Skip to content

Refresh Your Heat Wave Survival Knowledge

Image: Anna Hecker

Here in Ohio, the weather is one of our favorite subjects of small talk. Most days, there isn’t much remarkable to comment about—“Sure is cloudy out there!” “We really needed this rain,” “How about that blue sky!”—but right now we’re in the thick of a hot and humid heat streak.

It’s so hot, impressively hot, unbearably hot, remarkably hot, but there really aren’t a whole lot of people around to chit-chat about just how hot it really is. We’re all tucked away in the air conditioning if we have it, doing our best to survive this burdensome heat.

Extreme heat waves have increased in frequency in the last couple of years, both here and around the globe. 2023 broke the record as the world’s warmest year in human history and 2024 has continued to break temperature records monthly. 

When it’s this hot out, it’s harder for our bodies to maintain normal temperatures, which can lead to all kinds of strains on our health, including heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, swelling, dizziness, fainting, dehydration, stroke, and even heat-related death.

All of this heat puts a strain on resources. When it’s hot, people use more water for drinking, bathing, and keeping cool. Farms use more water to combat higher evaporation rates and to keep their animals hydrated. Industries use more water for cooling processes. All of that extra demand on water can drop the water levels of reservoirs, lakes, aquifers, and rivers, impacting long-term water availability. 

But it isn’t just water that’s affected. High heat puts a strain on energy production and consumption, impacting the efficiency of energy generation at just the time when more energy is needed to power air conditioners.

In short, staying cool and finding energy-saving solutions is important for all of us.

Safe and Sustainable Ways to Stay Cool in a Heat Wave

Image: Alexander Grey

The National Weather Service has recently released an experimental heat risk tool, NWS HeatRisk, that provides a forecast for the dangers of extreme heat in your area over a 24-hour period. Stay informed about these types of forecasts to make sure you are able to stay safe and cool.

There are simple, safe, and effective ways you can keep cool while saving energy, right now.

Keeping the House Cool during a Heat Wave

You don’t have to rely exclusively on air conditioners to keep temperatures down in your home. By following these tips, you can reduce the strain on your A/C unit or eliminate the need for it entirely.

Set your ceiling fan to run counter-clockwise to create a cooling breeze. In the evenings, prop a portable fan in a window or doorway to circulate cooler air, and open windows on the opposite sides of your home to create a cross breeze.

Take measures to block out the sun by using blackout curtains, shades, or blinds to block direct sunlight during the hottest parts of the day. Exterior awnings or shade sails can help reduce the heat over your windows and patios too.

If you are using air conditioning, choose an energy-efficient model and set the thermostat to the highest comfortable temperature—the Department of Energy recommends setting your A/C unit to 78 degrees fahrenheit when you’re home for optimal comfort and energy savings. If you don’t have an A/C unit and are looking for an efficient cooling system, evaporative coolers consume less energy than traditional air conditioners.

Indoor electronics can contribute to the heat in your home as well. Opt to cook on an outdoor grill or use your microwave instead of the oven to reduce indoor heat, and unplug electronics and appliances when they aren’t being used to reduce heat output.

Sustainable Strategies to Keep Your Body Cool

Hydration is critically important during periods of high heat. Keep drinking plenty of water throughout the day to make sure you stay hydrated, and use cooling towels or damp cloths on your wrists and neck to help regulate your body temperature. You can also take short, cool showers to lower your body temperature without wasting a lot of water.

Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing made from natural fibers like cotton and linen, which allow your skin to breathe.

Limit your outdoor activities to the cooler parts of your day, like the early morning or late evening (that’s when we’ve been taking our dogs for a walk, keeping in mind the heat radiating off the pavement for their little paws!).

If you just can’t stand the summer cabin fever any longer, choose to visit public places that are air conditioned, like libraries, malls, or community centers, or find a community cooling center. You could also turn your heat wave into a forest escape—find a river in a wooded area and go creekwalking. You’ll benefit from the natural coolant of the great outdoors’ shade and flowing water while also experiencing the benefits of all that extra oxygen.

Long-Term Remedies for Seasons of High Heat

Once this particular heat wave ends, there are strategies you can take to lower the impact of extreme heat on your home and loved ones in the long-term, too.

Plant Shade Trees for Natural Cooling

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, tree canopy cover reduces temperatures 11-19 degrees fahrenheit compared to areas with no tree cover. Trees are our first great defense against rising heat, especially in urban settings. If you don’t have shade trees in your community, plant some! 

This initiative is so effective that the Urban and Community Forestry Program has offered several rounds of grants in recent years to help communities fund resilient and equitable tree canopies.

Optimize Your Home

It’s easy to notice a drafty house in the winter when cold air creeps in through the windows and doors, but those leaks impact your ability to keep the hot air out during the summer too. Inspect your windows and doors to make sure they’re properly sealed to prevent hot air from entering and your cool air from escaping. You might also want to add insulation to your attic and walls to keep your home cooler (this will benefit you in the winter months, too!).

If you’re already investigating a new roof, consider installing reflective or cool roofs to reduce heat absorption.

A whole-house fan or attic fan provides ventilation that promotes natural airflow.

Install smart thermostats to regulate and optimize cooling and energy use based on when you’re home and weather conditions outside.

If you’re worried about your reliance on the power grid to keep your home running, you might install solar panels to reduce your reliance on the grid and be able to access renewable energy for your cooling systems. You can install battery storage systems to store excess energy as well, giving you access to energy during peak demand periods.

Wherever you are, I hope your small talk shifts back soon to more benign topics, like “Gee, what a nice day we’re having!” because, “Boy, this heat is really something!” sure is getting old quickly.

Share on Social

Back To Top