We’re Havin’ a Heat Wave (along with Our Cats)

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

I know that the heat wave in the Pacific Northwest and Canada is serious, but this will be an extremely silly post about cats, mostly made from tweets. (Actually, the cats won’t think it’s silly, nor will their staff. But nevertheless.) At the end, I’ll get more serious. But here we go–

Thinking ahead:


Cat under a cold wet towel:

Your biggest fan:

Ice house:

Ice pack:

Ice box:


But the hotel stay doesn’t necessarily go well. Poor Mr. Onion!

Throwing shade:

The cool of the evening:

Hard to believe: a cat on a leash!

* * *

Turning serious, and turning from cats to their staff, I am fortunate in two ways: First, I don’t mind the heat, even if it’s not dry, up until around 95°F/35°C (which I admit is practically chilly by comparison to what’s happening out West now and also not the proper metric, as we shall see in a moment.). Second, I have no experience managing a heat wave beyond opening a window and turning on a fan. Closing the windows and blocking them with tinfoil + cardboard + a blanket is just way beyond anything I have ever been called upon to do. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m about to present three threads on heat management that are very detailed and seem sensible, but I can’t claim to have vetted them based on experience. So do click through weigh in! Herewith:

From Maine, a thread:

From Arizona, a thread:

From Australia, a thread:

I’m actually rather hopeful at seeing how much information is being shared — besides the cat pictures — because I have the feeling we’re going to be doing a lot more of this.

I mentioned that temperature as such (“95°F/35°C”) is not the metric to watch. Here is a thread on “wet bulb” temperature, which is:

Why this matters:

In other words:

While humans can survive temperatures of well over 50C when humidity is low, when both temperatures and humidity are high, neither sweating nor soaking ourselves can cool us. What matters is the “wet-bulb” temperature – given by a thermometer covered in a wet cloth – which shows the temperature at which evaporative cooling from sweat or water occurs. Humans cannot survive prolonged exposure to a wet-bulb temperature beyond 35C because there is no way to cool our bodies. Not even in the shade, and not even with unlimited water.

A 35C wet-bulb temperature was once thought impossible. But last year scientists reported that locations in the Persian Gulf and Pakistan’s Indus river valley had already reached this threshold, although only for an hour or two, and only over small areas.

Presumably, therefore, wet bulb temperature is something that you would wish to measure before it’s too late. Here is a video showing wet bulb instrumentation:

If you want to build your own instrumentation, apparently a wet bulb thermometer is useful when smoking or drying meat (!), so here are directions. It is also possible to make a wet bulb thermometer with common household materials:

A thermometer left naked and exposed to the air will measure the ambient temperature. If you wrap the bulb of the thermometer in wet cloth, by contrast, the evaporating water from the wet cloth will cool the thermometer down, and its temperature will be cooler than it would be otherwise. The less moisture in the air, the more rapidly the water on the wet cloth will evaporate, and the cooler the wet bulb temperature will be. The lower the wet bulb temperature compared to the dry bulb temperature, the lower the humidity.

You need an absorbent material to soak up water and stay in contact with the tip of your thermometer — preferably made from cotton and with a thicker inner layer coupled to a looser outer layer. An old shoelace or bootlace is ideal; alternatively, you can buy wicks made for this purpose from science supply stores. Whether you buy a wick or use a bootlace, you’ll want to place the wick in a vessel, such as a beaker full of water, so that it soaks up the moisture. Then put one end of the wick around the temperature probe on your thermometer. Water will travel up the wick through capillary action, while the tip of the thermometer remains continually moist. The temperature on your thermometer is now the wet-bulb temperature.

If we review the measures taken by the cat’s collective staff, as well as the tips provided from Maine, Arizona, and Australia, we can see that they all make, well, pre-collapse assumptions: That there will be electrical power, that there will be water, that there will be hotels, and so forth. Air conditioning is a given. Wet bulb instrumentation assumes batteries, power, in some cases WiFi, and long life in the casing and the sensor. It might be wise to start re-thinking those assumptions while there’s still time.

I was recently struck by these two images, especially the top one:

I am not advocating for this particular design; I don’t think we’ll be digging qanats any time soon. What struck me is that the builders were conscious of the wind and the earth. (I have become very conscious of ventilation during the current pandemic, and was already conscious of drafts, that is wind, when sealing and insulating the house[1], so I find this confluence interesting. We have to start being conscious of the air, visualizing it…). I once visited a teak house in Southeast Asia that was cool in the staggering heat, because it was properly situated to catch the breeze, was raised off the ground on stilts, shadowy on the inside, and had enormous eaves (apparently Australian houses often have awnings all around, serving the same purpose).

All of which is to say, it makes sense to start imagining what life without air conditioning would look like, and reconfiguring one’s living — and working? — space accordingly. Pergolas, for example; trees; vines, all for shade. It’s possible, if we learn from cultures other than our own (including permaculture).

And now to feed the cat a chicken-soup ice cube!


[1] The house pinned the meter on the blower door test!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. TimH

    My favourite: “Cover your windows with a combination of cardboard covered with aluminum. Aluminum helps dissipate heat. This why heatsinks in computers use them.”

    Nope. For the windows, it reflects the heat. Heatsinks use the metal because it’s cheap to cast and extrude, light, and reasonably thermally conductive. Completely different application.

    Always amused by confident assertions of not-truths.

    1. Geo

      The tinfoil one didn’t seem right to me. Granted, I’m an art school dropout who got C’s in high school so not someone anyone should listen too. But, seems to me putting a white board would be better than a metal which absorbs/transfers heat. Like, on a sunny day would I rather sit on a shiny bare metal bench, or a white painted one?

      But, what do I know. I just make pretty pictures and tell stories. :)

      1. Nameful

        A white board is only white in the visible spectrum. “Heat” here is in fact infrared radiation. Aluminum foil will reflect radiation not only in the visible spectrum, but also in infrared. There are caveats, the foil is relatively thin, so reflectivity will tend to decrease the further down the IR spectrum one goes; also, reflectivity is not perfect (finite electrical conductivity, for one), so the aluminum will heat up, just more slowly. Overall, it’s more efficient.

        Your sunny day bench question otoh has to do with the steady state temperature of the bench – the temperature it reaches after sitting in the sunshine for a long enough time. That involves several other considerations. Both will grow hot eventually, if at different rates. Perhaps you should think about your experiment early in the morning, not at mid-day.

      2. Onihikage

        The issue of sitting on bare metal vs painted metal is that the paint has a lower specific heat capacity than the bare metal, which means it doesn’t hold as much heat and it also doesn’t transfer as much energy into you when you touch it.

        Aluminum foil in the window, shiny side out, has nothing to do with why aluminum is used in heat sinks – the foil is much too thin to retain any amount of heat at all. In this case, it’s for reflecting incoming light away from the window. There exist liners you can apply to your windows that serve this purpose all year round. However, it’s equally important to cover your window with a bunch of insulating material to further slow down the transfer of heat.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Always amused by confident assertions of not-truths.

      Fair enough, but I’d rather do the right thing for the wrong reason, than the wrong thing for the right reason….

    3. Code Name D

      Actually, tin foil does work. Windows will pass sunlight but retain heat. Tin foil acts like a mirror, redirecting the sunlight back outside the window. The carboard is just a backing for the tinfoil. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself.

  2. Max

    I grew up in Fresno CA where it hits 110F in the Summer. Everyone has air conditioning now but I had neighbor friends who talked about going into the foothills and camping for the whole summer until the heat subsided. My brother also had an Iranian friend whose family swore by sleeping outside on the back porch at night. When I was in elementary school, my poor friends who couldn’t afford A/C would black out the windows like you describe.

    I don’t for one second think “oh just suck it up.” The heat will kill you, and even if you have a nice place to live it saps your energy. It also takes a certain amount of energy just to prepare the house, let alone everything going to hell because everyone in the home is too hot to move or do anything.

    Here in San Jose, it is the driest I have seen it in the last 10 years. My landlord wants me to take care of the yard but I think I’m just going to let it dry up and die.

    1. Carolinian

      I asked my friend in Phoenix whether she couldn’t just sleep in the back yard. She said even in the middle of the night it’s 80 to 90 degrees but you do get sky radiation if not cloudy. Which may be why people in the Middle East used to sleep on the roof.

      Down South we used to sleep on sleeping porches and I do have a screened porch although most of my neighbors these days have churning AC units instead. Luckily for us Southerners this is the year everybody else gets the brutal heat….so far!

    2. Mantid

      Max, plant a garden in your front yard. I read about a restaurant owner in LA who at first used his front yard garden as a resource for greens at the resto. Then he went door to door with an offer such as “if you (resident) let us plant a garden for our resto in your front yard, you can eat anything in it”. People began to offer up their yards and now it’s a movement. Similar to the Victory Gardens from the day.

      Many venerable people have described that during the 30s depression, most people who weren’t in large center cities, did not go hungry. They had no money, but plenty of food from their yards and their neighbor’s.

  3. jr

    The other day I went out and changed the bird pool water then waited inside for the morning rotation. Usually one or two sparrows or finches come out to drink and bathe, I check the water and more come out. That morning though, as soon as I was inside six or seven were already lined up and taking turns using the facilities. They were really thirsty, I assume most of their nearby water sources had dried up. I put out two additional trays of water.

  4. Jackson

    My cat is resting near the a/c vent on a bare floor. Currently it is 102.7 in the shade according to the Oregon Scientific weather station.

  5. Wukchumni

    Burning Man would be a great avenue to explore possibilities, as there are no trees on the dry lake bed and if you want to make it through a week of 100-105 in your camp, it’s all about shade structures shielding the Sun from the fun.

    Whatever you erect has to be quite secure as 30-40 mph dust storms are a given, and most every camp has a number of kiddie pools where you can soak your feet in the shade, which gives the feel of being in 77 degrees, which is totally doable.

    A standard circa 1900 home in the Central Valley here is typically surrounded by Eucalyptus trees, which provides shade-the most important thing. I’ve probably seen a hundred or so with 30 foot tall ten feet wide cooling towers that are next to the house about 10 feet away.

    The way these work is hot air ascends to the top of the tower and cool air descends down to about 10 feet below the surface to a conduit underground where the cool air comes into the house.

    1. Carolinian

      The cooling tower thing sounds neat. It probably only works in low humidity?

      Old time desert dwellers had swamp coolers which are the wet bulb in action.

      1. Nce

        I’m in a vehicle that doesn’t have working ac, so I tried this diy evaporative cooler using a usb fan, fat sponges, and a large frying pan. It works while I’m parked:
        I’m going to try a zeer pot for my food, since ice melts in my cooler in less than a day:
        I’m fortunate to live in area with low humidity.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I’ve probably seen a hundred or so with 30 foot tall ten feet wide cooling towers that are next to the house about 10 feet away.

      Literal cooling towers? Do you have a link or a photo?

      (Meanwhile, as we discuss these fascinating and post collapse-ready solutions, private equity is probably cutting a deal for, like, a billion air conditioners for all the homes it owns.)

    3. Mantid

      I love the Eucalyptus!! One problem with them however is their sap/oil. It’s extremely volatile, almost explosively so.

      A wonderful Eucalyptus story. With a grove of Eucalyptus, because of the wonderful scented oil, there are no insects. Good for using in your clothes cabinets. In any case, no insects = no birds because there’s nothing to eat. However, I used to practice my bass clarinet in a quiet grove of Eucalyptus. Well, birds would come and poke around in the grassless dirt pretending to look for insects (which they knew would not be there). They were attracted by the wonderful bass clarinet. If I die tomorrow (but not from Covid as I take ivermectin) “I’ve had my fun if I don’t get well no more”.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Great post this…

      Thank you. This is a topic to which I think I shall have ample opportunity to return. Two avenues of exploration shown by the readers are clearly clothing and architecture (though I would also like to understand in detail how to care for our cat Owners). I like practical tips (as with Covid to which, at least in the sense that you’ve got to think about airflow, the coping with climate change seems conceptually adjacent).

  6. steve

    You can create a wet bulb thermometer with an ordinary old school tube/mercury/alcohol thermometer, no batteries needed. Properly, they are referred to as Sling Psychrometers, though you can devise other means to create the air flow.

  7. Amfortas the hippie

    here in the nw texas hill country, we “usually” get hot and dry, from end of may to september.
    not this year…ambient temp has been rather cool…hottest it’s been so far is 95 for one afternoon.
    been in mid 80’s to low 90’s otherwise.
    but the humidity has been crazy for us.
    60%-100%(latter usually in the morning).
    this makes even 85 degrees pretty uncomfortable.
    with our usual summertime 10-30% humidity, i can stand even 110…so long as there’s shade and a cowboy pool(great big water trough).
    but i like the dry heat.
    and the advice on pergolas and arbors and such…plant covered open structures…well, i second that.
    i built one special for the bar, over the 8′ diameter, 2′ high metal pool.
    rigged up a fogger array to put up there, with scrap black poly pipe and a bunch of fogger hose attachments that were left over from my old giant greenhouse.
    add 4-5 $15 box fans arrayed around, and it’s tolerable, even with the humidity(well water is 65 degrees year round, here.

    also, clothing….in spring and summer, i’m usually naked or nearly so(depending on the work i’m doing), but if i have to roam around in the sun to “move water” for the gardens/trees/etc, white, loose fitting cotton and a wide brimmed straw hat….when i put on this getup, i always think of the siesta mice on speedy gonzales…dress like that.

    and i can also second the darkening of one’s house.
    we were without a/c this year…waiting on me to get the minisplit installed…and finally, when i hit a snag, re-installing a couple of window units.
    but we were without until 2 weeks ago.
    luckily, i designed this house for airflow, and a cave mode.
    roff is high on the east, with windows all the way to the ceiling, and low on the west, with an attached “wood porch”(firewood storage) made of shiny metal, with storm windows that i can close up to keep the sun out…this porch runs N-S along the main, central part of the house, and is open to the south, with another storm window on the north end(where a shop fan will eventually go). acts like my grandmother’s breezeway.
    when the stormwindows are closed in the afternoon, it gets pretty cavelike.
    this high humidity has somewhat foiled my efforts.

    another 20 years at the rate we’re going, and we’ll all hafta move underground.

    good luck to all y’all who aren’t used to this kind of weather.
    we made it through a taste of your winter.
    i’ll take the heat back, if you keep that snow and ice and all.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > clothing….in spring and summer, i’m usually naked or nearly so(depending on the work i’m doing), but if i have to roam around in the sun to “move water” for the gardens/trees/etc, white, loose fitting cotton and a wide brimmed straw hat….when i put on this getup, i always think of the siesta mice on speedy gonzales…dress like that.

      In other words, dress like a peasant or a migratory farmworker:

      It’s the new “International Style”:

      I have a Tilley Hat clone, which is broad-brimmed. But I don’t like to wear hats, which is very foolish.

      1. Wukchumni

        You’ll never find me out on a walk without a broad rimmed Henschel hat on (made in the USA) and i’m partial to the Aussie Breezer model…

        JFK gets all the credit for the demise of wearing something on your dome because he rarely wore a hat, but I think it was the advent of a/c that did in the practice.


      2. Amfortas the hippie

        i currently wear a panama.
        this one:https://www.target.com/p/men-s-panama-straw-hat-with-chambray-band-goodfellow-co-natural/-/A-83061904?preselect=81235132#lnk=sametab

        but i wear whatever is available in the summer, so long as it’s got a all the way around brim.
        winter, it’s the same old aussie canvas hat i’ve had for 30 years.(glued, caulked, scotchguarded, spraypainted a fecal brown, etc)
        hats are important…and venting in those hats is what makes it germane to this discussion.
        the crown must have holes in it for it to work.

        …and…i loathe the “wicking blends” like what’s at wally whirled right now, replacing cotton.
        i know full well what cotton does to the soil, but give me cotton over whatever neorayon they come up with any day.

  8. bongbong

    Anybody who visits Barcelona, or presumably other places in Spain, has seen one of the ways they deal with the Mediterranean summer heat. Which can be bad.

    Most apts and homes have large outside shutters on their windows, controlled from the inside. When closed, so little sunlight comes thru it seems like nightime. Keeping the heat completely outside.

    Simple and very effective.

    1. Ignacio

      Persianas are called. Very useful in summer indeed. A must for siestas in mid summer haha.

      The very worst problem is the combination of heat and humidity as said in the post. Fans are not bad providing relief when it is hot and humid.

      This year the heat has moved to west and northwest of North America continent while here we are enjoying the coolest summer so far in the last several years. It is by no means cool but so far there haven’t been heat waves here this year. I don’t think these two facts are unrelated.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > large outside shutters on their windows, controlled from the inside. When closed, so little sunlight comes thru it seems like nightime.

      Better than tinfoil… Though tinfoil is surely cheaper (and available to renters, unlike shutters).

  9. Yves Smith

    Odd question: when I was crashing in a friend’s NYC apt on a visit when I was living in Oz, his A/C died when the day temps were close to 100 and the night temps in the mid 80s. Fairly high humidity too.

    I slept better that night than I had with the A/C with a powerful Vornado fan turned on and positioned 2 feet from me.

    Does a fan increase evaporation enough at super high temps to change the overheating equation then or not?

    1. Ignacio

      Indeed, the fans are very good helpers for transpiration when it is hot and humid. Air speed is an important other factor used in HVAC design.

    2. Amfortas the hippie

      not odd at all.
      my anecdata says that yes, high velocity airflow, directed right at you, does overcome high humidity…to a degree.
      as discussed above in the wetbulb stuff, there’s limits.
      hottest day we’ve had is 95, with around 70% humidity. the 2 box fans that are directed downward onto my bed worked wonders.
      my practice with the pool…and sweat…is to put a few beach towels on the bed(before the bar was built, the bed was where breaktime/coffeebreak/lunch/siesta happened; due to my bones)…both to keep the water/sweat from soaking the bed, and to provide an evaporative pad of sorts.
      with those fans on high, i dried off pretty quickly, even with the humidity.

      another architectural thing that comes to mind: all the old houses around here(mom’s is circa 1910) have really high ceilings, with transom windows to let the accumulated heat out, and whole house is usually built oriented to prevailing summer winds.
      and those old timers also were careful to plant trees all around the houses…mom’s has 100 year old pecans.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > another architectural thing that comes to mind: all the old houses around here(mom’s is circa 1910) have really high ceilings, with transom windows to let the accumulated heat out, and whole house is usually built oriented to prevailing summer wind.
        and those old timers also were careful to plant trees all around the houses…mom’s has 100 year old pecans.

        Yes, yes, yes, and yes. And transoms and trees can be retrofitted. I’m sure there are a ton of old Midwestern houses exactly like this (and not to be found in today’s “developed” cul de sacs).

        1. The Rev Kev

          In Oz you have a style of house called a Queenslander which features tall ceilings, warp-around verandas and are built on stumps so that air can flow under the house to help keep it cooler.

        2. Amfortas the hippie

          the old houses around here are made of rock(mom’s front part of the house…the original part—built with stones from the original farmhouse, which was dirtfloored and low, built into the ground like a sodhouse)…sandstone or limestone or granite, depending on what part of the county.
          now, of course, they’re all finished with nice inside walls and insulation…but not originally.
          the oldest one’s i’ve seen(castell, Tx…foundations/ruins) were orig. dirt, then stone floor…later, starting around 1890, they’d do pier and beam, with grates to let wind blow through underneath.that;s how mom’s house is…although she’s blocked those grates*
          even older stone floored rock houses in fredericksburg…kept original, or remodeled that way(pioneer/settler chic is a big deal down there, and in the brochure).
          they are much cooler than the adjacent, similarly unairconditioned, frame houses.
          (their pioneer museum/farmstead is worth a visit, if just for the barn/shop…complete with smithy)
          all that thermal mass matters.

          * venturing underneath mom’s house is a true adventure…like wriggling through a cave, with myriad wires and pipes of all kinds, reflecting 110 years of cracker-rigging and making do with what’s to hand, by an unknown number of humans with varying abilities. I think we’ve replaced all the aluminum, cloth coated, original wiring, but it’s impossible to tell. any wire under there is assumed to be hot.
          big freeze in feb. burst a couple of pipes under there…ancient cast iron by the look of them.
          i, of course, advocate circumnambulating the house with new pipe, and only entering the structure where needed.
          same with new wire.
          i try to intercept whatever contractors she hires for stuff to determine if they’re on the same page…so it can be their idea(she’ll listen to them,lol)
          i reckon that just the risk of snakebite is enough to endeavor to limit underhouse excursions as much as possible.
          (bob villa is a piker–i’ve encountered rattlesnakes, possums, and 6″ shiny red centipedes as big around as my thumb…while on my belly, and covered in mud derived from who knows what some pioneer wife tossed under the house 100 years ago)

  10. Birch

    Have you heard about the town of Lytton BC? Three days in a row it hit a record for the hottest day ever recorded in Canada, then yesterday it burned to the ground in a couple hours. Gone.

    1. Some Guy

      I remember there was a Bloom Country strip once in which the character Oliver, who was a declared agnostic, was sitting on the dock looking at the sky and the night stars rearranged themselves to say, ‘Repent Oliver!’. In the last panel he comments on how tough it is to be an agnostic these days.

      It was a bit like that with denial of the climate change reality and impacts in B.C. this week.

      Canada is 10 million sq km, to beat the all-time national record high temp by 4.5C (8F) in one go, in June no less, is just nuts, and then the town burns down the next day. If God was writing a script to make us worry about climate change, you’d ask him to make it a little less cliched and obvious.

      I’m sure that people will just and shrug any carry on as usual, but even those who won’t admit it, or throw up rationalizations, might have to look around at times and see the writing on the wall.

      More on topic, we take our cats out on a leash fairly regularly, always good for starting conversation with the neighbors (it seems to be becoming more common?), but not this past week. They would start climbing the stairs from the basement (each step adding at least 1C in temp) and then just flop down and sleep at some point before getting to the top.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > They would start climbing the stairs from the basement (each step adding at least 1C in temp) and then just flop down and sleep at some point before getting to the top.

        I don’t know how the “wet bulb” concept affects creatures with fur. I wish I did! Perhaps panting, instead of sweating?

        1. synoia

          Yes, dogs and cats cool themselves by panting, because they do not sweat.

          Dogs like to be hosed down when it is very hot. Cats like shade, especially under bushes.

  11. Eustachedesaintpierre

    Probably of no practical use at all but the Brits in India when they were not out with the dogs in the midday sun, employed Punkah Wallers whose job was to constantly & slowly pull on a rope attached to a large flat ceiling fan, Otherwise the Mem Sahibs would head up into mountain retreats on cute little railways to fake English villages.

    During my time as a 4-6 year old colonial oppressor in Kenya, I don’t really remember the equatorial heat, but I do recall one occasion when the rains came & everybody it seems including my little self went & stood outside amid the rising steam & gloried in it.

    I suppose that your cat would be quite happy if you were to rig one up & spend the hot hours of the day pulling on a rope, but as always if you are wealthy enough you can buy a fancy electric version from Germany.


  12. Robert Gray

    In Finland there used to be (1999-2010) an annual World Sauna Championship. The temperature was set at 110 C ( = 230 F ) and a measure of water was splashed on the stones every 30 seconds to keep the humidity level high. The winner was the one who stayed in the longest and was able to walk out. According to this BBC story about the 2003 event, the winning time that year was over 16 minutes.


    In 2010, the last two remaining participants both succumbed to the heat, with one dying and the other seriously burned. The contest hasn’t been held since.

  13. Maritmer

    I have an intake fan in a window at the east side of the house. I have an exhaust fan in a window on the west side. Usually start these fans up about 9PM and it cools down around midnight.

    For those with a basement, which is usually cool, a possibility is to cut a hole through the first floor, put a fan there and exhaust this cool air into the rest of the house. Architects seem to be asleep on this possibility. For instance, during summer, there could be intakes around the house that are opened and the cool air drawn through the cool ground and thus into the house.

    When I was a teen, I was allowed to sleep in the cool basement while the rest of the family sweated it out upstairs. You could do other stuff in the basement too………..

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > For those with a basement, which is usually cool, a possibility is to cut a hole through the first floor, put a fan there and exhaust this cool air into the rest of the house. Architects seem to be asleep on this possibility. For instance, during summer, there could be intakes around the house that are opened and the cool air drawn through the cool ground and thus into the house.

      All good suggestions. I’m not even sure a fan would be needed with the right configuration in the upper stories. “A house is a chimney” works one way in summer, another way in winter (assuming you have winter).

      Makes me think, perhaps wrongly, that cooling the intake air with plants and trees and shade would be a good idea.

      NOTE I assume basements. I don’t know what people with houses built on slabs would do.

      1. synoia

        I don’t know what people with houses built on slabs would do…

        Lie on the floor (no carpet). The more bare skin touching the slab, the better.

      2. Airgap

        We slab dwellers have the option of installing an attic fan to suck the hot air up and out of the house and send it out from the attic vents. In the winter you can reverse the fan to flush cold air from inside and suck in warmer air from the attic and from outside.

        Per a company selling them:

        ¬Did you know that your attic could reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit when it’s 80 degrees outside? Sure, you don’t live in your attic, but it makes it difficult to lower your house temperature to a comfortable setting. An attic fan can bring many benefits to your home and help keep your house cooler.
        The installation of an attic fan will circulate the air in the desired space. The constant airflow can lower the attic temperature by 50 degrees. The dramatic temperature difference will correlate with your house cooling faster and staying cool longer.

        1. lambert strether

          Thank you, I’m sure this will help people.

          In general, I would like the house to create cooling “by construction,” is it were, because that is robust to collapse. So I wonder how to create a draft with a vent, but no (electric) fan. Possibly by cooling the air on the intake side, as with trees or eaves?

          1. HotFlash

            Lambert, do you have ridge vent? Mr. HotFlash and I spent a good chunk of our honeymoon re-roofing his parents frame ranch-style house and installed ridge vent. When we cut the slot along the peak the temp in the house dropped 10 degrees. Can’t remember what the brand was but it came from Lowe’s and had a plastic/meshy liner (similar to a scotch-brite) to keep bats, bugs, and snow out.

          2. Grumpy Engineer

            Yep. HotFlash has the answer. A ridge vent.

            We recently had our roof replaced, and my wife (a civil engineer) was smart enough to explicitly request a ridge vent for improved ventilation. Ceiling temperatures in the house (as measured by IR thermometer) are now several degrees lower.

            Note that when you have a ridge vent installed, you should disconnect (or otherwise disable) any existing motorized vent fan. They can pull air backwards through the ridge vent and cause unwanted condensation.

        2. Mantid

          These are good ideas. If one has the dinero, a metal roof is much cooler. We installed one 2 years ago after living under a “standard” composite 3 tab roof. Difference is night and day.

        3. pricklyone

          I have lived in houses with “attic fans” (more properly “whole house” fans), since childhood.
          Dad did the first one “DIY” using an industrial ventilator fan he rescued from the scrap at his job at a refinery. He replaced the motor with a smaller HP model, and changed belt drive to slow it down so it would run on the smaller motor. We had no airconditioner back then.
          When I bought my own place, I was lucky, in that somebody had installed one already. This extends the “between heating and cooling” season considerably!
          Doing this with new fans may have a long payback time, unless you have cool, lower dewpoint temps in the evening. In my area, most years, it is a small window of time before it becomes too damp and stays too warm in the evening.

    2. pricklyone

      Please, if you have a damp basement, don’t try to use it in this manner. Warm, humid air from outside will condense in the cooler basement. This is prime environment for bacterial nasties. (Think Legionella, Legionnaires Disease).

  14. Anon

    I have lived all my life in an area that used to be swampland. It is always hot and humid here in the summer (also often in the spring and fall, too ). It is not a dry heat. So, my advice is: do any work that absolutely must be done early in the morning. By early, I mean 4-5am. Don’t wait until evening because it will still be hot. Don’t do any cooking. Have cold, already prepared foods. Eat lightly. You probably won’t be very hungry, anyway. Stay hydrated, of course. Drinking alcohol is very unwise. It is dehydrating. Stay inside with fans on (watch out for cats who might play with fan blades). Keep curtains and blinds closed. Stay in a basement or first floor. Heat rises. Wear light clothes. Wear wet clothes! Put wet towel on top of head and back of neck. Put feet in bucket of cool water. At night, sleep wrapped in wet sheets. Put wet sheet or towel over or under pets. Putting an animal in the fridge even if the door is open and you are keeping close watch is not safe, IMO.

  15. michael99

    Ceiling fans really help at my place. With central a/c thermostat set to 80 F it is noticeably cooler sitting under a fan. Having one over the bed is great; most of the time I don’t run the a/c at night.

    I open windows and use box fans to cool off the interior at night and in the morning when the temp is below 80 F. Around dawn is when it’s coolest outside so turning the fans on is part of the morning ritual. If I can get the inside temp down to the low 70s in the early morning, the a/c runs a lot less in the afternoon and evening. A thick layer of insulation in the attic and dual pane windows help keep the interior cool.

    Thanks for this post and comments! I’ll be looking into persianas.

  16. roxan

    I lived in India, with relatives, back in the 1980’s when they were socialist. It may have changed, but almost nowhere had AC, except expensive hotels. Also, saw little refrigeration. My relatives insisted cold drinks, ice and sugar were bad, and no one ate meat. Everyone drank gallons of hot tea. One thing I saw was ceiling fans, which were fast and efficient, not like the slow fans here, and most houses/hotels had thick walls with big windows with shutters. Separate or outdoor stairwells and balconies were everywhere. Head coverings were a must, as well as veils, coupled with loose cotton clothing. Afternoon siesta from around 1pm to 4 was legally enforced in Puna. Business stayed open until 1am or so. We slept until 4 am, rose early to get water which we rationed–one small bucket each served for bathing, cooking and laundry! So, we slept in shifts, on the floor, no stuffed furniture or thick mattresses.

    1. michael99

      Hi, thanks for your comment. On drinking hot tea this article from 2012 in Smithsonian Magazine, A Hot Drink on a Hot Day Can Cool You Down says:

      Here in Washington, we finally got a slight break from what is shaping up to be one of the hottest summers in recent memory for pretty much the whole country. As we pondered the fact that this sort of weather could well become the norm in future decades due to climate change, we also remembered a counterintuitive cooling technique that many of us had heard of but doubted. In many countries around the world, conventional wisdom says that you can cool down on a hot day by drinking a hot beverage.

      We got in touch with Ollie Jay, a researcher at University of Ottawa’s School of Human Kinetics—and an expert in all things sweat-related—to ask a pressing question: is this claim for real? His Thermal Ergonomics Lab, it turned out, had published a study on this topic just a few months ago.

      Their answer, in short: Yes, a hot drink can cool you down, but only in specific circumstances. “If you drink a hot drink, it does result in a lower amount of heat stored inside your body, provided the additional sweat that’s produced when you drink the hot drink can evaporate,” Jay says.

  17. Wukchumni

    If it weren’t for Giant Sequoia trees, instead it might’ve been called ‘Natural Caves National Park’, as there are around 250 caves in Sequoia NP, along with a number of mines in Mineral King.

    There’s a mine that goes straight back around 60 feet that’s 5 minutes walk from the road, if we get really crazy heat in the 130-135 range, that’s where you’ll find me chilling out.

  18. sharonsj

    The more I read, the more I want to stay in northern Pennsylvania. I’m surrounded by very tall trees and I rarely use the air conditioner. Winter may be a b*tch, but that’s what wool is for. Meanwhile, my niece is moving to Florida and she’s trying to convince me to move there too. It will never happen.

  19. orlbucfan

    Do not move to Florida. Stay in No. Pennsylvania. Between the gradual sea level rise and intensifying hurricanes plus the increase in hot temperature and humidity, you are not missing anything. Take it from me. I’ve lived in Florida long enough to be a cracker (native).

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