Jessie Raymond: Trying to beat the heat on a budget

A few years ago, when we told people that we didn’t have air-conditioning, they seemed impressed.
Now they just look at us with a mixture of confusion and pity and then offer us their spare bedroom until the heat wave passes.
Maybe we’re just stubborn, but we’re not giving in yet.
For my part, I object to the cost of A/C. We spend a lot to keep our drafty old farmhouse warm in the winter; I refuse to pay for climate control in the summer as well. While I’m happy to have A/C at work, I can’t bring myself to run it at home.
Mark, on the other hand, doesn’t care about the money; he just doesn’t like artificially cold air. Go ahead and ask him what he thinks of convenience stores doubling as meat lockers in the summer months.
As a contractor, he often works in blistering heat, and he says it’s easier to tolerate when you aren’t alternating between extreme temperatures.
That’s certainly not an issue in our house.
To manage the heat, I’ve become obsessed with non-mechanical forms of temperature control. On hot mornings, I check the outdoor thermometer every few minutes. When the outside air starts to get warmer than the house, I race around shutting all our windows and doors, closing curtains and pulling shades.
Where needed, I tack up tablecloths, towels and bathrobes to keep out the sun. (Forget shiplap walls and distressed white furniture; I maintain that this is authentic farmhouse style.)
Then I put on an orange sash and act as door monitor, enforcing a strict rule that no door be open for longer than three seconds. “You’re letting all the cool air out!” I yell at anyone who enters the house with insufficient urgency. You should see how many citations I wrote up in the first half of July alone.
As night falls, I again watch the thermometer for the exact moment when the outside temps fall below those inside. Then I open everything up to let the cool air in overnight.
Thanks to my diligent door and window management, I can keep the house at 78 degrees when it’s 93 outside — for a day or so. Because my family members insist on using the doors — sometimes several times a day, and usually far too lackadaisically — I lose ground quickly. During the hot spell a couple of weeks ago, the temperature differential shrank with each successive day until the house held only a two-degree advantage.
Mark seems miserable but resigned to the heat. (You can tell by the way he lollygags for up to eight seconds when coming in the door.) I, on the other hand, am always looking for ways to cool off.
Before bed every night, I take a shower. I start with the water set to “Caribbean Ocean” and then make it a few degrees colder every 10 seconds, down through “Maine Coast in August” and so on until I reach “East Middlebury Gorge.” I keep it there until I start involuntarily hooting like an orangutan.
So refreshing.
This year’s unprecedented heat has been too much for the old box fan that usually keeps our bedroom comfortable at night. So I replaced it with a small but fierce and deafening industrial fan I found in Mark’s shop. It’s quite powerful; instead of low to high, it has settings for hurricane categories 1 through 5.
We sleep under a sheet to protect us from mosquitoes, but with the new fan we have to hold on tight all night long. If one of us lets go, the sheet snaps like a sail and billows across the room. Fighting the headwind, the two of us together can barely drag it back across the bed.
So, yes, living without A/C has its logistical challenges. But as anyone who knows will tell you, perhaps the biggest challenge is psychological: managing the irritability that comes with the heat. Diplomacy skills are essential.
Purely as an example, say that your husband has spent the day working on a sunbaked asphalt roof in humid 95-degree weather.
When you come home from your comfy air-conditioned office to an 83-degree house, remember not to say, “Geez, it’s hot in here,” or, in fact, anything weather-related at all.
Otherwise, there’s a good chance he will tear up all his unpaid door citations and sprinkle the scraps right over your head.

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