Keeping Cool without Power

One of the more common scenarios considered by various prepping and survival blogs is how to cope with an extended power outage. The problems that arise from a lack of electrical power are many: heating, lighting, cooking, powering various devices like cellphones, laptops, etc. But one problem not often considered is how to keep cool in the summer, if there is no power. Even if you are so well-prepared for every disaster that you have a source of off-grid electrical power, you probably still do not have enough power to cool your house with air conditioning. So what types of low-tech and relatively inexpensive options are available for home cooling without electricity?

I was at a loss as to how to address this issue, until I read this article at Beat The Heat: 10 Design Tips To Help You Live Without (Or Use Less) Air Conditioning. So let’s review their 10 Tips and see if any of them are good Prepping options. (Their article is a slide show, so click the black arrow button to advance through the Tips.)

1. Install Awnings — The idea here is that awnings over the windows keep heat out of the house, reducing the need for cooling. The awnings work best on the sides of the house that get the most direct sunlight. Not a bad idea, and pretty low tech. You can limit the cost of this option by only installing awnings on the windows with the most exposure.

2. Plant Vines — This tip is a little controversial, since some sources say that climbing vines can damage the exterior surface of a building over time. Also, you have to consider that the vines will change the appearance of your house significantly. But I suppose that you could use a trellis on the sunniest side of the house to hold the vines. The idea here is that vines shade the house and also cool by transpiration, by the evaporation of water from the leaves.

3. Plant a Tree — agrees that trees and vines can reduce the heat gain of the house from the sun. They say the southern and western sides of the house are the best locations. The western side is preferable to the eastern side because the hottest part of the day is when the sun is to the west, rather than the east. In the morning, when the sun is to the east, the environment is still cool from the evening. In the afternoon, the day is hotter.

4. Tune Your Windows — In other words, strategically open certain windows to get the best breeze. In particular, open windows on the second floor, so that heat rising in the house does not build up. You will also need to open some windows on the first floor, so that the air leaving at the second floor is replaced by cooler air. On the first floor, choose windows that are toward the wind, so that the air enters more readily. On the second floor, choose windows on the lee (downwind) side of the house, so that the air leaves more easily.

5. Ceiling Fans — Not useful for our purposes in cooling the house when there is no power. I suppose a battery operated window fan is an option, but I would think the batteries would be drained rather quickly for this type of use.

6. Install operating Shutters — Many shutters on homes today are only decoration, they don’t open and close. Working shutters can be used to shade the windows on the sunniest sides of the house. Not a bad idea, but it is similar to the awnings option.

7. Install Exterior Blinds — This option is similar to shutters and awnings. The reason for keeping the blinds exterior is that interior blinds still let sunlight pass through the window before hitting the blinds. Interior blinds will produce something of a greenhouse effect, heating up from the sun. With exterior blinds, this heat is kept outside the house. I like the options of shutters or awnings better, since exterior blinds are exposed to the weather.

8. Get an Attic Fan — Solar-powered attic fans are available on the commercial market. They cost in the range of a few hundred dollars, plus installation. Not a bad option, and probably less expensive than shutters, awnings, or even exterior blinds.

9. Don’t cook hot food inside — Good tip, but without power you are probably cooking outdoors anyway.

10. Make the Right Choices — This tip is more in the way of what not to do. Adding insulation to the walls has little effect on heat gain. The windows and attic are more problematic sources of heat gain in a typical home.

I often see articles in various news sources that have some useful application to prepping, even though that is not the purpose of their article. There is a lot of good information from a wide variety of sources that can be adapted for our purposes in prepping and survival.

– Thoreau

3 Responses to Keeping Cool without Power

  1. Didn’t know about the solar powered attic fans. That might be a real good idea to save $$ regardless of long term outages.

  2. Definetly add extra insulation in the attic above your living areas. Also, ceramic tile and wood floors are much cooler than having carpet throughout your home.

  3. We live up north a ways, but not uncommon to have temps in the mid-90′s this time of year. When we built our home we installed casement windows, the ones on the west side open to scoop the air in (which is from the west generally), and the ones on the east open opposite, to block the wind and produce the suction to let the air out. Lets the breeze travel through the house like the air over a plane wing. An attic radiant barrier helps reflect the heat from the roof and keeps the attic cooler too. If you’ve got decent insulation and cooler nighttime temps, open the windows at dusk, then close the house down at dawn to trap the cooler air inside. Works good if you have some interior mass like a concrete slab on the first floor/basement, probably not so much in a stilt home or a mobile. For fixed awnings, or the roof overhang if building new, determine the proper overhang to block the summer sun from striking the south-facing windows. There lots of calculators on line, the one here appears accurate at first glance:

    The problem with A/C is if you use it regularly, you’re just not going to be very comfortable without it. We do pretty good on even the hottest nights with a 6″ clip on fan attached to the headboard for a cool breeze while sleeping. Google “passive cooling” or “passive solar design”, lots of good ideas to keep the house cool(er) without A/C.