Summer in the States – Keeping Your Cool


Have you found yourself hogging the fan at your home? (Pictory)

Whatever their winters, many states in the U.S. experience significant heat in the summer. Obviously there are places that never get too unbearable, but across a lot of the country temperatures often hit the 90’s (32+ Celsius). In many areas, there’s also humidity, which makes everything so much worse and is unlike anything we experience back in Blighty.

Obviously, air-conditioning helps, but if the summers are relatively short, some homes don’t have it. If the situation becomes dire, you can purchase portable AC units at Home Depot and the like; de-humidifiers also help. Just don’t leave it till the last minute as they sell like hot cakes when the temps start rising. Other than that, it’s important to keep your doors and windows shut. A cross breeze is nice, but if it’s humid, it usually means the air isn’t moving and you’ll just end up with a hotter, more humid house or apartment. Similarly, keeping your drapes closed will significantly reduce the temperature in the room, as will running fans if you have them. More off-beat suggestions include filling a hot water bottle with ice-cold water, and popping your sheets in the freezer for an hour or two before hitting the sack. (Probably best to put them in a bag first, by the way.)

It’s also important to keep the old bod cool during hot and humid weather. British guests of mine often complain of a hangover-like headache when visiting in the summer, a sure sign that they’re not drinking enough water. Keeping yourself hydrated is crucial when severe, dehydration can be life threatening, so don’t be an idiot.  Other symptoms of dehydration are constipation, thirst, dry skin, dizziness, decreased urine output, dark yellow urine, sleepiness and in babies, fewer wet diapers (nappies). Pregnant women in particular, should take great care to remain hydrated unless they want to end up in a hospital bed on a drip. Water and Gatorade-type drinks are recommended, although soda drinks that contain caffeine are no longer thought to contribute to dehydration.

Other tricks for staying cool, calm and collected in the summer are to schedule outdoor activities in the morning. Although it can sometimes be staggeringly humid as soon as you get up, that’s still usually the lesser of all evils. Summer evenings can be just as hot and humid as the days, so don’t assume it’ll cool down like it does on the Mediterranean. (If you’re staying at a high altitude, you should have cooler, more pleasant evenings.) A visit to the local pool is a sure-fire way to cool down, but remember to wear a sun shirt or apply sun screen frequently. If there’s no pool available, consider dipping your feet in the kids’ paddling pool. Note – if you live in a swamp-type area, it’s a bad idea to leave that pool out overnight, as it becomes a magnet for mosquitoes.

When outside, you can buy hand-held fans, some of which also have a bottle of water attached that sprays a fine mist. Wearing a wet scarf or bandana round your neck (or on your head) is also very effective although it’s not everyone’s fashion choice. Running cold water over your wrists will cool you down and splashing your face will keep your head from exploding. If you’re a baseball cap wearer, turn it round to keep the back of your neck shaded, which will help your entire body think it’s cooler.

What you wear can also contribute to your warm weather comfort. You may not have worn seersucker since you were five, but it has long been a fabric of choice in the hottest southern states, and for good reason, it is lightweight and comfortable. While I’m not suggesting that everyone decks out in seersucker, it’s a good idea to keep your fabric as lightweight and natural as possible. Anything remotely synthetic quickly becomes about as comfortable as plastic wrap, and jeans are a complete no-no. If you’re in a hot but dry environment, covering up in lightweight clothing helps protect your body from the sun and keeps you cooler.

What have I missed? Please share your tips for staying cool in the summer.

And please, please, don’t forget to keep your pets safe too!



Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a British author who has lived in the USA since 1990. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom and The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students. She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV discussing US/UK matters.
View all posts by Toni Hargis.
  • gn

    It’s impossible to generalize about the climate of the US. Where I live, in California, it’s much less humid than the UK. Although it’s also hotter, the overall experience is far more pleasant IMO.

    The Wikipedia article on US Climate has a lot of useful information. There’s a roughly north-south dividing line going down the middle of the Great Plains. West of that line tends to have low humidity: east of the line higher humidity.

  • Catmom3

    If you are using a fan, DO NOT keep your windows closed. That turns your home into a convection oven.

    • expatmum

      Even if it’s 99 outside?

      • catmom3

        Every summer there are “heat-related” deaths in my city. And in every case, the victim has been found in a home with either no air conditioning/fans at all, or a fan running with the windows closed. So yes, no matter the outside temperature, do not use a fan in a closed room. I use fans, and I open my windows then pull the shades down to block most of the sun and heat but still allow air to circulate.

        • expatmum

          Wow – did not know that. Or at least, haven’t had to think about that as I have a/c. Thx.

          • pathfinder_01

            I am from Chicago and Chicago could be called a place just far enough north to have a bad winter but not far enough north to escape a bad summer. While it does not get extremely hot often, it does on occasion. It isn’t like the deep south where you can get 100F(37C) plus days for ends on end, but it can get up to 100-103F or so every few years and usually hits 90ies in July and August. High 80ies are just mostly uncomfortable (depending on humidity). 90F 9(32C)is when the danger starts at just about any level of humidity.

            You should open your windows if you are using a fan. Buildings trap heat like an oven and outside it is often cooler esp. at night. While closing the window can cut down on noise, sometimes you have to give in and open it if you don’t want to use the A/C or don’t have A/C.

            The elderly and sick are at increased risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke and in Chicago during that horrid heat wave in 1995 lots were found dead with no window open for fear of crime.

            While drapes do help keep out the sun keeping your doors closed and windows closed will not keep the humidity out at all. Houses breathe (leak air) and so whatever is outside in the air will get inside. The reason for the suggestions about the sheets in the freezer and hot water bottle with ice is because high heat (like the high 80ies at night) can make it hard to get to sleep at night.

            As for drinks you want to avoid drinks with high sugar content and alcohol as they will tend to dehydrate you.
            As for mosquitoes any standing water can be a habitat for them to breed so it goes a little beyond the pool and is a public health issue. Standing water in things like untreated pools, cans, left over tires should be drained. You also need to wear mosquitoes repellant (Off is a brand name) if you are going to be outside a lot esp. in an area where you could expect a lot of them. Mosquito bites are mostly harmless but those bugs do spread diseases.

            As for hats, large straw hats or hats with large brims can help with shading the body while letting air in around the head. Great if you are going to be outdoors for a long time. Jeans are not a complete no/no but if you wear them don’t wear thick ones and shorts are a much better idea.

        • cdisme2

          This sounds like a folk myth. I live in the Midwest where
          it’s plenty hot and humid and I run the ceiling fan in my bedroom with the
          window and door closed (window faces South with no shade) sometimes day and
          night. I haven’t died yet… at least I don’t think I have.

          What you probably are referring to is heat related deaths of the elderly.
          Elderly people can’t handle the heat because they don’t sweat efficiently. So
          it really has nothing to do with whether you run a fan with the windows open or
          closed and more to do with age/health of the persons who died of the heat.

        • gn

          This sounds like the fan death urban legend.

  • MontanaRed

    The best way we ever found to keep cool on hot, humid Minnesota summer nights was to put the fan in the window and have it blow the hot air OUT of the house. A fan in the right window can create an instant and refreshing cross breeze.

  • Julie

    I live in the MidAtlantic (Baltimore ) and we know humidity. Many older homes have no central air. Thank god for ceiling fans and old fashion wrap around porches! The porch cools the air before it drifts into the windows… Pretty smart. Big message. Protect your pets! We take them out and hose them off in the backyard.. They love it . Stay cool out there!, oh and lots of iced tea!

  • JR48

    As a transplant from the temperate west coast to the hot/humid midwest, the biggest issue is staying hydrated and having a place to retreat to in order to cool off.

    Don’t rent/buy anyplace where it’s hot or humid without some form of air conditioning. Just don’t do it. It can take quite awhile to get used to this weather and even few locals live without some form of it. If you are already in this predicament, cough up the money and get a window a/c unit. Preferably for a room where you can ‘live in it’ (shut the door and let the cool air build up). I would prefer a living room which you can watch tv and sleep in it if the nights are also too hot. A box fan is just not going to cut it in some locales.

    And STAY hydrated. Lug a water bottle and use it. You can’t just run around while going ‘I don’t know when I last had something to drink’. Gatorade or some electrolyte replacing drink (they’re everywhere) is a must if you’re spending any length of time outdoors.

    If the heat index is stupid, avoid being outdoors and plan your outings accordingly. In other words, don’t do heavy lifting, sports or things like dog walking during the heat of the day. Do it before dawn, or at twilight when the temps are more tolerable. Pay attention to the National Weather Service advisories and take their advice.

    Never leave precious things in your vehicle with the a/c off. This includes children, pets or electronics. The inside temp will soar quickly sitting in the sun. Open the door and let it air out with the a/c running for a few minutes before you get in. And get some sort of insulated bag for frozen/cold things from the grocery store else your ice cream might be a puddle by the time you get home.

    As to bugs like mosquitoes, they’re water dependent. Standing water is where they breed. You’re not going to see them if it’s dry heat, but you’ll see them a few days after a rain or if you live near a water source: lakes, streams, ponds, and any stagnant water place so make sure your property doesn’t have things that can collect water (buckets, dog dishes, whatever). A place that has constant humidity and some heat, you can pretty much guarantee their presence. They’re mostly active at dawn and twilight. So if you’re going to be outside a lot, break out a product that contains DEET.