How to stay cool during a heat wave without air conditioning

In a heat wave, how can you stay cool if you don’t have air conditioning?

Around a third of Canada is currently under heat warnings according to Environment Canada, with regions in B.C. and Alberta reaching astronomical — and dangerous — temperatures. Already, deaths have been reported in Western Canada that are believed to be connected to the elevated temperatures, which have hit more than 40 degrees in some cities.

But many households in the affected regions do not have air conditioning, leaving residents to scramble for other ways to stay cool in the blistering heat.

Here are some tips from Health Canada, Environment Canada and the Red Cross for how to handle the heat:

STAY UP TO DATE

Checking the weather frequently to know how hot it is going to get, and when in the day it will be the hottest, will help you plan ways to avoid the most dangerous temperatures.

Experts advise against going outside during the middle of the day, when the sun is highest, and say you should avoid physical exertion during the hottest hours as well.

COOL FLUIDS

One of the biggest ways to keep yourself going during a heat wave is to stay hydrated, and drink cool liquids frequently. The Red Cross recommends that you stay away from coffee and alcohol, as they can cause dehydration.

Another way to battle heat is to not just drink cool fluids, but to use them to cool yourself down by taking things like showers and baths and applying cool washcloths to your body.

When not soaking in cool water, you should wear loose, thin clothing that is breathable.

EMBRACE DARKNESS

When you don’t have any air conditioning, keeping the house itself cool can be a struggle in a heat wave.

The first step to cooling a home is to cover the windows to cut off sunlight getting inside. This can be done with curtains, blinds, or by pinning up blankets if you lack curtains. If you own black-out curtains, this would be the time to use them. Keeping lights off in rooms that aren’t in use can also cut down on the heat.

Health Canada adds that if it is safe, you could try opening your windows at night to let in cooler air — but this only applies if the temperature is expected to drop at night. During the current heat wave, temperatures have remained high in many regions overnight, so it’s important to check the forecast first.

If there is a region in your home that is cooler than other areas, such as a basement, staying there during the hottest times of the day can help. If you own a small fan or portable air conditioner, positioning it in one smaller room with the door closed can also help make that room cooler than if the portable air conditioner was struggling to cool the entire building.

When preparing food, it’s best to avoid using an oven as well.

KNOW THE SIGNS OF HEAT STROKE

While afflictions such as heat exhaustion can be fought by resting in a cool place and re-hydrating, heat stroke is a much more serious condition that requires medical assistance.

According to Mayo Clinic, heat stroke is when a person’s body temperature rises to 40 degrees Celsius or higher. The symptoms for this include a person experiencing nausea or vomiting, having rapid breathing and flushed skin, and acting differently than normal, such as displaying confusion, slurred speech, or irritability.

Another symptom that points to heat stroke is a change in sweating. A person’s skin may be hot, red, dry or damp, but if someone who was previously sweating heavily ceases sweating without their temperature going down, that’s a bad sign.

Health Canada advises that if someone has a high body temperature and falls unconscious, seems confused, or has stopped sweating, that’s when you should call 911.

Because the risks of heat stroke are serious — it can cause vital organ damage if the person’s temperature is not lowered, or even death — it’s important to check on others. If you live alone, make sure to remain in contact with friends or family who can help if you are in need, and be sure to check on those who are more at risk of heat complications, such as elderly relatives or neighbours.

But what should you do if you lack not only air conditioning, but a home to hole up in and escape the heat? Those who are experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable during these heat waves. Cities have opened cooling centres or recreation centres to allow people to come inside and cool off, and officials in Vancouver have specified that COVID-19 restrictions will not stop them from allowing people inside, and allowing them to remove their masks if they are having difficulty breathing.