Keeping Cool in Houston During a Summer Power Outage
Extreme heat can be especially dangerous during a summer power outage, which means your AC will not be keeping you cool. Fortunately, there are things you can do to stay a little more comfortable while the power is out and/or your AC is being fixed.
Enjoy these tips we have used ourselves and compiled from a variety of sources. If you have something to add, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reduce heat gain coming through windows and glass doors
Use shades, curtains and blinds to your advantage to block the sunlight and reduce the thermal energy transfer into your home. You could also have reflective window film or tint installed on windows that struggle with heat transfer in the hotter months. Direct sunlight especially through west windows can really heat up a home.
How to Hack It Temporarily
- Consider bringing those reflective screens used in automobiles indoors and put them in your hottest west window as a temporary sunshade.
- You could create your own reflective window film out of a piece of cardboard cut to fit and covered with aluminum foil.
- A beach umbrella shading your west-facing window could also be a temporary solution.
Reduce heat sources in your home
It may sound like a no-brainer but reducing heat-generating activities indoors during the heat of the day can make a big difference. Of course, reducing heat sources is easier when you don’t have power. Cook outdoors with a camping stove or BBQ grill if you must cook. Don’t exercise heavily during the heat, either, unless you have a place where you know you can reliably cool down.
How to Hack It
- If you have to fire up an oven, consider using your electric toaster oven instead and turn on your kitchen fan to distribute the heat a little better. Again, this works better if you have electricity.
- Consider meals that are refrigerated or eat out if that is an option, preferably someplace with seating indoors and good air conditioning.
- When electricity does come back on, try to use your oven or stove less often during the day. Save drying clothes until the evening, too.
Drink plenty of water and other beverages throughout the day to stay hydrated and better regulate your body temperature. If you can, limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol intake. Sugary sodas can have a dehydrating effect as well, so consider limiting how many you consume.
Add cooling and hydrating foods such as cucumbers, watermelon, smoothies, coconut water, salads, and popsicles to your menu.
Make a note of any medications you are taking, which can affect how your body responds to heat.
How to Hack It
- Keep an insulated water bottle full of your favorite drink nearby. It can help you remember to drink enough liquids during the day.
- If you get tired of water, try adding fruit or seek out rehydrating beverages.
- One of our family’s favorite snacks is frozen grapes.
- There are many powders and ready-made beverages that replace electrolytes to suit every diet, taste, and budget. One of Rob’s favorite is Hydralyte, which comes in many flavors. Rob suggests trying strawberry lemonade and lemonade.
Submerse yourself in water to stay cool
Take cool showers or baths to lower your body temperature. If it’s extremely hot, you can also wet a washcloth and apply it to your pulse points, such as your wrists, neck, and ankles. Go swimming for exercise and to cool off. A community pool or fitness club can be a good place to cool off.
Don’t forget to take care of your pets when the weather is extreme. They also like romps in kiddie pools and sprinklers.
How to Hack It
- Use a service like Swimply to rent a private swimming pool for an hour at a time. It’s a fantastic way to avoid crowds!
- If you have decided to stay overnight at a hotel, many of them have swimming pools as well. Some fancier hotels offer a day rate to access the outdoor swimming pool and other amenities on site.
- Look for inexpensive battery-powered spray bottles with built-in fans.
- Set up frozen wet, washcloths in your freezer in the summer for times when the power goes out.
Seek out cooling products and clothing
Cooling is in such demand that there is a huge market for clothing and products to help keep people cool. Explore some of the possibilities and see which ones might help you and your situation.
- Gel-filled bandanas, cooling towels, and personal fans also work when you’re indoors!
- Gel-filled mattress covers and pillows and certain sheets are engineered to keep you cooler.
- Gel mats can help your pet cool down since they don’t sweat the same way humans do.
- Light-colored and loose clothing to reflect heat can also help your body regulate its temperature better. Rob and Kenny enjoy moisture-wicking shirts, including Huk, Columbia and many other brands.
How to Hack It
- Frozen water bottles to cool your bedding is a budget idea for helping reduce the heat while you sleep.
- Inexpensive spray bottles filled with cool water can be used as a cooling mist. Keep extras in the fridge!
- Florida Water, an alcohol-based light fragrance you can pick up at a local pharmacy, can be mixed with ice water and used to soak towels to help with cooling. It’s been around since 1808!
Seek out public spaces with great AC and electricity
Sometimes the best solution is to find a cooler place to hang out, even if it is just for a few hours. Keep in mind that most adults in good health can acclimate to the heat, but it’s harder for the very young, those who are older, and those with medical conditions. Start by reaching out to friends and family. You could also book a short stay in a hotel.
How to Hack It
- Go to the movies.
- Indoor malls, restaurants, churches, and big-box retailers can also offer short-term respite from the heat.
- Your car probably has good air conditioning. Take a trip in the car or park in the shade for best results.
- Many libraries around Harris and Fort Bend Counties are designated as cooling centers in the extreme heat.
Turn on more than one fan (if you have batteries)
Ceiling fans, box fans, and portable fans of all kinds can be set up to distribute air and help you feel cooler. Circulating air reduces how hot you feel because of the wind-chill effect. If you’re without power, you may have to focus on battery-powered fans. Those portable power batteries used to recharge laptops and phones can come in handy here!
How to Hack it Temporarily
- Some people wet curtains and sheets and run a fan behind them to increase the wind-chill effect. It won’t help the humidity, but it can make it feel cooler.
- Swamp coolers are used to cool the air with evaporating water. We don’t often use them indoors because of the humidity, but they are an option.
- Pinterest abounds with ideas for do-it-yourself air conditioners. Most recipes require ice, a fan, and a bucket or old cooler. Again, they won’t do much to curb indoor humidity.
- Dipping your toes in a bowl of ice water is a solution some suggest.
- If you’re without electricity, you can make your own human-powered fan. Lots of patterns exist online.
- Opening windows is often not something recommended in our area in the summer, but if you have a cool breeze, use it!
Source a dehumidifier or portable AC unit from friends and neighbors (if you have access to power)
Another way to keep humidity at bay is to get your hands on a dehumidifier and/or a portable AC unit. Portable AC units can be purchased for a few hundred dollars at home improvement and big box retailers.
Dehumidifying the air, which is the way that dehumidifiers and portable AC units work, reduces moisture levels and helps you feel cooler indoors.
Obviously, these solutions work best if you have access to a generator, electricity from a neighbor, or a really powerful battery aka a portable power station.
How to Hack It
- You can sometimes catch a deal at the end of the season to purchase a portable AC unit, so you always have one handy for yourself, a family member, or a neighbor!
- Installing a generator or solar array and battery backup for your home is a bit more of an involved process to say the least. There is no question that having a power backup at home can come in handy during a power outage for sure! Some of the worst power outages we have had have come after a hurricane and more recently, ice storms.
- Portable power stations are another option. They have gotten more powerful and less expensive over the years.
Super-cool the house at night (if power is more reliable at night)
If the power comes back on at night but is out or sketchy during the heat of the day, try super-cooling your house at night. Some people like to sleep cold at night, which is basically the same protocol. You turn the thermostat a few degrees colder than you would normally at night. When the temperatures heat up during the day or the power goes out, your home will stay cooler for longer.
Longer Term Fixes to Help Your Home Repel the Heat
- A whole house fan can remove a lot of heat from your attic and reduce the heat load on your home. This makes it possible to keep the indoors cooler for longer. Of course, that only works if the electricity is on. We find this type of fan more typically in older homes. Most new homes have replaced these with attic fans.
- When you replace your roof, choose a lighter color if you can. This can make a very large difference in the summer.
- Lighter colors of paint on the exterior of your home can better reflect heat as well. Pick the lightest color your homeowner’s association (HOA) will allow.
- Strategically planted and maintained trees around your home will also produce nice shade and help keep your home cooler in the heat of the summer. Shade is your best friend if the electricity is out.
How to Hack It Temporarily
- Stick to the coolest room in the house (northeast corner) and concentrate your efforts on keeping that room cool rather than trying to cool the whole home when the electricity is out. If you have a portable AC and a generator, this will help you get comfortable more quickly. If your generator hooks up to your home, there is a generator interlock or automatic transfer switch, which will prevent any power feeding from your generator from backfeeding into the grid. This is a code requirement to protect lineman who work vigorously to restore power when it is out.
- If your electricity is out, see if the same is true for your neighbor. If not, they might be able to lend you some electricity temporarily by way of an extension cord.
- During a power outage, get to the corner store or your local H-E-B to pick up ice to save the food in your fridge/freezer and for cooling yourself!
Power outage causing AC problems? Call us!
If your electricity is out and the AC is not working during a heatwave, it can be very uncomfortable indoors. Brownouts and power outages can even shorten the life of electrical motors that keep air conditioners and heat pumps going. Contact Summer Terry at 281-495-7830 to set up an appointment to get on our schedule for the day. Our NATE-certified technicians service all makes and models of AC and heat pumps.
No one wants to be hot indoors in the summer when the power is out, call us and we can help you with that! And please get in touch with us at email@example.com if you have another tip we should add to our list above!
Photo credit: Canva.com/Fizkes