Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Surviving the heat

As we're on the brink of another heatwave I thought I'd write about what we do to try to stay cool. I've had quite a few comments by stunned friends and family about why we don't see air conditioning in France, as if we were some poor third world country. The simple truth that some people don't want to hear is that up until about ten years ago it only very rarely reached temperatures over 80°F in Northern France! Yes, climate change is real my friends, I am living it! Even when the temps did get over 80°, many French houses are built to withstand the heat, but not all of us are so lucky to have a heat-resistant house. So why aren't people people rushing to add a/c to their homes? Probably because it's awfully hard to run vents through concrete walls. Wooden houses are extremely rare, considered a new-fangled "green" construction method.

I'm sure I'm going to miss a few things but if you live without air conditioning and have some tips for keeping cool, please do share them in the comments!

  • Shutter control. Opening the windows and shutters after the sun sets lets the cooler air in, and closing the shutters and windows when the sunlight falls directly on them help keeps the air cool inside. We have minimum success with this for two reasons: we live in a townhouse and the second floor is directly under the roof and has no insulation, and all of our windows are on the side of the house that faces due west, so we get full sun hitting our windows from 3pm until 7pm, and we have to close all of our windows, trapping in the hot air. We still do the shutter thing, it just doesn't help as much as in traditional stone houses or houses with windows on more than one side.
  • Summer menu. This is the time of year to make all your favorite cold summer dishes! Pasta salads, rice salads, fresh veggies and dip, cold cuts and charcuterie, fruits and seafood, and don't forget the ice, popsicles and ice cream!
  • Cook early. The only problem with the pasta and rice salads is that you have to turn on the stove to prepare them! This is a challenge for us and our open plan kitchen/living room. When I have a salad planned, I cook the pasta, rice, chicken, and whatever else needs doing as early as possible while it's still a bit cooler. Even with getting Fry his breakfast and settled for the morning I can manage to get things cooked by 9am. Plus this way I'm sure that it will have cooled down and ready to eat by lunch!
  • Cook outside. Obviously this is the best way to cook in the summer but we don't have this option, unfortunately! Of course it's barbecue time so if you have the means, fire up the grill! What a great way to keep the heat out of the house!
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Do everything you can to keep the fluids going! I've gotten lazy about drinking water myself and have suffered with horrible headaches. We take extra care with Fry to offer him water at every opportunity as he often doesn't realize he's thirsty and is still too young to ask. When it's really hot, we make sure to throw drinks in the fridge, and the best tip I've gotten from a good friend was to sweeten and chill drinks with some frozen fruit!
  • Take a shower. When you just can't stand the heat, jump in the shower for a nice break. Some say that a hot shower is the way to beat the heat, but for me, there's nothing better during a heatwave than a nice cold shower for temporary relief!
  • Get out of the house! When the house starts trapping hot air (usually three or four days into a heatwave) it can be truly miserable at our place in the afternoons. Very often we find relief by getting out of the house and finding a shady spot outside! Whether it's a short walk by the river or a visit to the park, we very often are grateful for the fresh air and the excuse to get out of the house until the sun starts to set.

Unfortunately, even with all these tips, our house was still miserable last week, with the upstairs reaching temperatures of 35°C (95°F) and staying there through the night, forcing us to set up Fry's pack-n-play downstairs where it is a little cooler. The good news is that we at least have a closing date for the new apartment and should be in the new place for August! Until then, we're doing the best we can!


Bostanna said...

I grew up in New England without AC and don't really remember that it was ever unbearably hot, maybe just a few days total in the summer. I was also in France during the very bad heat wave a few years ago and remember that our apartment stayed fairly comfortable with the help of jsut a fan and ice water. We have AC in our Boston place now though and I find myself using a lot lately with the baby. I think it helps him sleep better and now I'm used to sleeping in the cold too. Yesterday it reached 100 here and I couldn't imagine living with it. Guess it's just what you're used to. (Or it's getting hotter like you said or I'm just getting too old to deal with being uncomfortable!)

Vivi said...

Bostanna, if I remember correctly we are on a similar parallel with Novia Scotia, so I'm sure the NE and Canadians are starting to experience warmer summers as well. Though I'm sure major cities have always suffered from the heat of summer because of the vast amounts of concrete, pollution and people.

My Dad spent summers of his youth in North Carolina and of course his grandmother didn't have air conditioning, even though it was very hot and humid, the homes were built for that as well - kitchen on the opposite end of the house from the living quarters and he slept in a large screened in porch at night.

The truth is that I handle the heat here without a/c much better now than my first couple of years here, I've learned to deal with it and that helps. I was here during the really bad heatwave in 2003 and thankfully haven't experienced anything that bad since. If that happened again we would certainly have to find a different place to stay for Fry's sake. I remember quite well that my friend had a thermometer in F and it got at least to 105°! (Doc? maybe it got hotter than that?)

Thanks for reminding me that I promised a post about traveling with a baby, didn't I? Will work on that for this week!

La Rêveuse said...

Don't forget the cost of electricity, and the French idea that A/C is unhealthy. (Freaks.)

Some other stuff I found in France: les bromisateurs, sitting with my feet in a bucket of cold water (look insane, feel great!), and wearing skirts.

Hoping your new apartment is much cooler!

The Bold Soul said...

I had a small table fan in the hospital last week during the heat wave, and then the nurse brought me a went "gant" (face cloth) to put on my forehead, and that really did help. I couldn't really move anyway, so staying immobile as much as possible helped me survive the worst of it. Still I was so glad to come home to our apartment which gets good cross-ventilation even on the hot days. A hospital without air conditioning in the patient's rooms (they had it downstairs in the O.R. and the floor with the doctor's offices, I noticed) was just ABSURD.

Deece said...

This summer has been unusually hot for us on Saipan. It is always warm living in the tropics. But this summer, at times, has reminded me of summers in Pomona, CA - except there is humidity here.

Like you, we work the windows and blinds to catch the breezes and keep out the sun. We run floor fans and keep hydrated. And change clothes as needed to keep clean and dry from sweat. Cool showers help, so does playing in the hose. Smoothies! We like smoothies and a local ice treat we call "ice keki". Also, we try to stay indoors from about 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

We do get some relief every day as, although the main living quarters - kitchen, living room, etc. - does not have air conditioning, the bedrooms do.

If you have the option to, I have been told that painting your roof white helps. A few of our windows downstairs have a light tint on them, helping to keep out the heat. Also, we are surrounded by vegetation, other than our house, we don't have much concrete around, so that helps beat the heat too.

Good luck! I hope the heatwave passes soon.

Cracoucas said...

To cool down the room a little bit during the light, I sometimes use a wet sheet that I hang at the open window. When there's a little bit of breeze, it does help quite a bit.
I put the kids in the bathtub with cold water and they play for hours.
And my 23 month-old son pratically lives with just his diaper on.


Anji said...

We've had our shutters closed to most of the time, the house is cooler but very sad and dim. Hope that your new appartment will be cooler.

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Léa said...

Umm.. I'm French, I live in the south in a wooden house and I don't have a/c. The shutters are close all the day and it's never to hot inside the house (enven went the heat is around 100°F).
I go in Spain every year ('cause my grandmother is spanish) and they have no a/c either. If you want some fresh, go to the cinema, or some bar who a *salle climatisé* (room with a/c ). ^^