Many people worked from home in the summer of 2020. The summer of 2021 as well.

Gone were the days of the air conditioner blasting at the office. You went from wondering why they need to keep it so cold to why is my apartment so hot. Or house, for that matter.

Houses and apartments can be different animals when it comes to heating and cooling. For the sake of this article, we’re going to address apartments—why they’re so hot in the summer and what you can do to cool yours down.

Working from home for good now? Keep reading so you’ll have better working conditions the next time summer rolls around.

Why Apartments Get So Hot

balcony windows
Airflow is difficult when all windows are on the same side!

I mentioned above that from an HVAC perspective—and clearly, several others!—apartments are different from homes.  Especially if you live in an urban high-rise with lots of windows.

In a home, you can open opposing windows on either side of the house and create an airflow of cooler air in and hotter air out. At least at night when the temps drop. In an apartment with all windows on one side, that’s a challenge. Especially if you’re facing south or west. These windows will get the most sun during the day, so you want to keep those windows covered to keep the sun out.

Heat Gain

apartment living room
Several factors increase heat gain in your apartment

When it comes to heat gain, an apartment is just like a house. Each of the following is a source of heat build-up in your apartment.

  • Your own body
  • Your family members
  • Pets
  • Appliances (washer, dryer, stove, dishwasher . . .)
  • Electronics
  • Light bulbs

Add all those up and times them by the number you have—number of light bulbs, computers, TVs—and there is a lot of heat being generated in your home every day. Likely about 8,000 watts.

Watts = energy = heat.

With all these things generating heat, many items in your home are absorbing it. And some of them will take a long time to let that heat go again. And when they do, it’s coming right back at you.

And it’s not just the things inside your home you have to worry about. If you live higher than a few stories up, nothing is shading the building. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a taller building beside you.

So you have the heat of the sun adding to your interior discomfort as well. Of course, it’s adding heat to the exterior as well.

If your building is constructed with concrete, and it probably is, you’re also dealing with something called thermal mass. Just as there are things inside your home that absorb and retain heat, it’s happening outside too.

Concrete is high in thermal mass since it’s so heavy and dense. And if your building is clad in it, it’s absorbing heat all day. Meaning your apartment is too.

Solution: If you’re the type who likes to leave a TV on all day just for the company, you need to realize it’s giving off just as much heat as a resting human body.

Turn it off.

While you’re at it, turn off anything else you can. Try not to run your dryer or dishwasher during the day, because it will just add to your interior heat.

If you have south or west-facing windows, cover them up. Preferably with something with light color window treatments since this will reflect the sun. Dark colors will absorb the heat and simply add to your problem.

Tip: Remember, hot air rises. So if you get very uncomfortable in the heat and you’re apartment hunting, keep in mind the higher your apartment is, the heat from each apartment below is adding to your heat.

What You Can do to Cool Your Apartment Down

Since taking your laptop to Starbucks—where it’s cool—to work every single day probably isn’t going to fly, here are some tips to cool things down a bit at home.

Block the Sun

sun blocking curtains
Keep the sun out as much as possible

I mentioned this above, but it deserves its own spot on the list.

Heatwaves coming in through your window will heat up your home faster than anything else. Except setting it on fire. So don’t let it in. The best part? You can also lower your energy costs since you won’t need to use fans or AC as much.

Solutions: Curtains or drapes. And not just any kind. You want to look for a fabric with a tight, closed weave, in light to medium colors. And if you can find the type that has a plastic backing, they’re even better. They’re often marketed as black-out curtains.

Shades come in a variety of styles. Just be sure they are installed as close to the windowpane as possible, mounted inside the frame. Reversible shades that are light on one side and dark on the other are a great idea. In the summer, face the light side to the outside to reflect the sun, but in the winter turn them so the dark side absorbs the heat and adds it to your room.

Horizontal blinds with a highly reflective surface—not wood—can reduce your heat gain by about 45%. And the ability to adjust the angle of the slats means you can block and redirect sunlight toward a light-colored ceiling.

Reflective film directly adheres to your windows, but this can impact your view. If you go this route, look for the silver, mirrorlike kind instead of the colored transparent film.

Cook Sensibly

range hood in kitchen
Avoid using the oven whenever possible. You may as well have a fireplace on when using an oven!

Use the microwave instead of the oven or stovetop when possible.

If you do use your oven or stovetop, always turn on your range head. It doesn’t just exhaust steam from pots of boiling water and odors, it will exhaust heat as well. If you don’t, that heat is just going to sit in your apartment.

Use the Right Window Fan

window exhaust fan
Look for a window fan that will intake and exhaust

As mentioned above, airflow and ventilation are more challenging in a home with all the windows on one side. However, there is an answer to this.

Look for a fan like this one that has two independent fans—one that will intake fresh and hopefully cooler air, and one that will exhaust your hot, stuffy air.

Put Your Sheets in the Freezer

cool bed sheets
Put your cotton sheets in the freezer for a few hours before bed

This is a new one for me! I imagine many take a cool shower before bed but that’s not energy efficient.

If your apartment is so hot you can’t get to sleep, and none of the above work for you, try putting your sheets in the freezer a few hours before bed. I’m guessing the thermostat in the freezer will adjust for them, using a bit more energy, but it’s probably still cheaper than the shower.

Linen, cotton, or percale sheets work best for this, as they are breathable fabrics. Make the bed a while before getting in and you’ll have cool air flowing around you for hours.

Conclusion

Even if you have air conditioning, any home, whether an apartment or house can have issues keeping up in extreme heat. But it’s even more important that those without it make wise decisions.

With some research, I’m sure you could come up with other ideas, but here are the ones we covered.

  • Turn off any electronics or appliances not in use
  • Block the sun with window coverings
  • Use the microwave
  • Use the range hood when using the oven or stovetop
  • Put a dual-purpose fan in the window
  • Put your sheets in the freezer a few hours before bed

Hopefully at least one of these tips will be enough to cool down your hot apartment!

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