. Cook in the Morning

Don’t cook in the evening when the sun is still high in the sky and the house has been heating up all day. Cook in the morning and just heat it up in the microwave before dinner. Or serve more cold options such as sandwiches, fruit and cereal.

17. Unplug Electronics

Electronics generate heat, so unplug them when they aren’t in use to keep your house cooler. They also draw small amounts of power around the clock, even when not in use. Ever heard the term energy vampire?

How to Conserve Energy When You Use Air Conditioning

Sometimes the summer heat is so intense, ceiling fans won’t cut it and you just have to run the air. Many of the tips above will allow you to keep your thermostat and power bills lower. Here are three more ways to use less air conditioning while keeping your home cool.

1. Keep Air Conditioning on Low, Not Off When You’re Away

Whether to leave the air on or off when nobody’s home is an age old debate. Some say it takes more energy to cool a room after it’s become blazing hot without running the conditioner all day than to cool it down a few degrees from a higher temperature.

“Generally speaking our recommendation is to turn it up, but not off,” said Thelen at Duke Energy. “It will work much harder from zero to cool an entire house. We suggest bumping it up to 78 or higher and then returning to a comfortable level on the thermostat upon return.”

2. Change Air Conditioning Air Filters Regularly

A dirty air filter makes an HVAC system work harder, which uses more energy.

Check out these nine energy-efficient home improvements to reduce your electric bills even more.

3. Close the Damper

Close the fireplace damper. The Department of Energy reminds us to close the damper so precious cooler air doesn’t escape up the chimney and hot air doesn’t enter the house.

Katherine Snow Smith is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.