How to stay cool if you lose power during a heatwave
Air conditioning isn’t your only weapon against the heat.
No matter where you are in the US—it’s probably seriously hot outside. If you have access to power and air conditioning, you may be doing OK. But extreme heat can knock out power, and staying cool is a whole lot harder with just battery-powered fans—if you have fans or batteries at all. Don’t worry: there’s a lot you can do to keep temperatures down while you wait for your AC to start roaring once again.
The basics of being (and keeping) cool
An appropriate outfit is the first maneuver in winning the battle against heat. Go for loose-fitting clothes that allow airflow between your skin and the textile. Stay away from synthetic fabrics—organic fibers like cotton and linen are the best choices, as they breathe better than any synthetic material. Colors matter, too—white and other bright shades reflect the light (and heat) whereas black and other dark hues absorb it.
Stay away from the sun, and if you’re going outside, cover as much of your skin as possible by wearing long (loose) sleeves and a hat.
And please don’t forget the most crucial tip for keeping cool: stay hydrated. Fill up a water bottle and drink regularly. If you’re sweating a lot, make sure to replenish your electrolytes by ingesting food, a sports drink, or hydration tablets.
How to keep your home cool
Whether your AC was running when the power went out, or your home simply cooled off overnight, it’s important to retain as much cool air as possible. Start by closing off the hottest rooms in your home—the ones that don’t have AC or get lots of direct sunlight.
Close the doors to those rooms and use a towel or a thick textile, like a duvet, to prevent the hot air from seeping into the space you’re trying to keep cool. If you can, get everything you might need from those rooms before you close them off, and don’t go in again. The more you open those doors, the more heat will transfer. Finally, close the curtains—this will help you keep some of the light and heat out of your home and your life. Blackout and heat-blocking curtains are even more effective at doing this.
No matter what you do, your home will gradually warm up throughout the day—whether due to heat sneaking in from outside or radiating from your body. That’s why it’s important to attempt a “reset” whenever you can. Wait until the temperature drops—most likely in the early morning and evenings—and open up doors and windows. This will help get some cool air into your home and trap it for the roasting day ahead.
Don’t give in to the temptation to open your fridge door and stand there basking in its chilly breeze. You simply don’t know how long the power outage will last, so as good as that cool air feels against your skin, it’s better suited preserving your food.
Finally, a blackout in the middle of a heatwave is the perfect time for a barbecue. No, really—as long as you can safely tolerate being outdoors, cooking outside will prevent you from using the stove, which will heat up your home.
Going the extra mile
You’re doing everything you can, but the scorching temperatures just won’t budge. There are more things you can do to keep it cool.
Just add water
You’ve been drinking water and staying hydrated (good for you!) but water can also be a great ally outside your body. A good idea is to take a shower. The water against your skin operates under the same principle of sweat—it feels nice, and cools you down as it evaporates. Don’t make it a cold shower, though. If you start to shiver, that’s your body trying to regain lost heat, and while your skin will feel cool, your inner temperature will rise, explains Adriana Quinones-Camacho, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health. You can go for a colder shower than usual, but don’t deviate too much from what you’re used to.
Getting your hair wet will also help you stay cool. But if that doesn’t last, you can always wet a bandana or cloth and wear it on your head or around one of your wrists. If that doesn’t cut it, try placing it under your armpits or on your groin. Those parts of the body are usually the hottest, so emergency room doctors often place ice packs there to lower a patient’s temperature, Quinones-Camacho explains.
Don’t go upstairs
If you live in a place with two or more floors, you’ve probably noticed the higher you go, the hotter it gets. This is because hot air rises (that’s the principle behind hot air balloons) so the second or third floor of your home will most likely be way too toasty for comfort.
Take it easy
Leave any physical labor for early in the morning or later in the evening, when temperatures tend to fall. If you plan to exercise or need to move furniture around, it’s also better to do all that during those times. If you absolutely cannot avoid being active in the heat, take a break from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. This two-hour period is generally the hottest of the day during the summer, which makes it the perfect time to stay inside and take a nap.
Plan your escape
We should all have at least one friend with pool access, but some of us just don’t. Sure, you can try getting other friends, but you can also team up with the ones you have and look for a cool, watery refuge in your community. Public pools and beaches are always a good choice, though they may be a bit crowded in the middle of a heatwave. Movie theatres and shopping malls often have their own generators, so these places can offer a great escape from the unapologetic heat—as long as their power’s not out too.
Get help from the laundry basket
Get a towel or sheet wet, wring it, and hang it against an open window. The outside air will cool down as it passes through the damp fabric, effectively cooling the inside of your home. This method works well in the bedroom to keep the temperature low while you sleep, and if the heat keeps drying your wet blanket, you can keep a spray bottle with water by your bed to dampen the cloth when needed.