As I write this paragraph I’m enjoying 77° F (25° C) inside our cozy tiny house while Hurricane Isaac brushes past us, blowing and raining. We even uprooted ourselves a few hours ago because a tornado was spotted south of us, and we slugged through the mud holes out to the end of our dirt (now mud) road to be ready to get out of harm’s way in our vehicles if necessary. Thank the Lord it was a non-event, but a good drill. Now I’m very thankful for air conditioning while it’s hot and muggy outside, but even more thankful that I’m learning to be less dependent on it.
Growing up mostly in Central Florida, we had central air conditioning in our house since I was quite young. I’ve always been an inside person in the summer, venturing into the miserable heat only when necessary and wondering how people survived before the days of a/c. I definitely understand why some early settlers lived here only in the fall, winter, and spring months, as many people still do today.
Now we’re living off-grid and trying to become as sustainable as possible, and a/c is something I’ve had to start parting with. There are air conditioners with slow start-up technology, efficiently used with a small solar electric system like ours, but they are costly. We have a window unit in our tiny house that cools it very well, but runs only with the generator. Since our goal is to use generator power less as we get more solar panels up, we are working our way right out of an a/c. Sigh.
What can we do to make life more liveable during the hot and humid months? When I am hot, I am miserable. I detest sweat running down my back or dripping off my face. The heat saps me of strength and energy, and literally gives me a headache. It makes me irritable, it’s hard to think, and productivity wanes. I am a heat wimp! In order to rid myself of dependency on a/c, something needs to happen.
Here are some ideas we’ve been implementing:
- We did some research before setting up our little house to see what early settlers did. One idea was a dogtrot cabin. It is basically a house with living area on each side of an open porch that acts as a wind tunnel. Doors and windows off the “tunnel” catch the wind and create a breeze in both sections of the house. We set the camper parallel to our tiny house, and built a roof overhead. Daily we feel the benefits of this wind tunnel, even when there is not much breeze otherwise. Until late June when the hottest weather kicked in, our insulated tiny house stayed relatively cool because of the dog-trot effect. Now that it is really hot, it is usually still bearable on the deck between the house and camper, especially with our new roof and radiant barrier insulation.
- We get out early to do outside work in the coolness of the morning as much as possible. By the time it’s hot (between 9:00 and 10:00am) we can come in and do something else, like schoolwork and piano practice. By then it is time to start the generator so we can run the a/c, the big well pump to fill our water tanks, and the washer for the daily load of laundry. We run it till the batteries are fully charged or we don’t need it otherwise. In the evening when the batteries are charged it cools off again and is comfortable without the a/c.
- We make cool and refreshing drinks that replenish electrolytes and keep us hydrated. This helps with headaches and feeling sapped. Freshly squeezed limes or lemons and a little raw sugar in cold water, or our solar iced mint tea are our favorites.
- At times this summer the generator had mechanical problems, or we cut back because our budget didn’t allow for so much fuel consumption. That meant going without a/c some days. Once Silver Oak was outside with the children using the water hose, and to their delight he sprayed them with water. As I strolled past he got ornery and shot a spray at me as well. It felt so good I asked for more. This may seem obvious, but when it’s hot it really helps to get wet. Swimming pools, ponds, water hoses…as the water evaporates off your body it feels refreshingly cool. Of course that is an “outside only” scenerio, but when it’s hot inside it feels better to stay outside anyway. When the heat of the day is over, taking a cool shower feels so delicious! I really look forward to it when I’m hot. It cools the body temperature, and then we’re ready for the cooler evening hours and staying clean until bedtime.
- Making a decision to rejoice even when sweat is rolling helps as well. A few months ago I was challenged by the song, “He’s all I need, He’s all I need, Jesus is all I need.” I wondered, “Can I really be joyful if it means going without ‘necessities’ like a/c? Is it true that He is all I really need?” I prayed and said, “Ok, Lord. If I don’t really NEED a/c, I’m going to trust You to supply my need in that area as well as other areas of my life.” I was tested on that sorely in the following weeks, and soon I realized that He really was helping me, and it wasn’t as bad as I had thought. This leads to the next point.
- After using less a/c, we discovered something: we actually started developing a tolerance for heat. Even I, the heat wimp, noticed a difference. The thermometer could say 82° F (28° C) and the humidity could be high, and it didn’t bother me as much. I used to be miserable in anything over 79° F, so was taken by surprise when I realized it was 82° F or 84° F inside! I never believed I could acclimate like that, but I can’t argue with proof. As I write (at a different time than when I started this post) the humidity is 77% and the temp is 81° F here in the house, and I feel perfectly comfortable. That is a switch. Now when we go somewhere with a/c our poor children complain of being COLD! Imagine.
- Fans are a must. With fans in our windows and over our beds, we’ve been very comfortable without a/c at night all summer. Window fans pull cooler outside air in, and fans over our beds blow directly on us. Fortunately it always cools down at night. In fact, often by morning we need a light cover because it gets too nippy. During the day fans circulate air which makes it FEEL cooler.
This summer we went swimming in someone’s pool. When we went inside to shower it felt freezing cold because of the a/c, so we turned the water on nice and warm to keep from chilling. Suddenly I realized the irony of the situation. Taking warm showers surely made the a/c run more. So we were using electricity to cool the house, then using more to take hot showers because it was so cold inside, which caused more electricity to be used to keep the house cool. Growing up that way I never thought of it. Now that we make our own power, it seems a bit silly.
I’m happy we’re learning to cope with heat during July and August, the two “killer” hot months here. I have more hope about actually surviving without a/c if ever required to. But I also look forward to fall and the beautiful temperate weather we enjoy most of the year here. Soon we can remove the window a/c and stay cool using only the breeze, and hopefully charge our batteries using only the new solar panels on the roof!
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