25 August 2010

Some like it hot ...

... I like it hot. After ten years of shivering in an air-conditioned office, coming to live in Southern Spain was pure bliss - I love the caress of warm air on my skin, I love to go barefoot on our cool marble floor-tiles, I love sitting on the terrace on balmy summer evenings watching the sky and the mountains change colour as night falls.

But right now, it's too darn hot even for me.  We are officially on Yellow Alert, which means the daytime temperature is between 35 and 39ºC (95-102ºF). At night it doesn't fall below 23ºC, the humidity is high and there is hardly any breeze.

Of course there are places further inland, like Sevilla and Cordoba, where figures like these would be regarded as a blessed relief; people regularly have to endure temperatures over 40ºC in July and August. They flock to the coast in their thousands, often in large family groups, and set up camp on the beach with parasols, picnic tables and giant coolboxes.  They don't seem to mind how crowded it gets; you don't see the territorial panic which frequently affects Northern Europeans when someone parks their sunbed a little too close.  I don't like crowds myself, but for some reason I can tolerate them here on the Costa de la Luz; possibly because there are no screaming kids, unsolicited music or people kicking footballs around.  And the roar of the surf drowns out most extraneous noise anyway.

But we can't go to the beach every day - it's an hour's drive each way - so we have to find ways of keeping the house as cool as possible. We don't have built-in air-conditioning (too expensive to install and run, and very non-green) but we did buy a portable unit this year, which we turn on for an hour or two at night to cool the bedroom down.  Trying to sleep in a pool of sweat is not fun.


Some tips on keeping your house cool without aircon

Open the windows early in the morning, then close them as soon as the sun comes up; don't be tempted to leave them open in the daytime if it's hotter outside than in. Open them again in the evenings, unless humidity is high; humidity generally rises as temperature drops, and can make you feel clammy and uncomfortable because sweat cannot evaporate.

If there is a cool breeze blowing at night, leave windows and interior doors open to create channels of cool air throughout the house.

Keep the blinds down and the curtains drawn during the day.  You can get thermal insulation material to line or supplement existing curtains; this also helps retain heat in winter.

Use awnings to provide shade over south or west facing windows.

Use electric fans; their power consumption is very low and even a small movement of air can make you feel cooler.  Try it on your feet!  I have one under my desk. Don't leave them on when you are out of the room though, as they don't actually cool the room.

All electrical equipment gives off heat, even a mobile phone charger left plugged in (touch it and see)!  So turn off what you aren't using.

Low energy light-bulbs give off far less heat than conventional ones.  But of course you will have replaced all yours by now anyway.

If you've got more ceiling or wall lights than you actually need and they are all on one switch, take some of the bulbs out or replace them with lower wattage bulbs.

Use a microwave oven instead of a conventional one.  Avoid boiling food in saucepans, particularly if humidity is high.

Don't turn the fridge-freezer up to maximum - it will just chuck more hot air out the back.  Don't leave the fridge door open any longer than necessary, and NEVER use it to cool yourself down!

White reflects heat, dark colours absorb it.  Use white or pale-coloured blinds.  Paint your house white - ten million Andalusians can't be wrong!  We  made the mistake earlier this year of painting our roof terrace floor dark green, and we are paying the price now!  Hosing it down every evening helps cool it down a bit.


Some tips for keeping yourself cool 

Drink LOTS of water. (When mass tourism took off in Spain, holidaymakers used to blame the water or food when they felt dizzy or nauseous, but this was much more likely to have been caused by dehydration.) Tap water here is fine to drink - put some in a jug and keep it in the fridge.

Get your housework done early in the day, then have a cold shower. Or get somebody else to do it. Or just leave it.

Stay indoors during the heat of the day. Do your shopping in the evening like the Spanish do - the shops stay open till 9.30 or 10 pm in summer.

If you want to go hiking or get a tan, come here in May or October when you can spend all day outdoors.

Spanish women use hand fans (abanicos) all the time. The bigger the fan, the better the effect. The art is to use just a minimal wrist movement, otherwise you'll make yourself even hotter.

Wear loose-fitting clothes, made of light-coloured cotton or other non-synthetic material.

Keep plastic bottles of water or cartons of juice in the freezer to take with you when you go out. Then they will still be cold when you come to drink them. NB do NOT try this with cans ...

Eat frequent small snacks of fruit and salad rather than one big heavy meal.

If you are on a low-salt diet and start getting muscle cramps, it is possible you aren't getting enough salt to replace what is lost through sweat. Your body can't do without salt altogether.

Put your feet in a bowl of cold water. If this isn't practical, try running cold water over the inside of your wrists - this cools your whole body down.

Many of the advice sites I've been looking at for this post tell you to avoid caffeine and alcohol.  I am not going to go that far.   But do drink lots of water WITH your caffeine and alcohol, to offset their diuretic effects.

Enjoy the summer!


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