22 Ways to Cool Down an Old House (Cheaply & without AC)

Old houses may not have insulations that new builds boast.

Maxing out the AC’s cooling capacity throughout the day to lower the indoor air temperature is straightforward, but it is not practical and leads to undesirably high energy bills.

How do you cool down an old house without AC?

What is the best way to cool an old house?

how to cool down an old house without ac

Why Do Old Houses Get So Hot?

These conditions in an old house can cause it to become hot when the outdoor temperature rises:

  • Lack or absence of insulation – old houses pre-1960s probably do not contain insulation in the walls, ceilings, and roofs. High thermal transfer from the outdoor to the indoor takes place through uninsulated external structures.
  • Heat gain through the windows – old houses typically have single-pane windows; these do not have the thermal barrier properties of their newer double-glazed counterparts.
  • Unventilated attic – warm air rises, and heat trapped in the attic builds up and fills the entire house’s vertical, causing the lower floors to feel warm.
  • Undesirable house facing – if most of your windows face the sunny side in summer, the indoor air temperature can rise rapidly.
  • Poor cross-ventilation – heat buildup warms the air, furniture, and building parts inside the house.
  • Drafty doors and windows – the effects of warming the house are minimal, but if the door and windows face the house direction that gets lots of sun, it can heat a cool interior.

The interior of an old house that gets too hot in summer typically also becomes cold in winter.

How to Cool an Old House in Summer?

Understanding your house’s facing lets you minimize heat gain and maximize comfort at various times of the day.

The inside of your house will warm as the air temperature rise outside; the ideal approach is to minimize heat transfer to the indoors and extract trapped heat through mechanical and natural means.

Cooling Options without AC

These methods cool the house day and night.

They are inexpensive, but some will require effort.

1. Shut Sun-Facing Windows

Heat gain through unprotected windows that receive direct sunlight is considerable.

Ascertain the windows exposed to direct sun rays between 9-11 am and 1-4 pm, and take steps to shield sunlight from heating the affected spaces.

Your options include:

  • Thermal blinds
  • Blackout curtains
  • Any heavy drapery

Remove the blinds and curtains late evenings and at night to allow cooler air to enter the room.

2. Apply Insulated Window Film

Upgrading to low-E glass or double-glazed windows may not make financial sense for older homes.

Window insulation film is suitable for glass windows and a less expensive DIY alternative to control heat, light, and UV transfer.

Apply the film on the inside of the house and on the window frame (not directly on the glass pane).

You are effectively creating an air gap between the glass and the film.

Application steps:

  • Clean the window glass pane and frame around it.
  • Measure the height and width of the glass pane.
  • Attach double-sided tape on the edges of the frame around the pane.
  • Measure and cut the film to size – the film’s size shall cover the entire window’s width, including the frame, plus a little extra.
  • Carefully attach the film to the frame.
  • Run a hair dryer at high heat over the film – eliminates wrinkles and tightens the film’s grip on the frame.
  • Cut off excess film.

It is also a useful addition for old houses in winter as it minimizes heat loss through the windows.

3. Shut the Door to Sun-Facing Rooms

Rooms on the western part of the house suffer from extreme heat in summer afternoons, especially when there are no trees or trees tall enough to protect them from the sun.

Heat gained in these rooms can gradually transfer to the other parts of the house when left unblocked.

Close the door to the warm room.

Additionally, draw the blind or curtain in the room to minimize warming.

4. Insulate Sun-Facing Walls (or Grow Vines)

Insulating the entire house is costly and not necessary when a targeted approach is kinder to the wallet.

The walls that face the afternoon sun vary, depending on your house’s orientation and layout.

The insulation option you can implement depends on the type of wall:

  • Single-layer masonry or brick wall – insulate by adding foam boards on the inside face, finished with a textured render or drywall.
  • Masonry cavity wall – cavity walls have an air gap that reduces heat transfer. Inserting insulation is possible with the spray foam type without removing one layer of the wall.

You can check if you have a cavity wall by observing the door or window frame – any widths more than 9 inches are likely a cavity wall.

Alternatively, you can grow vines to climb and cover the wall externally.

Vines need a system or horizontal and vertical support frames acting as a climbing and weaving mechanism.

5. Plant More on the Sunny Side

If you have a garden, consider growing tall plants or shrubs to shade your house from the harsh sun.

A mixture of short and tall plants for landscaping enhances the shade and can effectively reduce the amount of sunlight that hits the wall.

Choose plants that thrive in full, direct sun.

6. Create a DIY AC

When the air is hot indoors, operating the pedestal fan at full speed may not suffice as hot air on the skin is uncomfortable.

Fill a bucket with ice cubes and place it in front of the fan for simple but effective homemade air-conditioning.

The warm air that passes over the ice chills and reduces the overall air temperature.

It is a poor strategy if you do not minimize the heat that enters the home.

7. Insulate the Ceiling and Attic

The roof forms the most prominent area facing the sun and is the largest house surface that absorbs and transmits heat indoors.

The roof, attic, and ceilings in old houses are typically uninsulated.

Thermal gain under the roof heats the air in the space, and the higher temperature air gradually fills and warms the lower floors.

Insulating the roof is the most effective first line of defense for the entire house.

8. Ventilate the Attic

An attic is the first space under the roof.

If insulating the roof is costly, keep the attic windows open at all times (if possible) for cross-ventilation.

Preventing trapped hot air within the attic reduces the warming of the attic floor and subsequent spaces beneath it.

Building materials and furniture absorb heat during the day when the outdoor temperature is highest and release the heat into the indoor space at night. When the warm air travels upward, the opened attic windows let it escape.

Open gable-end windows may invite pigeon problems.

You can install window netting to prevent pigeons from entering and roosting in the attic.

9. Install a Whole-House Fan

A whole-house fan is a fancy word for an attic fan – one fan benefits the entire home, hence the name.

The electric fan requires installation at the attic floor by cutting a hole through the floor and the ceiling board below it to fit the fan.

The fan draws hot air from the ground and upper floors and releases it into the attic.

Combine attic ventilation and the operation of a whole-house fan for maximum cooling effect.

This combination is inexpensive yet highly effective, especially for homeowners who experience a hotter house than the outside.

10. Utilize Natural Cross-Ventilation

Utilizing cross-ventilation in the attic is beneficial, but adopting the same strategy on the lower floors is a two-pronged approach that can considerably cool down an old house.

Cross-ventilation works as long as you have opened doors or windows at two ends of the house and you feel the wind.

An intake and exhaust fan can work equally as well.

Additionally, combine the working of a ceiling and pedestal fans to enhance the cooling effect.

The way it works:

  • Operate the ceiling fan at low speed to force warm air downwards.
  • Run the pedestal fan near the window (where you can feel the wind blowing in), and direct it inwards.
  • Run another pedestal fan at the other end as an exhaust fan.

The effect is better when you draw in air at the first pedestal fan from a shaded outdoor space where the air is relatively cooler.

11. Run the Ceiling Fan Counter-Clockwise

You can change the ceiling fan direction depending on the season to give you the benefit of airflow – with or without AC.

In summer, a ceiling fan rotating in an anticlockwise direction pushes air downwards and is an excellent way to cool down in an old house without adequate insulation.

Airflow across the skin is cooling as it enables moisture on the skin to evaporate.

The fastest fan speed provides the most significant chill effect.

12. Extricate Hot Air for a Cool Bedroom at Night

You need to lower the air temperature in your bedroom to stand any chance of getting quality sleep on warm summer nights.

Conventional wisdom pushes you to blow the fan directly at your body, but it can be uncomfortable if the air remains hot.

Cross-ventilation (Tip #10 above) allows you to flush out hot air trapped inside the house.

You can tweak that strategy to maintain a more comfortable temperature in the bedroom:

  • Get 2 fans and open the windows – weather-permitting.
  • Place the fans at two separate windows – the farther apart, the better.
  • Run and direct the 1st fan outward – point it outside the window.
  • Run and direct the 2nd fan inward – point it towards the inside or you.
  • Run the fans at the highest speed for maximum effect.

It may not have an AC effect, but you can enjoy the outside air temperature at night in your bedroom – that is as cool as it gets in summer.

13. Clean the Fans

Dirty fan blades create more friction with the air it tries to move and reduce the fan’s efficiency at cooling you down.

Keep the fans clean for optimal performance when you need it.

Fan blades can carry dust and allergens, so cleaning them also helps maintain better air quality in your home.

14. Cook Outdoor

Cooking in the stifling heat that an enclosed kitchen creates is excruciating.

Cooking is a significant heat source, so the summer months are as good a time to move it outdoor – in the backyard or patio away from direct sunlight.

If you must cook in the kitchen, run the ventilator hood.

Alternatively, stick to recipes that don’t require too much heat to cook.

15. Reschedule Heat-Generating Chores

Baking produces heat, and an oven continues to emit hot air after it finishes operating.

The washing machine is another heat-generating device when in operation.

Reschedule them to the evening when it is cooler, or move the activities outdoor where space allows.

Do you use a dryer or line-dry your clothes outdoor?

A dryer indoors generates a massive amount of heat that you can do without when struggling to keep the temperature down.

16. Replace Incandescent Lights

An incandescent light works by heating a filament, and the fluorescent type produces light through a tube with ionized gas.

The latter is more energy-efficient and generates less heat.

If cost is not a constraint, opt for LED lights to save on the energy bills in the long run and keep the inside of your house cooler.

Alternatively, dim the lights when you don’t need them for specific tasks, or concentrate the activities in the same room, so you have fewer lights switched on simultaneously.

17. Get a Dehumidifier

A humidifier adds moisture to the dry winter air to increase its ability to hold heat.

Equally, you can use a dehumidifier to reduce humidity, so the air feels less warm to the skin.

A portable dehumidifier is inexpensive, improves indoor air quality, and reduces air moisture that causes mold and bacteria growth.

18. Cool the Car Outside the Garage

Devices and appliances release heat when they operate.

A vehicle is one of the biggest heat emitters in a household – with the engine running or immediately after it stops.

If you want to keep a cool garage (and therefore a cooler house), park your car outside after driving it. Move it inside only after the engine cools sufficiently.

You can choose to park the car in the garage and leave the door open if safety is not an issue.

But if either method is not a good option, consider pouring water onto the car to accelerate the cooling process.

19. Opt for Cool Colors

What color is your house?

Paint colors on the external and internal surfaces affect the temperature inside the house.

Dark colors absorb more heat than lighter ones because they absorb more light energy; the closer the color is to black, the more heat it absorbs and releases when the ambient temperature drops.

If your old house is due for a repaint, consider lighter colors for the façade and living room to help it maintain a cooler interior.

20. Opt for Cotton Sheets and Fabric Upholstery

The type of surfaces you touch is as vital as cooling the house.

Your choice of fabric affects how cool you feel when the indoors become warm.

Choose breathable fabrics made of natural fibers for your bedding and furniture upholstery to achieve thermal comfort when you sleep or lounge on the couch.

Architectural Solutions

These installations cost more, but they are excellent long-term solutions and non-intrusive for an old house.

Plus, they provide enhanced aesthetics with proper design and selection.

21. Exterior Solar Screens

Solar screens shield sun-facing windows from excessive sun rays while remaining adjustable to allow natural light to fill the room.

The available types to suit your house’s design are:

  • Adjustable vertical or horizontal slats – fixed angles to block direct sunlight but still allow illumination at different times of the day.
  • Rolling solar screens – dark-colored mesh fabrics that decrease heat and glare. Also available in blackout shades.
  • Roller shutters – block sunlight completely; suitable if a dark room is not a problem.

The upfront cost is not exorbitant, and the maintenance required is minimal.

22. Retractable Awning

If you want to cover the windows from the harsh sun rays but still enjoy natural lighting and view, installing an awning system is a good option.

Types of awning systems to choose from include:

  • Retractable – wall-mounted and motorized. An expensive but flexible choice; you may want the sun in winter.
  • Fixed – permanent cover; cheaper.
  • Portable – works for spaces outside the ground floor rooms.

How to Keep the Upstairs Cool in an Old House?

If your house has two stories or more, and you experience an upper floor that becomes hot during summer, the house’s overhead cover is uninsulated.

To cool the upstairs of an old house, you should:

  • Install a whole-house fan – draws hot air from the highest floor and into the attic to keep the entire house cooler.
  • Ventilate the attic – to prevent trapped hot air. Attic ventilation plus a running whole-house fan is the ideal strategy.
  • Consider insulating the roof – installing foam boards onto the rafters can noticeably cut down heat transfer from the top of the house.
  • (Alternatively) insulate the ceiling and attic hatch – less effective. It may cost less (or it may not), depending on your house’s layout and roof and ceiling design.

Does the Summer Insulation Work for Winter?

If you decide to insulate the house so you can enjoy cooler summers in the future, rest assured that the money you spend will be beneficial during the winter months.

Insulating or air-sealing the house improves its thermal performance for any conditions – hot and cold.

Your house can better retain heat in frigid winter temperatures.