In a departure from the usual topic of this blog I’m going to give you some tips on how to stay cool, and how to keep your house cool, during the current hot spell. Please feel free to share. This blog is not specific to M.E./CFS, but is for anyone who’s feeling too hot.
Readers in the UK will be only too aware that we’re having a heat wave at the moment. Wednesday was the hottest July day on record, and although it’s now slightly cooler, we still have above average temperatures .
Many parts of the world have hotter weather than the UK and wonder why we make such a fuss about a temperature of 36.7 degrees Celsius, but human bodies adjust to different temperatures, so if you live in a hot climate you are probably better adapted to deal with those temperatures. Also, buildings and infrastructure are designed for the local climate. It’s easier to stay cool indoors in buildings designed to cope with hot weather, whether that’s via air conditioning or clever design.
Many people with M.E. struggle to regulate their body temperature. If you’re someone that feels cold most of the time then perhaps you’re loving this weather. On the other hand you could be struggling with this heat more than a healthy person would. If your doctor has given you specific advice then please follow that, remember I’m not medically trained. These are general tips.
Tips for keeping yourself cool
1. Stay hydrated. Our main cooling system is sweating so in hot weather we need to drink more than normal. To make water more interesting try putting a jug or bottle in the fridge and add fruit/herbs for flavour. Citrus (lemon, lime and/or orange), strawberries and mint all make great additions. Leave the fruit to steep in the water for at around 30 minutes and you’ll have deliciously flavoured water with no added sugar. If you use sparking water you can enjoy the bubbles as well. Don’t forget you will also be loosing salt in your sweat. I have been generous with the sea salt on my food over the last few days.
2. Wear cool clothing and a sun hat if you’re outside. Loose, natural (cotton/linen /silk) clothing is the coolest. Look at the traditional clothing of hot countries and you’ll see it’s not about skimpy outfits, but about cool natural fabrics that do not cling to the skin. I don’t always adhere to this advice – I’m writing this dressed for my pilates class in cropped leggings and a sun top, but you can do better than me!
3. Stay in the shade. The direct heat of the sun is much hotter than the shade, so avoid direct sunlight whenever possible. If your house is cooler than outside (tips on how to keep it cool below) then I find it’s best to stay inside in the heat of the day. Otherwise find a shady spot outside with air flow to take advantage of what breeze there is. I love lying under a tree in my garden.
4. If you need to cool down then splash tepid water on your skin rather than cold water. Water evaporating off your skin will have a cooling effect. However, if you use cold water it encourages the blood vessels near your skin to contract, reducing blood flow and hence reducing the overall heat loss. Tepid water will give you the cooling effect from the evaporation whilst not restricting blood flow to the area.
5. A tip from Wimbledon: I have seen the tennis players using ice wrapped in a towel draped around their neck to cool them down. They are looking to cool themselves down as much as possible in the short rests between changing ends. I’ve not tried this, but if it’s good enough for top tennis players ……..
6. Have a siesta. If your daily routine is flexible then minimise your activity during the hottest part of the day. I’ve been waking up earlier (mostly due to traffic noise through my open bedroom window) and have had some productive mornings whilst the weather is cool. Then I am more than happy to rest during the afternoon heat.
7. If all else fails visit somewhere with air conditioning. Many restaurants and shopping centres have air conditioning. I suspect they’ve been busier than usual in this weather. Of course if you’re struggling with ME you may not be well enough to do this, and for that I’m sorry. I know how tough this illness can be. Just hold on to the fact that in next year’s hot spell you may well be better.
Tips for keeping your house cool
I used to teach about the energy efficiency of buildings in my pre-ME/CFS career, so hopefully I’ll be able to help you keep your house cooler.
The first thing to do is to minimise the heat getting into your house on a hot day. This means if the outside temerature is hotter than the inside you should keep all doors and windows shut. I know this is counter intuitive, but on Wednesday the maximum temperature in my lounge was 25 degrees Celsius whilst outside it was about 35 degrees Celsius. If I had left my windows open the house would have been a similar temperature to outside. It’s difficult to decide at what point it becomes better to keep the windows closed, but generally if there is little breeze and the temperature is in the high twenties or thirties I keep them closed. If the temperature outside is expected to stay below about 25 degrees Celsius and there is a good breeze I tend to keep them open. If your house is at 20 degrees, then try and close the windows when the outside temerature reaches this temperature – that’s been quite early these last few days.
One exception to the closed window rule could be if you have a loft conversion that gets really hot. There’s two main reasons for this. Firstly your roof may be poorly insulated and it’s probably in direct sunlight all day, so a lot of the heat from the roof will transfer into the room below. Secondly, hot air rises, so air at the top of the house will be warmer than air at ground level. It can be beneficial to open a window in the attic to let hot air escape. Pay attention to what’s going on in your house and work out the best combination of open/closed windows for your particular house.
The next thing to do is minimise direct sunlight entering the home. In many hot countries they have outside shutters and/or shades above windows, and smaller windows, or windows only on the north side of the building. However, most homes in this country are not built to that design. In fact many of us have large south facing windows, to maximise light on dull days and instead of external shutters, we have curtains or blinds on the inside of windows. Shut the curtains/blinds on all windows directly facing the sun. If you pay attention you will soon notice which windows face the sun at which times of the day. In my house I have the curtains on one side of the house shut in the morning, and then after lunch I can open them, but need to shut the ones at the rear of the house for the afternoon. This minimises the solar gain (heat from direct sunlight entering the house).
Brick, stone or concrete houses are good at absorbing heat and can then release the heat slowly once the air temperature cools down. This means they are able to help regulate the internal temperature of the house. The best way to utilise this effect during a heatwave is to use a system called night time cooling.
Night time cooling works by letting air flow through the house at night, when the outside temperature is cooler than the inside. The bricks/stone will slowly cool down as they release their stored heat into the cooler air. Then, as advised above, as the temperature outside increases during the day shut the windows and curtains/blinds. The house will still heat up during the day, but the cooler walls will be able to absorb some of this heat, helping to keep your house at a comfortable temperature. The maximum cooling effect will occur if you can get a good through draft going – have windows open on opposite sides of the building and keep internal doors propped open (unless they’re fire doors)*. By using this method I have cooled my living room down from 25 degrees in the evening to 20 degrees by 8 am. Most of this has been done by having all the windows and doors open in the late evening and from 6 am -8.30 am, as we can’t leave our downstairs window open over night for security reasons.
Minimise sources of heat in the house. Here’s a few examples:
- Try to avoid turning your oven on, in fact I’ve been trying to minimise any use of my stove over the past few days.
- Try running your dishwasher at night/ in the evening when you can have your kitchen windows open to let the heat out.
- Turn your computer off when you’re not using it, this may be a small heat source, but every little helps.
- Don’t leave your iron plugged in. I mention this because I failed to notice for several hours yesterday that my son had left the iron on – not ideal for our electricity bill, although probably a very minimal heat source for the house!
- If you have a hot water tank think about when you heat your water. If you have a tank of hot water sitting there all day, it will be heating up your home to some extent, even if it’s well insulated. Can you make do with only turning your hot water on in the evening and/or reduce the amount you have it on in the day?
Long term ways of improving the energy efficiency of your home
The tips above are all things you can do today to keep you and your home cool. However, by considering improvements to your home you can improve the thermal properties of your home and this will help keep you cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. I could write a whole blog on this, in fact I used to run a course teaching home owners about energy efficiency. Instead I’m just going to list some ideas very briefly. If you want to know more about any of this then please contact me, it’s something I love to talk about.
- Insulation: There are plenty of schemes available to help you insulate your home: loft, cavity walls or solid walls. For people on low incomes it’s often possible to get work done for free. We have recently taken advantage of a grant towards external solid wall insulation for our house. Our south facing back bedrooms are cooler than in previous hot weather and in winter it should reduce our heating bill.
- Double, triple or secondary glazing. When we moved into our house it had a mixture of single and double glazing. We installed some home made secondary double glazing to the single glazed windows, similar to this commercial product: we bought some sheets of perspex, cut to size, and added some strip magnets. Eventually we replaced the single glazings with modern double glazing. The secondary glazing helped, but the new double glazing is even better.
- Sun shades over windows. This is a great way to reduce the sunlight entering into your house. You can buy commercial blinds, or Brise Soleil, or you can make your own sunshade like this couple have.
I could go on and on, but this is already a very long post, so I’ll finish here. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like more information about any of this.
*You obviously need to consider the security risk of open windows. I’m assuming you’re sensible enough to know when it’s safe/not safe to open your own windows.