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13 Tactics to Beat the Heat

By Gay Falkowski
Staying home and keeping the AC cranked down low is one way to cope with the summer heat. But, steep electric bills take all the pleasure out of that quick fix. Instead, try making some easy adjustments and adaptations at home to keep your surroundings and yourself as cool as can be.

1) Stock your closet with cotton. The fabric is said to ‘breathe’ because it provides good air circulation. Folks living in the tropics have some fashionable cotton favorites. Similar to the traditional Filipino barong, the guayabera wicks moisture from the skin and is worn untucked to promote air circulation. Don't forget the old standard of the American Deep South: seersucker. Originally an Indian import, its crisp cotton and cooling ridges make it a hot weather classic.

2) Try sleeping on buckwheat pillows. Popular throughout Asia, buckwheat pillows are filled with buckwheat hulls that are firm yet highly malleable and breathable, which makes them an ideal pillow fill. Traditional pillows retain body heat and the lack of airflow prevents warm air from escaping your pillow's fill. Buckwheat hull fill allows air to move freely through your pillow, preventing uncomfortable heat build up. Sleep on the cool side of the pillow all night long without flipping.

3) Cool down your sheets before bedtime. One method is to put your sheets (cotton if you don’t mind the wrinkles) into a plastic bag. Then freeze them. Put them on just before bedtime and enjoy the chill while it lasts. Another idea is to dampen your sheets then direct a fan on them and feel the cooling effect.

4) Turn off the lights. Light bulbs (even environmentally-friendly ones) give off heat. Fortunately, summer days are longer and it stays light until eight or nine at night. Take advantage of natural light as much as possible, and keep rooms cool after dark by using lights minimally or not at all. A candlelight dinner might be nice for a change!

5) When you need to use light bulbs, use cooler ones. An incandescent bulb is a ‘little heater,’ radiating 90 percent of its energy as heat, says Maria Tikoff Vargas, brand manager for the Energy Star program at the Environmental Protection Agency. "Since most homes have 30 to 35 light fixtures, your cooling system expends a lot of energy counteracting their effects," she says. Energy Star-qualified compact fluorescent bulbs emit 75 percent less heat than incandescent ones.

6) If you don’t have central air, for the best results, close the doors to the rooms that do have air conditioning. This will trap the cool air in the room, where you can go to ‘chill out.’

7) Make sure the setting on the AC is on ‘high’ to move the air through faster and farther. That uses very little additional power, but may make a louder "shushing" air sound. Note: This is not the ‘colder-to-warmer’ setting.

8) Moving air accelerates sweat evaporation. Although ceiling and window units do the job, don't overlook your open basement doorway as a fan location, says Joseph Laquatra, Ph.D., professor of design and environmental analysis at Cornell University's College of Human Ecology. Unless your home has high radon levels or mold, place a fan facing your living space to pull cool cellar air into the first floor. (Note: Fans stop being effective when the heat index — the "feels like" temperature — reaches 99 degrees.)

9) Chow down on cool, room-temperature dishes (such as salads) to avoid using your kitchen appliances and generating any more heat in the house. Be sure to include lots of cucumbers! Ever heard the phrase ‘Cool as a cucumber?’ In the 1970s researchers confirmed what farmers had claimed for years — that the inside of a field cucumber is 20 degrees cooler than the air temperature.

10) If you must have hot food, fire up the grill instead of turning on the oven. Let someone else stand over the fire and tend to the food while you sip on an ice-cold beverage.

11) Eat spicy food! It can help you cool off. Really. Scientists have argued for years over why this is the case, but the most likely reason is that spicy foods make you sweat without actually raising body temperature. Chalk it up to capsaicin, a chemical found in things like hot peppers. Once your skin is damp, you'll feel cooled by its evaporation.

12) Swap big meals for smaller, lighter dinners that are easier to metabolize. The body produces more heat after you chow down on a huge steak than a platter of fruits, veggies, and legumes.

13) Unplug at night. As in, literally disconnect electronics. Gadgets and other small appliances give off heat, even when turned off. Reduce total heat in the house (and save energy) by keeping plugs out of sockets when the appliances are not in use.