How to stay cool without air-conditioning

Living Well | Jan Fisher | Posted on 30 January 2019

Top tips to beat the heat and save money on power.

As Victoria swelters through one of the hottest summers on record and power bills bite ever deeper into household budgets, it could be time to reconsider our love affair with the air-conditioner. 

On January 25, when temperatures across the state topped 40 degrees and thousands reached for the air-con switch, electricity demand spiked to almost double the daily average, forcing distributors to cut supply to more than 200,000 homes to protect the grid.   

closeup of oscillating fan


According to energy consultants Watt Clarity, air-conditioner ownership has almost doubled since the 1990s, with three out of four Australian households now equipped with some form of instant cooling. But the relief may be cold comfort when the bill arrives, as air-conditioning can account for up to 40 per cent of household power charges. 

Stopping the heat from getting into the house is always easier than cooling a house down once it is hot.

So how can we beat the heat without stressing the grid or our household budget? 

We asked sustainability advocate and author Tanya Ha for some cool tips to stay chilled without air-con. The next time the mercury soars, try these cheap and effective tricks.

Quick and easy fixes

  • DIY evaporative cooling by drying loads of washing next to a standing fan.
  • Freeze small toys such as Lego men into blocks of ice and get the kids to play archaeologist by excavating their toys.  
  • Opt for a fan. According to consumer review site Canstar Blue, a pedestal fan costs 1 to 2 cents an hour to run, compared to 36 to 70 cents an hour for an air-conditioner to cool one medium-sized room, or $1.45 to $2.12 an hour for whole-of-house ducted air-conditioning.
  • Take a shower. A cold shower decreases blood flow to the skin and sends it to the core which heats up, so it’s better to have a warm shower. Swinburne University suggests 33 degrees to be exact – which will increase blood flow to the skin and in turn increase heat loss from the body. 
  • Spend the day in cool spaces such as a library or cinema – or lay down and look at the ceiling of the Great Hall in the NGV.
  • Plan your day to tackle tasks in the cool of the early morning or evening. 
  • Purge the house of heat by opening windows and doors at night – especially effective near the coast. 

But when it comes to keeping your house cool, Tanya says prevention is better than cure. “Stopping the heat from getting into the house is always easier than cooling a house down once it is hot,” she says. So it pays to plan ahead to beat next year’s heat. 

Longer-term solutions

  • Planting deciduous trees and vines will provide shade and windbreaks in summer and let sunlight in during winter.  
  • Blinds and shutters provide protection from the sun, and can be adjusted in response to the weather. 
  • Insulation can reduce the cost of cooling (as well as heating) by as much as 45 to 50 per cent. While retrofitting walls with insultation can be tricky, there are plenty of solutions for adding ceiling insulation to an existing house – some you can even install yourself. 
  • Draught-proof your house by sealing gaps around doors, floors and windows. Close off fireplaces to keep the heat out in summer and inside in winter. 

Check out RACV’s interactive price-deal map for your suburb’s best energy deals, price trends and a snapshot of electricity prices in your area.