Now that London has lived through an all-time high of 40C (106F) – a temperature the city was never really designed to tolerate – it’s not unreasonable to wonder if it’ll happen again, whether in the remaining months of summer 2022 or next year and beyond. Climate-change forecasters would certainly suggest that we should brace ourselves for more of the same. And while no one’s denying that it can be enjoyable if you’re near the sea or a cool river, it’s undoubtedly more hard-going for people in homes and offices in the capital. Since, with the exception of new-builds, selected shops and department stores and a couple of Tube lines, we live without the benefits of American-style, ultra-efficient air-conditioning (those retrofitted air-con units you see jammed out of windows here and there never really work that well), many of us need to look at other ways of gearing up for the next heatwave and keeping our cool. Here’s how to get started:
Most of us know that while it’s lovely to get lots of natural light flooding in, during heatwaves this will make rooms in our homes much hotter. The obvious solution – keeping curtains closed and blinds down – has the negative side-effect of keeping us reliant on artificial light, missing the beauty of the day. Consider instead the kind of shutters you might have seen installed on French doors or patio doors, which enable you to let in some light while also maintaining a level of shielding from heat. As for whether to keep windows closed, that’s not an easy call and the advice isn’t unequivocal. Generally speaking, however, if your room is cooler than the street outside, then opening the window will let the hotter external temperature start to invade your home. Of course, when things cool off a little at night, open them back up.
What’s beneath your feet can have a big impact on how hot your rooms get during a heatwave. A modern building could well have concrete or similar materials beneath, restricting airflow and driving up temperatures, while an old conversion is more likely to have made use of wood, which means better temperature control when it’s hot outside. But there are things you can do at surface-level that have an impact on the temperature. Tiled floors, which we usually only use in bathrooms and kitchens in the UK, can have a pointedly good impact on heat if you have them throughout your property, as is prevalent in some southern European countries. Unfortunately, the thick, expensive carpet that feels so good underfoot in winter can become a living nightmare when the temperatures go up. If you’re in a position to change your flooring, go for tiles or parquet and then bring out rugs in the winter.
Domestic air-conditioning is still unusual in Britain, though it’s likely to become increasingly popular if climate forecasters are anything to go by. In the meantime, there are short-term steps we can take to avoid that thick, stifling air quality that can occur at the height of a London summer. Floor fans are the obvious ploy – not just the old-school, circular variety but also the more modern, tower-shaped devices. While even the most sleek, Dyson-branded versions cannot actually change the temperature of a room, they can very quickly change the temperature of the people in that room, which is the next best thing. They can also dispel stuffiness. Having a few, strategically-placed fans in various parts of your property on the hottest days makes a big difference and turns a sweat-box into a much more manageable, not to mention tolerable, place. You can go one step further by placing bowls of ice in front of each fan, making the rush of air even cooler and that bit more refreshing. And if your home has a loft or attic, keep its hatch open when the weather’s blazing and you’ll allow more heat to rise to the top of the building.
Turn It Off
The homes of 2022 are generally much fuller of electronic devices than those we lived in ten, twenty, and thirty years ago. And, of course, these plugged-in devices generate heat and have an impact on the ambient temperature in each room. Even our choice of lightbulbs can make a difference, with the more energy-efficient varieties generating much less of the hot stuff. If you can, try turning things off-off rather than must standby-off. While this is impractical with some devices, especially those which lose their programs and date/time-settings when fully switched off, there are plenty of devices which can be turned off at the mains without unfortunate consequences. You can further bring down the heat in your home by avoiding meals which require the oven or hob and switching to no-cook, cold recipes between July and September.
Tin Foil Your Windows?
It may not have a particularly attractive effect, either for passersby or inhabitants, but placing a sheet of aluminium foil over the windows that get direct sunlight is a potentially useful little heatwave hack. Using these home-made solar reflectors, you can successfully bounce the UV rays back into the outside world rather than letting them into your property.
It hardly needs pointing out that donning an aran sweater and corduroy trousers is not going to help you stay cool in the sun. But it’s not simply a case of wearing fewer or more lightweight garments during the summer – it also matters what they’re made of. Linen and cotton can breathe in a way that man-made fabrics never do. So don’t use polyester (or similar), either in your clothing or your bedsheets/duvets during a heatwave – even a cotton/polyester mix will feel uncomfortably close. It’s natural fibres or nothing. And if there’s nothing else for it but to take a shower, remember that an ice-cold shower will feel incredibly refreshing, but also trigger your body to generate more heat in compensation. You’ll get a longer-listening cooling effect by opting for lukewarm instead.