How to Stay Cool Working From Home Without an AC

For many, it's the first summer spent working outside an air-conditioned office.

woman working from home near window

@masterone via Twenty20 

When a serious heat wave hit Ontario several weeks ago and the temperature was nearly 100°F (38°C), several of my friends commented on how difficult it was to stay focused on their work. Normally, they'd spend the workday in a cool, air-conditioned office, but because offices are currently closed, they're having to make do in small apartments and houses with no air conditioning whatsoever. "How do you manage?" they asked me, since I've been doing this work-from-home thing for a long time.

It got me thinking about the small yet effective tactics I've developed for coping with the heat. While central air was installed by a previous owner in my house, I've only turned it on once in five years, back in 2017, and haven't touched it since. I don't like it for being such an energy hog, nor did it work well in my old Victorian home; it felt more stifling than when the windows are open. This is how I advised my friends.

1. Adjust your work hours

The most helpful thing I do is start early in the morning. I'm usually at my computer no later than 6 a.m., which means I can put in my full work day by early afternoon. So when the hottest part of the day rolls around, I'm free to nap, swing in the hammock, sit outside in the shade, or go for a swim at the nearby beach with my kids.

2. Move around the house

Most apartments and houses will have varying indoor temperatures, depending on their exposure to the sun. Because I work on a laptop, I am able to move around throughout the day, chasing the cooler places. I start on the east-facing screen porch until the sun gets too warm, then I move inside to the dining table, where it's cooler. On really hot days I sit in the living room, with its northwestern exposure that never heats up too much.

3. Open the windows

Cross breezes do wonders for cooling a space. If you can, open the windows while keeping blinds or curtains closed to block the sun from heating up the room. You can also open windows overnight to cool the indoor air, then close them in the morning to trap the coolness. 

4. Use little self-cooling hacks

A bag of frozen peas or a cold washcloth on the back of the neck can do wonders to cool oneself off. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated throughout the day. You can also do as the northeastern Brazilians do and have multiple super-short showers throughout the day in order to cool off. (I know it sounds crazy, but when you live down there, close to the equator, it becomes a handy coping mechanism in homes without A/C.)

5. Snack on cool fruits

When it's hot I crave juicy, refreshing fruits – probably because I need the extra water. I often set a bowl of cut watermelon, chilled cherries, grapes, or hulled strawberries beside my computer for easy munching as I work. It satisfies the urge to snack in a healthy and hydrating way.

6. Dress wisely

Forego the synthetics and opt for loose-fitting natural fabrics. (Cotton and linen are ideal, also for undergarments.) And definitely ditch the socks; those always make me feel uncomfortably warm. Just be sure to get properly attired when it comes time for your next Zoom conference call...