13 January 2014

Coping with a Heatwave

It is hot in Australia at the moment. Now that's not unusual bearing in mind that we are in the middle of our summer. But it is not just normal summer hot, it is higher than usual temperatures for longer than usual hot.

Some areas have seen temperatures above 50 degrees, and that's Celsius for my overseas readers. Fifty degrees Celsius is around 122 degrees Fahrenheit. That's hot.

We are in the middle of a heatwave. According to the Bureau of Meteorology a heatwave is a weather system of continual above average daytime temperatures with overnight temperatures that remain in the mid to high twenties. Yuk!

I can almost manage hot days but hot, steamy nights are just miserable.

So how do you keep cool during a heat wave?

We don't have air-conditioning in our house. We do have ceiling fans in the living areas and fans in all the other rooms. They go on early, before the sun comes up.

We have outside awnings on the north and west facing windows and they come down early, again before the sun comes up.

While I'm up doing the fans and awnings I make sure all the windows get closed tight, pull the blinds and draw the drapes. I even pull the blinds down in the laundry. The house is almost pitch black, but it certainly helps to keep the heat out.

Another thing I do is freeze bottles that are half filled with water. Then one comes out of the freezer and gets topped up with cold water from the fridge and it sits on a dish on the sink - ready for anyone who needs a cold drink. Depending on the day it stays frozen for anything up to 2 hours and cold for at least an hour after that. It just stops the continual opening of the fridge for cold water.

I've also made up panels of bubble wrap that fit across the windows. It may seem extreme but extreme heat calls for extreme measures. These panels tape to the sides of the window frames, forming a mock double glazed window.  The gap between the glass and the bubble wrap traps the hot air and the bubble wrap stops it getting into the house. It looks a little weird from the outside but it really does help to keep the interior temperature down. My calculations show it makes about a 5 degree Celsius difference between the room before bubble wrap and after bubble wrapping the windows. That's a significant difference. My neighbours already think I'm a little odd so it doesn't really surprise them. And it comes off once the heat ends.

I had to buy the bubble wrap. It came from our local Officeworks in a 50 metre roll and cost $24. It's carefully rolled and re-used over and over - I am a firm believer in buy once and re-use.

We also have an ice box we usually use when we go camping. I've made up ice packs that fit it perfectly and vac packed them so they can be re-used. On days of extreme heat we use the ice box to keep drinks cool too.

On that note I freeze chunks of fruit. Orange, mandarin and mango segments, small clusters of grapes, whole bananas (just like banana ice cream) and strawberries all freeze into delicious ice blocks. They're far more nutritious than frozen cordial and do a better of job of cooling too. To do this I cut the fruit up, stick in a toothpick and flash freeze it. Once it's frozen it gets put into an air tight container. I put the toothpicks into the fruit to use as little handles - stops fingers from getting sticky - but of course you don't have to.

During summer we always cook outside. I very rarely use the oven or the stove, our barbecue has a side burner and a rotisserie and it gets used just about all year round. I also use the slowcooker, but sit it out on the verandah. They don't generate a lot of heat but any heat is too much when the temperature is in the forties. That means I can cook a roast or a piece of corned beef without heating up the kitchen.

I also use the side burner on the barbecue to steam veggie or to stir fry. And if I'm making a pasta or potato salad then I have the pot on the barbecue early in the morning so the food has time to chill before dinner.

When it's so hot getting up is an effort, but staying in bed is worse. You'll often find me up, coffee in one hand, hose in the other, watering the vegetable garden before daylight. It's actually a beautiful time of day; usually still, quiet and peaceful just before the sun comes up.

Keeping personally cool on very hot days is tricky. You can try wearing a damp sarong or nightie (and pray you don't get visitors). Wet face washers on the back of your neck are an excellent way to cool your body. As is a tub of cool water you can sit your feet in. We have neckties that are filled with water saving crystals. I just soak them for a few minutes and then tie or drape one across the back of my neck. It's not exactly a fashionable look but it really does help to keep me cool and the crystals stop it from drying out so quickly. I made some a few years ago and then last summer I found them in a $2 shop for $1 each! I also take them camping with us.

When the kids were little I'd fill the bath and let them play to their hearts content. I'd sit on the floor and read while they splashed and cooled down, then out they'd hop. The water stayed, ready for their next cool down session. It didn't cost a lot, we didn't have to leave the house and it kept everyone cool and happy - hot kidlets usually mean frazzled kidlets and of course frazzled kidlets cause miserable mummys. Keeping cool just worked.

However you manage it, I hope that you can be comfortable. And I'm so looking forward to that predicted change on Friday night!

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