How I’m Preparing For a Socially Distanced Summer Without Air Conditioning

No matter where you are in the world right now, summer 2020 is going to look a bit different for all of us. It’s also pretty safe to say there’s a lot on everyone’s minds from keeping ourselves and our communities healthy to navigating physical distancing guidelines and the rapidly changing economy.

One of the biggest changes in my life right now is that I am working from home full-time. It’s a strange existence given that I also live alone. Fortunately, I’m not a social butterfly so it’s not the worst thing in the world, but I am sorely missing the activities that make living alone bearable like sailing, soccer and orchestra.

Maybe I won’t be working from home all summer, but I certainly am for the foreseeable future and I’m planning as if I’m in this for the very long haul. That being said, I am getting really concerned about how I’m going to deal with working from home in an apartment without air conditioning, as well as the health and well being of others without air conditioning.

When heatwaves strike, we’re reminded to check on the elderly and other people vulnerable to the heat. How will we do that when we’re supposed to keep our distance for their safety? And how will we help them, and everyone else without air conditioning at home, survive the sweltering temperatures that are fast approaching?

I don’t have the answer to all of those questions, but as someone with no air conditioning, no backyard and no pool, here’s what I’m personally doing to prepare:

1. Hooking Up the Portable Air Conditioner

THANKS MOM! My portable air conditioner will forever be one of the best gifts my mother has ever bought for me. It will never replace central air conditioning, but I like to say that it at least takes the edge off of the heat and humidity.

Fans and open windows are alright for coping with dry heat, but when that Southern Ontario humidity arrives? With the way it sucks the energy out of you, good luck getting anything done during the day.

I have an 8,000 BTU Arctic King portable AC. It’s actually a 3-in-1 model, so I can run it as a regular old fan and it also has a dehumidifier. I keep it in the living room, as that’s where I spend the most time, but it can be easily moved as needed. Through a lot of trial and error, I have learned that if I position the AC and my two fans juuuust right, I can direct enough air into my bedroom to make it bearable for the night.

Unfortunately, between my neighbourhood and having a ground-level apartment, leaving my windows open at night just isn’t an option. It makes for some uncomfortable nights, but being able to direct some cool air from the living room really does help.

I really enjoy my portable air conditioner, but let’s face it, they’re not cheap. They’re certainly out of the reach of many lower-income people, who are more likely to live in housing without air conditioning or struggle to pay the electrical bills for it. I’m personally worried about finding the balance between keeping my apartment cool enough to be productive, without having to have the unit running all day and jacking up my electricity bills. I suspect this will take some trial and error, but I can only experiment so much without hurting my productivity.

2. Replenishing the Smoothie Cube Stash

I’m no vegan hipster, but I do like smoothies as a morning boost and to force myself to get some healthy stuff down. I made a big batch of smoothie cubes that have served me well throughout the pandemic so far, but it’s getting dangerously low. It’s definitely time to make another batch of them so I always have some on hand for a cool, refreshing and healthy breakfast or snack.

If you’re looking to give smoothie cubes a try, this article explains it well. In a nutshell, all you need to do is make a smoothie as you usually would, but add just enough liquid for it to blend properly. Divide the smoothie up into an ice cube tray, and freeze in your freezer. From there, I like to divide them into small plastic bags so I can simply take a bag from the freezer and toss them into my blender.

Once you’ve added the smoothie cubes to your blender, simply add liquid (I also like to add a banana, I love my smoothies extra frothy and banana-y!) and blend. It tastes just a tiny bit different from making it fresh, but trust me, it’s still delicious. With the added pandemic bonus of limiting your trips to the grocery store because smoothie cubes last far longer than fresh fruit.

Fun tip: If you want to switch up flavours, make single-flavour smoothie cubes so you can mix and match as you please! I personally have strawberry, mango and mixed berry ones and I mix them accordingly based on my mood.

3. Stocking Up On Popsicles

No, popsicles are not just for kids. There’s no better way to get through a hot and sticky afternoon than the refreshing cold and sugar boost that a popsicle brings.

If you’re concerned about sugar and chemicals, have no fear, there are a lot of great healthy popsicles out there both in the grocery store and recipes you can make online.

4. Fixing Up My Little Porch Into An Outdoor Space

While I don’t have a backyard, I do have a little porch that serves as the entrance to my apartment. I’ve never measured it, but it’s probably about 6′ x 6′. This is my second summer in this apartment and I’ve never used that space for anything more than storing my garbage can and recycling bin, but this year that’s got to change.

I’ve seriously thought about rigging up a hammock but uh, let’s just say the railing is definitely not strong enough for that. I’m currently trying to track down a chair I can sit in (it doesn’t need to be fancy but it needs to be somewhat comfy and apparently those are expensive!) as well as a few planters and possibly an outdoor rug and some sort of shade as it gets direct sunlight for quite a lot of the day.

Part of the reason I’ve never sat out there is that the porch is right next to the heavily trafficked sidewalk. I might have to put up with some overly friendly strangers striking up conversation, but I guess I’ll have to take that over being stuck inside a sweltering apartment.

If I can set it up well and the internet connection is strong enough, maybe I’ll be able to work outside sometimes. At the very least, might as well take advantage of the breeze outside of work hours!

5. Considering Asking For Some Flexibility In My Working Hours

If my boss is reading this…we might need to chat! This is not an option I want to consider given we all traditionally work set office hours, but it may be necessary.

Thinking back to last summer, there were summer days where it’s just impossible to get anything done during the hottest hours of the day. I am really worried about the same thing happening during the week now that I don’t have the nice air conditioned office to escape to (oh, I will never complain about it being too cold again!).

This is a last resort, but worst-case scenario, I might have to shift my working time to earlier in the morning and evenings. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to do this, but it might be necessary and could be a good option for those of you out there facing a similar situation.

6. Writing to My Elected Officials to Raise My Concerns

The more I think about this, the more concerned I get. Not so much for myself, but for the people with less financial resources than I have or who have health conditions that can be exacerbated by the heat. As debates rage about balancing access to public space with the need to maintain physical distancing, I worry how those of us who don’t have a cool house to retreat to will survive this summer.

I am especially worried about this because let’s face it, most politicians and public servants in decision-making roles probably aren’t concerned about this on a personal level. That means it’s up to us to encourage them to take action on it, so in the coming days I will be writing to my local representatives about this to ensure this is on their radar and being addressed.

What needs to be done? Ontario needs to continue its pause on Time of Use electricity pricing, so those of us staying home aren’t forced to pay for on-peak pricing through no fault of our own. We absolutely need to continue to find ways for people to safely access and enjoy public space, instead of threatening to shut it down because too many people are there, because we simply need a retreat from the confinement and heat of our homes.

We also need to explore ways of creating safe cooling centres for people to go to when needed, especially since places like malls and pools probably won’t be opening again for a while. Perhaps we can even get creative and make outdoor ones, anybody remember the “chill zone” at Canada’s Wonderland on hot days? What a relief that cool mist was!

We also need to make sure that seniors aren’t left out of this conversation. We need them to stay home for their safety, but we also need to help them keep cool. This could mean providing them with fans and portable or window air conditioning units, establishing formal systems of wellbeing check-ins and offering subsidies for higher home cooling costs.

This issue has been on my mind for the last week or so, I sent out a tweet about it and I decided I needed to expand. This is not the most polished or organized piece I’ve ever written, but I needed to get it out there because this conversation simply isn’t being had.

If you’re in the same situation as myself – no air conditioning, no backyard and no pool – then hopefully these tips can help you to prepare for the unique summer ahead. If not, please share with someone who may find them helpful or use your voice to help advocate for those of us who need it.

Hang in there everyone, this is going to be the summer we’ll never forget (and not in the good kind of way) but if we all do our parts, we’ll get through this together. Ça va bien aller mes amis. Ça va bien aller.