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When we built our off-grid home, we knew we wouldn’t have enough power to run air conditioning for our whole house. We did a lot of research on how to stay cool without air conditioning before we moved in. That said, NOTHING has taught us better than actually living here.
To be fair, this isn’t our first time living without AC. Mark, my husband, spent his entire childhood in a home without air conditioning (they actually installed central air right after he moved out). And when we were first married, we lived in a little 1920’s bungalow that didn’t have AC. For THAT home, we ended up finding several cheap window air conditioner units on Craigslist, but we knew that wasn’t a viable option for our solar-powered off-grid home.
So what to do? If you’re in a situation where you don’t have air conditioning, check out our first mistakes and learn what works even BETTER to keep cool naturally.
How To Keep Your House Cool Without Air Conditioning
To understand our current methods for keeping our home cool, you first have to understand some of our rookie mistakes. These are mostly things that we did because that’s what Mark’s family did when he was growing up. Others are things we thought were correct when we lived in our little bungalow. You might even be doing these things yourself.
During our first summer living on our property, our cordwood house was still pretty new to us. We’d only lived here for a few months and hadn’t really made it a “home” yet. There were no window shades and we weren’t really aware of how our unique home would behave in the summer weather. Here are the biggest mistakes we made trying to keep it cool that first summer:
Mistake 1: We left the windows open all day.
In our quest for a breeze, we simply left the windows open all day and night. The problem is that on 90+ degree days, the heat from the outside comes in and fills the home, making it much warmer than it needs to be. It’s like someone aiming a blow dryer through all the windows. Not fun.
Mistake 2: We didn’t have any window shades!
As I said, we had not yet made our house a home yet, so all of our windows were 100% exposed. Not only were we letting in the hot breeze, we were amplifying it with totally exposed glass. Talk about insult to injury. I’ll show you in a moment how we remedied that.
Mistake 3: No window fans.
We have ceiling fans in each room of our house (and had one box fan that unfortunately fell and shattered…RIP). Ceiling fans are great but we really underutilized our one box fan. We got some replacements and I’ll show you what we’re doing with those in a second.
I took some time to research better ways of keeping our home cool naturally.
We knew there had to be a better system, so during the winter months this past year, I searched for ideas. I came across this awesome podcast episode from Melissa K. Norris about how they stay cool without AC and I highly encourage you to read the post and give it a listen.
I took several of her tips and applied them to our home in our own way. Because of the way we designed our home, we have taken a slightly different approach to some of them.
The following tips have kept our house at consistently 72-79 degrees even when the outdoor temperatures are close to 100.
Tips for Keeping Your Home Cool Without Air Conditioning
1. Close the windows during the daylight hours.
As I said in Mistake 1, we are better off closing all windows completely during the daytime hours to keep the hot air out. We keep thermometers inside AND outside. In the morning when we notice the temperature outside matches the indoor temperature, we start closing all the windows.
In the evening as it starts to cool, I’ll open the windows on the east and north sides of the house first since it’s much cooler over there and has been shaded for several hours at that point. Once the sun goes down below the horizon, I’ll open the windows on the west and south.
2. Keep window shades drawn during the day.
Shades can take many different forms. If you have curtains or blinds already, start there. If you find you want something a little more robust or with more coverage, there are a lot of options out there.
We didn’t have window coverings at all last year, so when I was approached with an opportunity from Chicology to get some really great cordless roller shades for our home, I jumped on it. I’d only ever had some cheap roller shades from discount stores, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Here’s what they look like in our kitchen:
I actually did an Instagram story about installing them. They were super easy to put up by myself and have worked flawlessly for us ever since. Our little boy can operate them without damaging them and there are no cords for small children to get tangled up in. This is a huge bonus when we have littles visiting us. I really like the white ones we got for our great room because they don’t really block the light but block a LOT of heat.
A note about which windows to cover:
Melissa suggests especially covering the south-facing windows, but our house is a bit different. Our home is oriented directly to the south with a 24″ overhang. This means that the south windows actually get a lot of shade in the summer as the sun passes directly over our home. We have found that the most intense sun comes in from the east in the morning and the west during the evening. For that reason, we prioritized putting shades on the east and west faces of our home. We liked them well enough to buy four more sets to cover all of the south windows. The only windows without shades are the small ones on the north wall, which don’t get enough sunlight to really justify covering them at this point.
In your home, take stock of which windows let in the most light and tend to create “hot spots”.
3. Open the windows at night and use fans.
Once the sun goes down, open up as many windows in your home as you can to let the cool night air in. This alone will do much to cool your home back down to a reasonable temperature, but take this a step further. Get some inexpensive box fans or window fans to move air strategically in and out of your home.
We put a window fan in our loft at the back (north) side of the house. It’s warmer up there, so we set the fans to blow the hot air OUT of the window. Down on the first floor, we put a box fan in one of the front (south) windows to draw the cooler outside air IN.
We let these fans run all night, which is not a problem with our off-grid power set up. Fans are pretty low powered, and in the summertime, we gather more than enough energy during the day to justify running fans all night off of our battery bank.
4. Minimize the heat you generate during the day.
You’re probably already doing this, but do your best to minimize the heat you generate during the day from cooking, canning, and the like. If you have to use your stove or oven, most of the time it’s best to do it in the morning while the windows are still open and it isn’t hot yet or in the evening before reopening the windows. If I do it in the morning, I keep whatever I’m doing to a minimum, like frying up a couple of eggs or making coffee in the percolator.
There are some much better ways to keep the cooking heat out of your house though. Look into:
- using a slow cooker or an Instant Pot
- using a solar oven
- eating fresh, cool, summer meals that don’t require a lot of heat or prep
- cooking outdoors using a grill or an open fire
- creating an outdoor kitchen
5. Don’t forget to keep your body cool.
On the worst days, we’ve been known to just leave the house and go to a local pool to cool off, but there are many times we just can’t do that. One simple trick is to spray yourself with water and stand in front of a fan.
I also recently rediscovered a cooling necktie that all of our band parents bought for us way back when I was in high school marching band. A lot of my bandmates used theirs, but for whatever reason, I never opened mine. I found it in one of my memory boxes and decided to get it out. You basically soak it in water and the little polymer crystals expand. You tie it so that it sits on the back of your neck. This transfers more of that cool to your entire body than if you had put it on your forehead or your arms or something.
That was over 17 years ago, so the closest thing I found to that on Amazon is this product. There also seem to be some nifty cooling towels that could be an even better option if you want something with multiple ways to tie it.
Could we use air conditioning off the grid?
The short answer is yes, but not right now with our current setup. We actually had an opportunity to test this out with a newer window unit that my mom had to get rid of. Long story short, it doesn’t draw much power until the compressor kicks on. When it does, it draws so much power to start up that we couldn’t run much of anything else in the house. For example, the combination of the air conditioner plus our water pump together pulled HALF of our entire 500 aH battery bank and put the system into a protective overload shutdown. So we cut that experiment pretty short.
Summer 2021 update: We expanded our solar power setup and have purchased a fantastic, efficient window air conditioner. It works beautifully! We got an LG Dual Inverter 14,000 BTU air conditioner unit and are quite pleased with it! We are able to cool our entire home while also running high-wattage appliances like our cistern pump without overloading our system.
Learn everything about how we can now run air conditioning on solar power in this post.
You can find out more about our previous solar setup and how to get started with off-grid solar here.
How do you keep your house cool without air conditioning? Have you ever run AC off the grid before? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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