How to Stay Cool This Summer (While Saving The Earth—And Some Cash)

Unless you're living in the Arctic (and even then) you've probably noticed that summer is here. But your melting popsicle and soaking brow aren't the only indicators: with each rising notch of the air conditioner dial, you might also notice the electric bill soar, or Greenland's ice sheet—part of the earth's natural "air conditioner"— sink. Feeling too sluggish to even pull myself over to the A/C from my sweat-soaked keyboard in this sweltering Beijing apartment, and sorely lacking that classical Asian air conditioner, I called out to my fellow Treehuggers for their advice: how, I asked, can I stay cool without switching on the A/C, that expensive energy eater whose drips are the summer scourge of every city dweller, whose chills can make us sick, and whose numbing hum can be heard around the world, from the U.S. to Brussels, from Qatar to China to even (yes) the Arctic?

It turns out that there are plenty of cheap, easy, and fun ways to beat the summer heat without beating the environment or your wallet. Green isn't just cool: cool is green. Here are some ideas from Treehugger...Be a fan-atic. Instead of reaching for the AC, consider the much underrated ceiling fan. It uses dramatically less energy than an air conditioner, costs less to buy, is a breeze to install, and cools like a charm. And for you DIY types, there's always the classic hand fan, made out of the nearest newspaper, magazine, or outdoor concert brochure.

Consume the cold stuff. Take advantage of your fridge by filling up some spare bottles with water and keeping them in there. And keep one in the freezer for those extra hot days. Eat small, light meals, and foods high in water content, like fruits & vegetables. Also, don't you forget the organic ice cream and sorbet (like the UK's Rocombe makes)! Remember too to keep that fridge closed as much as possible--the more it's open, the more energy it uses and the more heat it releases.

Turn off the hot stuff. Switch off your computer and lights when not in use (try to avoid incandescent and halogen lamps in favor of compact florescent ones), and forgo the oven if you can. In fact...

Get out of the kitchen. Forget your hot indoor stove or even outdoor grille—you've already got the sun! Feel some SOUL or make your own solar oven. Heating your afternoon tea meanwhile is simply a matter of leaving some tea leaves in your glass of water and letting it warm on the window sill. (But yes, beware--some say making sun tea could be bad for your health)

Keep it on the down low. Heat rises, so try to stay on lower floors of buildings. If you've got a stone or tile floor, wipe it off and lie down on it for a cool respite.

Let in the breeze. Circulate air by opening windows, especially those on the north and south of your house or apartment—but keep out the heat with some white window shades (to deflect the sun) or bamboo blinds. And don't forget the old-fashioned Israeli air conditioner: drench some sheets in water (or wash some clothes) and hang them over the windows to let the water evaporate in the breeze, creating a lovely cooling effect.

Take a cool shower. It's a great way to chill out fast and keep the air in your home cool too—and considering how quickly you may want to get out of it, a cool shower is also a great way to save water. Also: try throwing some rose water in a spray bottle and give yourself a light misting now and then. It'll also help cover up your less-than-pleasant summer fragrance au naturale.
Plant some trees. If you live in a house, planting trees on the south and west sides of your home will provide enough shade in the summer (and wind blockage in the winter) to save you between $100 and $250 in energy costs annually, says a US Department of Energy estimate. Opt for deciduous trees, which shade in summer and allow light and radiant heat to pass through in the winter.

Go Chinese. The hand fan is only the tip of China's summer-cooling iceberg. Sitting outside, as older folks do here in the hotter months, isn't just comfortable, it's sociable. Find a bamboo mat for your chair—they rarely heat up and don't soak up sweat—pull up your shirt to cool your tummy (try to ask permission before attempting further nudity--trust me) and relax over a game of checkers, or a cool plate of watermelon, iced tea, or (mmm) pickled cucumbers.

And if you must use the air conditioner. Remember to keep doors and windows closed to maximize cooling. Also make sure you're using an energy-efficient Energy Star model, and clean the filter every so often so as to improve air flow. In addition, consider using an electric fan to supplement the AC, allowing you to raise the thermostat 9 degrees Fahrenheit higher to get the same resulting temperature--and saving up to 30% of your energy consumption.

Pretty cool, eh? Before it gets any hotter in here, it'd be great to hear your own ideas too!

[Thanks to Mairi, Mike, Kyeann, Bonnie, Jacob, and Petz for the tips, and to Eartheasy and the DOE for some extra info!]