Staying cool

We’re at the tail end of a record heat wave here in Victoria. I believe South Australia and Western Australia are probably in the same boat. It is hot. VERY hot. My house is currently 30°C (at 9am) and my greenhouse reached a whopping 54.1°C on Tuesday. It took me 10 minutes hosing down the roof, walls and plants to get the temperature back down to a manageable 39°C. All the water on the roof and walls runs into the garden beds so it’s not wasted water. 🙂

We’re right in the middle of the red zone.

Yesterday I employed the same technique to cool the oven in my back yard also known as the chook and goat shed. The water that dripped off the corrugated iron onto my skin was hot enough to literally scald. It’s insane! We lost a chook yesterday to the heat. I went out and found the poor thing curled up and dying in a nesting box. I hosed her down under her feathers as gently and as thoroughly as I could in triage on the goats floor, flicked the hose over the other hens and ducks briefly before bringing the poor Henny Penny inside. As I was filling a bucket with cold water in which to dunk her, she convulsed twice in my arms, laid an egg which promptly smashed on the tiled floor then died in my arms. I had to then explain it to the kids. Not a wonderful afternoon.

Martin also hosed down our poor sheep. The goats would have none of it but the sheep probably weighed up wearing a woolen jumper vs a soaking wet woolen jumper and opted for the water. It helped them.

My kids stayed cool by running around like crazy beings (as you do when you’re 5, 4 and 2 😉 ) and later, lying on the tiled floor to absorb the cool watching films on the iPad. It’s not a bad idea really. They’ve all had hair cuts and have spent the week in nappies or undies only. Aside from water play inside on the tiled floor I can’t do much else.

Anyway, with a week of temperatures over 35°C here I’ve been trying to think of ways to keep things cool, or at least slightly cooler here and here are my ideas.

1. Do your cooking late at night. Yes this will heat the house up but it will heat it up at a time when you can open the house up to help get the heat out.

2. Cook in bulk. This applies to big things and little things. When you have a week of high temperatures the last thing you want to be doing is slaving over a hot stove every night. Make a double batch of a meal and put the leftovers in the fridge. I don’t enjoy eating the same meal day after day but eating it on a Monday and then again on a Thursday isn’t too repetitive. I have been doing the same thing with my coffee in the morning. I make up 2 coffees and put 1 in my heat saving travel mug. I’ve learned, to the detriment of my taste buds, just how long that cup keeps things hot. I’ve scalded my tongue badly on a cup of tea from that mug an hour after I’d made it. Making up 2 coffees at the same time means the stove is only on once (we use an electric hob (no gas connected yet) and a stove top kettle) and I don’t need to drink both at once either. If you drink tea then boil your kettle once and fill a thermos or two. 🙂

At least I won’t need to keep reopening the fridge.

3. Keep your house closed up against the heat. If your house is cool then fight to keep it cool. If you use air conditioning then this makes sense too. Your air conditioner won’t need to work so hard to keep things cool. Pull down the blinds, inside and outside if you have them, reduce any internal heat sources and keep doors and windows closed (if at all possible). And as an extra note with air conditioning, try to set your temperature a little warmer than “cold”. Everyone else out there with air con will have it on and the strain on the power grid will mean brownouts. We’ve had our power in and out, although only for a few seconds at a time thankfully.

4. Open your house up. Ok, this sounds like a contradiction but it’s not. Not really. Open it up when it’s cooler out than in. Leave windows and doors open (if you have fly-screens and security doors to keep the mozzies out) and let any breezes in to move out any warm air. If you can open doors and windows on opposite sides of your house and allow cross breezes then even better. It will cycle the air around a lot better. Our house simply isn’t keeping in the cool at all so we’ve had everything open that can be left open all week. That includes the blinds in the living area at night. I want that breeze blowing through.

5. Insulate. Ok, this isn’t something you can do the day before a heat wave (unless you had things ready to go beforehand) but long-term it makes the most sense of all. Our house has insulation but it’s pretty poor to say the least. We have “blue paper” in the walls and some insulation in the roof but with incomplete cladding there are huge gaps for the heat to leak out/in. The ceiling is insulated but as we discovered the other day, once the manhole is open (it often blows open in windy weather) that we can see daylight right along the ridge-line on the roof. It means our house is hemorrhaging heat in winter and cool in summer. We have a guy lined up to put insulation in both the ceiling and the walls. It will be a big and likely pricey job but we will make the money back very quickly with needing a lot less firewood in winter and less electricity spent in summer running the ceiling fans. In fact, insulating your house to the hilt is the best money you will ever spend. 🙂

6. Drink lots of water. We all know we’re supposed to drink our 2L a day and that drinking water keeps us cool but it took me a bit to piece together exactly why. When our bodies begin to overheat we begin to sweat. As gross as a hot sweaty body can be it is actually a sign that we are too warm. The sweat comes out of the skin and then in any breeze, cools down. The cooled sweat on our bodies then acts to cool the rest of the body. If you find that you’re feeling overheated but you’re not sweating then you’re likely dehydrated to some degree. Drink water and fast and I’d suggest a tepid bath or shower or at the least, spray yourself with a spray bottle of water to simulate the same effect as sweat and cool yourself down. And a funny fact I heard some years ago. Drinking ice water will actually cool you less than drinking tap or room temperature water. As much as slamming down something icy makes you feel good immediately your body needs to work much harder to warm that cool drink to body temperature in order to begin to use it so an icy drink will actually in the long run do the opposite of what you want it to. If you’re dehydrated and/or overheating then drink some tepid water. 🙂 If you feel unwell, please seek medical advice. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are no joke. If your body gets too hot your organs can begin to shut down and you can die.

Keep an eye on children, friends and family, please! If in doubt call 000. Better to be safe than sorry.

7. Keep activity to a minimum. If you need to do any running around then do it early, the earlier the better. Activity heats our bodies up so better to do so when the temperature in our environment is better suited to cooling us down. Garden in the early morning or at dusk. Hang washing and bring it in around the same time. Even if you hang the washing around 7pm, in this sort of weather it will be dry by 8 or 9. 🙂 If you can have a nap, then do so. Our bodies are at their least active during sleep so even if sleep is impossible then try to rest as much as you can.

8. Change location. I don’t mean hop a plane and fly to Canada to hang out in their snow (the temperatures there are as far below zero as ours are above) but if you’re not coping with the heat and don’t have air conditioning then find somewhere cool. As much as it’s not so eco-friendly, shopping centres are usually well air-conditioned. The cinema is also another place where you can go to cool down. Our local council have opened cooling centres to help those with no air conditioning at home.

I am more than just a little envious!

9. And although it doesn’t help you to stay cool, keep an eye on your neighbours and friends. I’ve been touched this week to receive emails and SMS’s from Lynda, touching base to see if we’re coping ok and also from my parents and mother-in-law too. She sees the reports of fires and worries at how close they are to us (no threat). I’ve also been on the phone to several friends to make sure they’re coping ok with the heat. There’s not much I can really do to help but I know I’ve greatly appreciated friends touching base to show they care. 🙂

If you have animals, make sure they have access to cool drinking water at all times and spray them down if needs be. Spraying down their sheds and buildings can help to lower internal temperatures as well. I’ve got 2 large containers with a single large ice block in each for their drinking water. I’ll take them out early afternoon when the water is no longer cool, change their water and then ice them up to keep them cool a bit longer.

I’m not sure our goats or sheep would be quite so keen to go swimming but the ducks would be in there like a shot!

Do you have any other tips for staying cool? This heat wave might soon be over (and I cannot count the minutes fast enough) but this will not be the last. Climate change has come with 1 certainty, more extreme temperatures, hot and cold (ask America at the moment about extreme cold) and more days of those extreme temperatures. This is likely the new normal folks.

Published in March 2013 so this last week doesn’t feature but research is showing that this is likely the new norm. Check the related article out here.

Stay cool.

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21 thoughts on “Staying cool

  1. I don’t envy you at all and hope you all manage to stay comfortable and well!

  2. foodnstuff says:

    First Gavin, now you. I hope I’m not next in the deceased chicken line-up. It must have been so distressing for the kids, too. One other tip I have: I have wet towels over both the fridge and the chest freezer. It doesn’t do much for cooling me and the solar panels are running them, but I was shocked to put my hand on the side of the chest freezer to see how hot is was. That’s heat going into the room which I can well do without. I’m counting the hours to the change. Hang in there all of you!

  3. Sue says:

    While it is warm here its not as bad as you are getting.
    Hang in there.Ive often thought about going aound the house in just my underwear when its been hot like that but am always put off at the thought of scaring friends or neighbours who might come visit 😉

    • I’m decent today but little more. I may well have scared the neighbours on Wednesday evening. I had the window open, blinds up and I was lying there wearing precious little. Not an issue in a dark house at night but when you have a streetlight right out the front of your house… 😉 I was just too hot to care.
      The cool change appears to be drifting in ever so slightly. It’s only dropped to 36C but it seems that 37C is my upper tolerance level. it’s hot and close and now smoky too (looks like the smoke from Grampians is coming in) but it is now tolerable.

  4. Barbara Good says:

    All good tips, but so sorry about the chook. We’re very lucky that our house stays very cool (not so good in the winter) and have only needed the A/C from 2pm at the earliest (today, yesterday and the days before it was even later). It’s mostly because we have great eaves and full shade along the side of the house that gets morning sun. The other side where the afternoon sun comes in has rooms we font use much and can close off, like the laundry, bathroom and spare room. The girls have loved spending the days in just knickers/nappy and some sprinkler time in the evening – the lawns have liked that too.

  5. Lynda says:

    Its 7.30 and its almost over. The air con died this afternoon but lucky Hubby opened it up and found a bulging capacitor. $14 fix after a quick trip to JayCar. Saved!!!! They really do over react in the heat but rather the air con than another kind of ‘meltdown’. Sorry about your chooky but glad you are not near the fires. Those poor people.

  6. Katherine says:

    So sad about the chook! We lost a beloved guinea pig the other day and I still feel so very very very terrible about it! We ended up bringing all of the other guinea pigs in the house. Really makes me teary thinking about it. I thought I had done all I could do for the little guys and obviously I didn’t. Good blog post and tips!

    • I am so sorry to hear about your guinea pig. The heat was horrific and short of air conditioning animals there was only so much we could do for them. I felt so bad for our hen as I could have been out there more hosing them down but I had my 3 kids to watch over as well and leaving them unattended invariably leads to disaster. There truly is only so much we can do but planning for the future and planting this year to provide shade for next year and after is probably the best thing we can do. RIP little guinea pig.

  7. narf77 says:

    Sigh…I moved all the way over to Tasmania “the coolest state” from the south west corner of W.A. and it looks like Tassie was at the epicentre of that bloody heatwave!!! Someone up there is having a laugh!

  8. […] was upsetting to see that both Green Gavin and rabidlittlehippy each lost a hen to heat distress. In my case, the Girls secure run and playground is close to the […]

  9. Linne says:

    Jess, I’m so sorry to hear of you losing a chook to the heat. It’s been so hot for you I don’t think I’ll whinge about heat here again . . . I can barely imagine temps over 40C !!

    Forget about coming here to cool off; the past couple of days it’s been close to +7C (in January!) Right now it’s +4C. So the Polar Vortex seems to have moved on and we are sharing your global warming. I’ll send some rain your way, though. I don’t like rain in the winter. It just means more ice and treacherous walking . . .

    You asked for some ideas for staying cool; hope your not needing them anymore, but for next time:

    If it’s also high humidity where you are, then wearing less is good (so long as you stay in the shade or indoors. If the humidity is low, though, cover up! Sounds crazy, I know, but look at how people live in other countries . . . the arabs with their long wool robes, saris and sulwar kameez in India. You will find that drinking hot tea makes you sweat, therefore cools you down (just as the iced drinks warm you up), also hot (spicy) food. Cooling foods include things like melons and cucumbers, but you likely know that already. When it gets over +30C here, I have trouble sleeping, too. I generally wear a T-shirt and long skirt or sweats then and before I go to bed I spray myself down with a spray bottle of tepid to cool water. The evaporation works wonders! If the night stays really hot, I often get up and repeat the spraying. One thing I did when I lived in the country and had no electricity was to soak sheets and towels, wring them out so they didn’t drip much and hang them in open windows, doorways, etc. The air moving over them cools things off quite well.

    You might look at getting some of those ‘space blankets’ that are made for survival kits; they are great to tape over sun-facing windows and I expect would work well on the sun-facing walls / roofs of chook houses, goat sheds, etc. Hanging a quilt over a window that doesn’t open helps to insulate, too. Outside if it won’t damage the quilt. I think you need an outdoor oven and/or bbq; then the cooking could all be done outside. If you make a fire in a large metal can like a 48 oz juice can, punch holes just below the rim before you begin. Then you can make a fire from small stuff, put a kettle on top and boil your water that way.

    The summer our oldest was 4 and we lived down in the Okanagan valley, temps went to 100F several times. I did all my cooking in early morning or late evening over an outdoor fire. We set up three rocks and put an old stove oven rack actoss them, then the pots went on top. If you make a hole for the fire (line it with rocks and put sand in the bottom), you can get quite a lot of heat while keeping the fire small. Didn’t cook that much, though; we were working on a truck farm and were allowed to eat from the garden. The tomatoes would be so warm from the sun . . . and so delicious. Even the small stone fruits like apricots and peaches were delicious when hot!

    Gotta run. If I think of anything else, will pass it on. ~ Linne

    • Some great ideas there Linne, thanks. I’ve been intruiged by the idea of a rocket stove for some time and I’ve been offered some of those large coffee cans so time to play methinks. 🙂

  10. It was a doozy, wasn’t it? Heat waves like that make me wonder why I abandoned my search in Tassy and settled on land in the hot and dry Mallee.

    Insulate is the key. And unfortunately, so many houses are lacking in this department. Especially rentals, where there is nothing you can do about it, other than suck it up–and follow your other tips.

    I am building straw bale for the insulation qualities.

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