The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Beating the heat

I live in N.E. Ohio and we get almost the same type of weather that you and Mark get (not quite as hot), except we get the lake Erie effect, so that means more clouds, and a quick change in weather. I was just wondering what you do for hot humid weather.
--- Zimmy

Sun and a tree silhouetteFirst of all, we're really lucky to live out in the country where the trees mitigate a lot of the heat.  Even though our trailer isn't shaded (nor insulated nearly as well as Zimmy's), it cools off enough at night that open windows and a fan are all I need even in the peak of summer.  In the city where I spent part of my childhood (just an hour down the road from our current farm), asphalt collected the heat and we weren't nearly so lucky.  The cool nights definitely help!

We also tweak our daily schedule to work around the weather.  In the winter, we spend the mornings indoors working on blog posts, chicken waterer construction, or fixing things, then do our outside chores in the afternoon when the sun has had a bit of time to warm the day.  I feel like summer has really begun when we flip-flop that winter schedule, working outdoors in the morning when night's cool temperatures are still around to mitigate the heat, then coming inside for the afternoon.

All of that said, Mark has an air-conditioner in his room where he retreats to cool down several times a day.  I snipe at him off and on since I sincerely believe that air conditioners are counter productive, preventing his body from acclimating to hot weather.  I know that the first week of serious heat is really hard on me --- I can't think straight or work hard.  But after a while, things even out and I no longer feel hot as I sit typing this in eighty degree heat in the trailer.  (I'm certainly not going to bake a cake, though, and I may jump in the creek later.)

On the other hand, I don't know if Mark's body could acclimate to the heat the way mine does.  I was raised without major climate control --- we  kept the house temperatures cool in the winter and had no air conditioner in the summer (though I often walked to the library to bask in their cool temperatures.)  Did early exposure to temperature extremes adapt my body to the warm blanket of humidity in ways Mark's body could never adapt?  I seem to need less heat in the winter too, although I think that's partly because I have no problem wearing long johns and a winter coat, if necessary, even in the house.

I'd love to hear from you about your body's ability to acclimate to hot and cold.  Are you the one always turning the thermostat up, or always turning it down?  Were you raised in climate-controlled splendor, or jumping in the creek to cool off on a hot summer's day?  Bonus points to anyone who can point me to some serious science about what happens when our bodies get used to hot weather.

Our homemade chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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No science here, so no bonus points for me - just personal experience!

I spent a number of years working at an eighteenth century, living history, farm museum. Every summer found me in two layers of linen, plus stays, cooking for my "family" at an open hearth; the main question visitors asked was "aren't you hot?" And the answer was "no more so than thee; tis a hot day" (or "no more hot than I am in shorts and a tank top" when I was working with camp kids and didn't have to be in first person). I dunked my cap and a square of linen which I tied around my neck in the lovely cool well water and found that I was actually quite comfortable. Sure, I sweat quite a bit, but I never felt overheated.

For what it's worth, I grew up in a household where the a/c was on constantly during the summer - my mum just hates the heat and humidity - but my body acclimated just fine to living in a time before air conditioning!

Comment by Ikwig Wed May 26 09:35:51 2010
I'm glad to hear that acclimating isn't impossible even for folks raised on central air. I'm curious what you do about the heat now. Did you regress to AC once you left the farm museum? Or do you acclimate every year?
Comment by anna Wed May 26 12:42:52 2010

Living at 51°26′ N latitude, we usually have more problems with cold winters than hot summers. Usually, the heater is on about 7-8 months per year. I don't mind wearing warm clothes in the house, but I really hate cold feet and hands. Personally I'd rather spend some money on good insulation and a decent efficient heater that suffer the cold.

On the other hand, few houses here have air conditioning (mine doesn't). And since most houses are built in brick and/or concrete, they tend to have a moderating effect on temperature. If it is very warm, I tend to keep opposing windows open all night (with bug screens in them). That usually keeps it cool enough.

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed May 26 14:29:59 2010

I am one that does not care for hot weather though every winter I threaten to move to a warm weather state like NC don't care for SC. I have not had the A/C on for a few years now and though it gets muggy I suffer threw because I hate the high electric bill to cool a place I merely sleep in. I have a good fan, and with little clothing on, you can get used to being a bit warm.

The History channel aired a program about surviving high temps with a study done by the medical branch of the Israeli Army. They force march a company from one end of Israel to the other with scheduled stops and specified amounts of water and that company was in better shape at the end of the march than when it started. This helped them win that war when Egypt brought all those tanks across the desert south of Israel. The heat was not the problem, it was the right amount of water when needed that won that war.

AND DON'T overdue water or liquids in general as this is worse than being a bit thirsty. People in Pa have died from drinking too much water (all for the sake of winning a contest no less!)

Comment by vester Wed May 26 17:02:21 2010

Roland --- thermal mass is an amazing thing. My mom's house is built of cinderblocks, and it takes it a long time to heat up in the summer. (Of course, it then takes a long time to cool down at night too...)

Vester --- Great idea! I'll try force-marching Mark across Israel and see if that shapes us up. :-)

Comment by anna Thu May 27 07:19:22 2010

The last two summers I was not pregnant so I tried my best to keep the AC off as much as possible during the day. An hour or so before my husband returned from work I would turn it on, mostly to keep things cooled off while cooking dinner and so he could be comfortable. When we moved here to NE Alabama from Western Washington (where he had lived for 30+ years) he had no trouble with the heat. Everyone who'd been here for decades complained constantly about the heat and he just didn't get it. Then his boss built a new shop (he's a mechanic) and installed AC in the shop. That summer was the first that he was unable to work outside on the weekends without getting overheated and exhausted really quickly. This year we bought some long-sleeved thermal underwear shirts for him to wear at work under his uniform. When the air goes on in April and everyone else switches to their shorts and short-sleeved shirts, he puts on his thermal underwear shirt every morning and keeps his long pants on. He takes the undershirt off when work is over and now he can work in the garden after work without getting a migraine or being miserable. It's great! His co-workers think he's a nut, but he's ok with that.

FWIW- I am pregnant this year (3.5 weeks to go) and we have a small window unit in the bedroom to keep really cool in bed. I'm uncomfortable enough trying to sleep without being hot too. It's a concession we make. WE bought it 3 summers ago when I was pregnant with our current youngest. We also have a larger window unit at the other end of the house but we keep the house pretty cool with a box fan in the front window, pulling in cool air from the heavily shaded front yard.

And I don't bake many cakes this time of year either :)

Comment by Lindsey in AL Thu May 27 12:33:21 2010

I love your husband's story! That's precisely what I was hoping to hear (to win Mark over. :-) )

Congratulations on your pregnancy. And I agree that there are certain times when you just have to make concessions. No point in being hard-nosed if it's not good for you!

Comment by anna Thu May 27 13:39:34 2010

Heat bothers me quite a lot, but cold doesn't. My mom always kept the house freezing cold in summer, and roasting in winter. I moved out to college and the dorms were sweltering (consistently above 80, even in the winter), but with a small fan and the window open, it was just tolerable. Unfortunately, there was a fine for opening the window once they turned the heat on. When I moved in with my husband, he was living in a basement apartment with no air conditioning and one small baseboard heater. It stayed wonderfully cool in the basement during the summer, but I had a lot of trouble with overheating when I went anywhere else. During the winter, I think we only turned that heater on two or three times. We found that we quite enjoyed the house being a little chilly and wearing sweaters. Now, we're living with my mom in a trailer where the temperatures fluctuate greatly throughout the day. In the middle of the night, she pumps the heat on full blast, or the air conditioning if she has a hot flash, then both she and my husband leave for work in the morning. When I get up, I readjust the thermostat so that the house stays between 60 and 75 for most of the day. She comes back home around the hottest time of day, blasts the air conditioning until it's about 50 in the warmest part of the house (there's a definite warm and cold side to the trailer, hers being the cold side and ours being the warm side), complains a few hours later that it's too cold, so she blasts the heat until it's at around 80, then goes to bed. We readjust the thermostat again before we go to bed, and the cycle continues. That being said, when we get our house, at least one room will have to be temperature-controlled because we have pet rats. I'm an over-protective ratty momma, so I like to keep them comfortable. Chilly rats aren't too much of a problem, since they can snuggle together for warmth, but hot rats are sick rats. Maybe I like them as pets because I can relate to them?

Comment by Angela Thu Apr 26 14:24:28 2012
Angela --- Yep, temperature is pretty hard to regulate in a trailer. It's also very tough if people want different temperatures. Mark and I simply get our own space where we can keep the thermostat however we like.
Comment by anna Thu Apr 26 19:34:04 2012
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