Get free air conditioning today! Nothing to buy!

I live in a part of the world that's temperate in summer, where air conditioning in the summer is optional. Most people don't bother purchasing it. But there are always periods in the heat of the summer when ya really aren't going to be very comfortable without it.

Which is when Nomentatus's system of "poor man's air conditioning" comes in handy. If you have a refrigerator, some empty yogurt containers or similar, and something solid that's metal or stone to put under your feet you too have free air conditioning or if you prefer, "temperature regulation" available to you, right now. (Well, it's free if you aren't paying the electricity costs directly.)

The trick is to use the freezer to time-shift the cold, as it were. In the evening, fill up a half-dozen or so of those plastic yogurt container with water - about three-quarters to seven-eighths full, no more, because water expands and can split the container. You'll probably find that thin-walled containers work better than sturdier plastic because they're more flexible and more likely to expand than split. It may also help to squeeze the containers as you snap the lids tight on them so that the sides of the containers are pushed in somewhat.

Now in the night, when the heat is not so insufferable, your freezer will go to work slightly raising the room temperature of your kitchen - but you'll be glad tomorrow.

When the day begins to heat up, go get a frozen yogurt container, by now frozen solid. If you have a concrete floor, as I do, take off your shoes, put the yogurt container between your sock feet, and carry on typing or whatever it is you're doing.

The ice will cool the floor, and the floor will cool your feet. True, the air around you will also be a bit cooler, but what will really keep you comfortable are your big feet. They're terrific heat exchangers, by design - it's part of what they're supposed to do, in nature - you know, that place where there aren't any shoes (even on horses).

In an hour or two, switch to the next block of ice, putting the now liquid water in the used container into the fridge or down the drain. Don't put it in the freezer during the day unless you're really lazy. It's best to wait until night to start the freezing part of the cycle again because your freezer is a heat pump, and the more you make it work during the day, the hotter your place is going to get.

Now, you may not have a concrete floor, of course. You might be cursed with unhygienic carpeting. In which case you need a slate of marble or ceramic tile or stone or metal (aluminum's a great heat conductor so you could use a fairly thin piece of aluminum) to put the ice block (still inside its small plastic tub) and your sock feet on.

For more cooling

It's best not to put your feet or ankles against the ice. That's a bit extreme, not quite what bodies are designed for, and you shouldn't find it necessary. On very hot days, I do use a couple of containers at a time, however. It's also very useful to start getting a container or two out and down on the floor at least an hour or two ahead of the time when you'll really start feeling the heat. That way, the concrete floor is already cool when you need it to be - and you may be able to slightly delay the time when the heat is oppressive. Another technique I sometimes use on very hot days is to use a couple of containers at my feet and to shift them back and forth about twenty centimeters from time to time so that I can put my feet down on the concrete where the containers have been sitting for some minutes, for an extra blast of cooling.

For less cooling

For less extreme cooling, wrap a towel around the yogurt container. If you're going through a lot of ice containers, you may wish to cool the surrounding air less. So in order to cool just the floor, not the air generally, wrap a towel around but not under the container.

If you can't find anything like a marble slab to put under your feet, you can wrap the container in a towel and put it beside you - but I don't recommend this as, aside from the bottom of our feet, our bodies aren't built to be extreme heat exchangers. So if you do this, shift the container around a lot so as not to cool one part of your body too much - that sort of differential cooling just ain't that natural. Better: just go find a slab of something.

For only a little bit of trouble, you can enjoy a significantly cooler body and a maybe even a slightly cooler environment during the hottest parts of the day. You might even want to use this instead of your present air conditioning on some days, if you only need to cool yourself and not the whole house and you want to be a little more green. On a final note, it would be nice to have a nifty solution to the problem of the yogurt containers cracking sometimes from ice expansion. Using thinner containers helps, but I keep thinking that something like a stick of styrofoam long enough to go to the bottom of the container slipped in there while the water's liquid, or even better, a sealed plastic tube filled with air that's not quite as tall as the container, might absorb most of the expansion - but I can't think of anything common and cheap that would do the trick, so I'm looking for suggestions. I suppose you could save old toothpaste tubes and blow them up again, but there's a bit of an ick factor, there.

first article posted June 6 2004
last revised July 19, 2004