As record heat grips the U.S., a cool and comfy Kansas couple offers this advice: Turn off your a/c.
Stan and Priti Cox of Salina, Kansas--temperature 109 degrees--don't believe in using air conditioning. Oh, they've got it in their house. They just don't switch it on. Instead, they're livin' la vida caliente--and lovin' it!
Stan says that by using keep-cool tricks an older generation used, he seldom breaks a sweat. By not using a/c, he contends, he's not just saving money; he's saving the environment.
Right now 141 million Americans in 32 states are under heat advisories. Temperatures in Council Bluffs, Iowa, have hit 126. Cattle are dying in Kansas and in other states. Yet turning on your air conditioner, says Cox, an agricultural scientist and author, only makes things worse.
"The headline irony, here," he says, "is that the hotter it gets in summer, the more we're using our a/c. And the more we're doing that, the greater the emissions from power plants and the greater the probability we'll have even more intense heat waves in the future."
In an article he wrote last July for the Washington Post, he espoused this view and recommended people turn off their a/c. He got an avalanche of hate mail, he says, including death threats.
Air conditioning eats up a big chunk of America's electricity. In the South, Cox says, home air conditioning accounts for 60 percent of electricity use. Joelle Terry, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Energy, says the average US household spends $276 a year on it.
Local costs vary widely, depending on differences in power costs and consumption. Cox, in central Kansas, figures he saves about $150 a month by not using a/c. Yet energy and money savings, he argues in his book "Losing Our Cool," are only two of the benefits to shutting off your a/c.
"I argue we have lost some of the social interaction we once had in neighborhoods on summer evenings," says Cox, 54, who remembers growing up in an a/c-free part of Georgia. "You'd see kids playing up and down the streets, people visiting one another on their front porches. Now the only sounds you hear are compressors running."
With everybody hunkered down inside, worshiping freon, "Neighborhoods look like they've been evacuated."
There might be health benefits, too, he thinks, to going without a/c. If kids and adults spent more time outdoors, they'd likely be more active, meaning less prone to obesity. When cold, people tend to eat more. Their metabolism slows down.
Without a/c they might also be more alert in the morning: He cites a Japanese study that found that air conditioning inhibits the production of cortisol by the adrenal glands. It's a shot of cortisol that gets you up and out of bed.
In a New York Times article last summer, Cox described how he and his wife beat the heat. They wear light weight, appropriate clothing--short sleeve shirts and shorts for him, tank tops and flouncy skirts for her, all made of natural fibers. "You don't want to wear polyester, that's for sure," says Cox.
Air inside the home is circulated by ceiling fans and by box fans. Heat-generating appliances, except the refrigerator, are turned off.
Throughout the day, the Coxs move around their house and into or out of their yard in a direction opposite to the movement of the sun. They enjoy the coolness of their basement and the shade of mulberry and peach trees in their garden.
"It's all about your state of mind and expectations," Cox told the Times. "Ours are relaxed."
Of course, going without a/c during a heat wave is not for everyone. The elderly, people with breathing problems and others at risk should seek cooler air.
The National Weather Service has safety tips for adults looking to keep cool:
Slow down. Try to reduce or cancel any strenuous activities, or reschedule them for the coolest part of the day.
Wear light-weight, light-colored clothing to reflect sunlight and heat.
Eat lighter foods. Meat and other proteins increase metabolic heat production and could cause even more water loss.
Drink plenty of water, but avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
Spend more time in air-conditioned places. If you don't have an air-conditioner in your home, go to a library, store or other location for part of the day to stay cool.
Avoid getting too much sun. Sunburn can reduce your body's ability to release heat.