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Monday 22 Apr 2024

Staying Kewl in the Summer
Hilary Thompson

“Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty …
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head.”
(J Sebastian, M Sebastian, S Boone, “Summer in the City”)

As summers get warmer, due to climate change, it is much more difficult to get through the long, hot days, comfortably, especially if you live in a large city. Hot days and nights are uncomfortable, but can also be a health hazard, especially for older adults, children, people with chronic health conditions and those on certain types of medications. There are more reasons than just comfort to seek cooler air during the summer months and, perhaps, more ways than you think to cool off throughout the day and night.

• Why staying cool in the summer matters.

Heat makes you sweat, which is good. The sun can give you sunburn, of course, and prolonged exposure to heat has a host of other possible effects. Heat illnesses include cramps, heat rashes, heat exhaustion and, at the most extreme, heatstroke.

Heat exhaustion may start with increased fatigue and thirst as well as low blood pressure. These symptoms indicate your body is struggling trying to cool itself. Other early signs, of heat exhaustion, include stomach cramping, nausea and headaches. Some people may feel weak or dizzy; some may notice excess sweating. 

Sufferers of overheating may not feel overly hot, even if on their way to heat exhaustion. This makes it important to pay attention to how much time you spend outdoors and to hydrating heavily. 

If you notice any of these symptoms and you are out in the heat, the first thing to do is get somewhere cooler, either in an air-conditioned space or even just in the shade. Drink cold water, slowly, and wipe it on your skin to help your body evaporate some heat. Elevate your legs and make sure your air circulation is good by loosening clothes and removing extra layers. 

Heatstroke is a more severe condition during which the body’s internal temperature rises to or above 40 degrees Celsius or 105 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the warning signs is if you stop sweating, which means your natural cooling mechanism is shutting down. Other warning signs include some of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as headache, dizziness or nausea. When you feel any of these symptoms, it’s time to stop and find a way to cool down. If those steps don’t help you feel better, you may need medical attention. Left untreated, heatstroke can be fatal. 

The best way to stay cool and avoid heat-related illness is through preventive measures. Stay out of the sun during the hottest time of the day, generally from 11 am to 4 pm; stick to shady areas or a mall. Use a sun hat or parasol. Drink plenty of cool water or electrolyte-supplemented beverages and wear loose, light-coloured clothing. 

Sometimes creativity is necessary to get what you need to do and remain cool. When you’re out, take cold water bottles or portable handheld fans with you. Eat room temperature or chilled food throughout; nibble, don’t eat large, heavy meals. Take a tepid shower when you get home to cool your body off, quickly. 

• It’s not only hot out of doors in the summer.

Remember, it can get even hotter indoors during the summer. Fortunately, there are several ways to keep your home cooler. If you can afford to insulate, that will go a long way toward keeping the heat out. If not, think about the most permeable parts of your home, mostly windows and doors and take steps to reduce heat entry in those areas. If your doors don’t sit tightly in their frames, use insulation to seal the cracks. Spend time in the basement.

Protecting against direct sunlight is the main way to cool your home, passively, considering that 76% of sun light that hits standard windows becomes heat. You can use window awnings outside to prevent direct sun from heating up your rooms. Window shades or curtains also help keep heat out; install shades close to window, don’t much room for a layer of heat to build up.  

Choose shades that are several layers thick so they insulate better. The same goes for curtains and make sure to opt for light colours that reflect light. A less well-known option is to use reflective film on windowpanes; these work best on east- and west-facing windows. 

Air conditioning (AC) is the fastest way to cool off an indoor space. If you don’t have AC at home, find indoor places to spend the hot parts of summer days or make regular visits to the mall or pool. If you have AC, remember, if your air conditioner isn’t the proper size for your home, it may not be running as efficiently as you need it to. Read how to choose the right-size air conditioner for your home. It will save you energy and keep you cooler in the end. An oversized AC system will run for a short burst, too often, whereas an undersized unit will run continuously to cool off a space too big for it. Both ways will result in higher utility bills.

If you’re installing a central AC system, you’ll need to consider factors like number of sun-exposed walls, orientation of windows, amount of insulation, and total volume of living space. If you’re just choosing units for individual rooms, be sure to measure the square footage before you buy and think of the orientation of the windows in the respective rooms. Consider, as well, that you can supplement AC use with fans, which are portable, low-cost and great for immediate effect. 

Remember, you can place a fan in a window, with a dish of ice cubes or an ice pack in front of it. This will cool the air blown into this room. Remember to replace ice or packs, frequently.

• Wildlife suffer the heat, too.

No one feels good in the heat, especially the local wildlife. Please remember that it can be more than just discomfort if you’re not careful and find ways both small and large to keep yourself cool this summer.

Hilary Thompson is an active freelance writer, on the environment and business. She is a mother of two. She runs on coffee and fumes.

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