Janesville66.6°

For people without air conditioning, the thought of summer can be chilling

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Catherine W. Idzerda
July 21, 2010
Stupid editors, always wanting you to talk to “experts.”
But what if I’m already expert?
And I am, too, if the topic is “How to Live Without Air Conditioning.”
I have mastered the cross breeze and the pasta pot soak. I understand shade positioning, ceiling fan efficiency and how to not wake up with a fan-induced head cold (It’s the neck blanket, people, the neck blanket!)

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Ugh, it’s hot.


Unpleasantly, unreasonably, unbearably hot.


For folks without air conditioning, July and August can be a shuffling misery, an endurance test involving frequent showers, extra deodorant and arguments with the spouse about when to use the oven.


Pass the cold ham sandwich, please.


We asked local experts to tell us how the AC-deprived can survive the worst weeks of summer, and who shouldn’t be without it.


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Jessica Schafer lives in a downtown Janesville apartment with west-facing windows and an ineffective window air conditioner.


“It brings it down to, maybe, 84 at the most,” said Schafer, who grew up with central air.


“It’s bad.”


To survive, Schafer uses the time-honored methods.


“Sometimes I open the freezer and stick my head in it,” Schafer said.


She closes her shades during the day and takes the additional step of covering the windows with sheets.


To keep her cat, Mushu, comfortable, she’s taken to rubbing him down with damp paper towels, a tricked she learned from coworkers.


“Mushu’s a biter, and he hates water,” Schafer said. “But he loves this.”


Life—and her friends—often bless her with AC: Tuesday is Laundromat night; Wednesday it’s Mass at St. John Vianney, and Sunday nights mean visiting Shilo or Fran for conversation, television and comfort.


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Cats’ bodies elongate as they get hotter.
Take Bob, a local feline living without AC.
First, his body uncoils, and his tail is placed at a right angle from the body.
Then, his front and back legs extend in the cat-yoga pose known as the “Sleeping Can Opener.”
Finally, he rolls onto his back, exposing his vital organs to predators everywhere, including the male can opener that likes to tickle “him’s wlittle bwelly.”

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In 2005, the US Energy Information Administration reported that out of 111.1 million “housing units,” about 17.8 million—or 16 percent—did not have any kind of air conditioning. Among those with AC, 65.9 million had central air, 14.5 million had a single window unit and 14.2 million had two or more.


For some, living without air conditioning is more than just uncomfortable.


A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed the death rate for people who had central air conditioning was 42 percent lower than the rate for people without it.


Dr. Karen Ekwueme, a board certified family medicine physician at Dean Clinic–Delavan, said the heat can be dangerous for those with chronic health conditions such as asthma or emphysema.


“The body has a broad capacity to tolerate heat, but with the humidity gets high, that capacity goes down,” Ekwueme said.


The ill and elderly are hit hard, but children in the to 4- to 10-year-old age group are at risk, too.


“Those guys out their playing soccer,” Ekwueme said.


People on allergy or blood pressure medications or those taking diet, laxative or water pills should be aware that those drugs could affect their ability to deal with the heat.


Paula Schutt, executive director for The Gathering Place, Milton’s senior center, says her clients are feeling the strain.


“The heat has been very hard on them, and it’s dangerous, too,” said Schutt. “They might not realize they’re getting overheated or dehydrated.”


The big problem?


“By the time they’re really thirsty, they’re already, as they say, ‘a couple quarts low,’” Schutt said.


ECHO, Janesville’s church-supported food pantry and social services provider, recently received a donation that allowed it to buy fans, and it has given away more than two dozen in the past couple of weeks.


The Voluntary Action Center in Beloit helps seniors and people with disabilities get air conditioners. This summer, they’ve given away more than 52 air conditioners, said Irene Diaz, office assistant.


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Alliant Energy offered tips to reduce your energy bill and keep your home cooler, too.


-- Pull the shades during the day.


-- In late afternoon, turn off unnecessary lights and wait to use appliances.


-- If you don’t have a whole-house attic fan, it might be a worthwhile investment. Attic fans exhaust hot air through vents and can lower the temperature throughout your house in five minutes. During the day, close all the windows, and the attic fan will pull up cold air from the basement.


-- Humidity makes the air feel warmer. A dehumidifier will reduced the feeling of living in the tropics.


-- At night, box fans should be placed to create a breeze that moves from one end of the house to the other, with one fan blowing hot air out and another pulling cool air in.


-- Ceiling fans should be turning in a counter-clockwise direction during the summer.


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Here’s one from the American Journal of AC-free living: Fill a pasta pot with ice water and place on a sturdy box near your bed. While reclining under a sheet—preferably a sheet that’s been in the freezer for 45 minutes—place your feet in the water until they are painfully cold.
Remove.
Repeat as often as necessary until the alarm goes off and you can go to your air-conditioned office.

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