DIY Air Conditioning for Under 10 Bucks, and More Hot Tips for Staying Cool

A cheap trick with an ice chest will help keep you cool all summer -- and that could keep you healthy.

Summertime means heat, and that can make living not so easy.

The National Weather Service reports that on average more than 130 people a year die from the heat. In the extreme heat, even the heartiest may suffer.

But the good news is, you may not need to run out and buy an air conditioner. We have a dirt-cheap, low-tech way to turn an ice chest into an air conditioner, and other cheap and easy ways to stay cool on the hottest days.

1. Make an ice chest air conditioner

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  • Materials: Buy or find around the house a cheap Styrofoam ice chest; a couple of dryer vents or PVC joints; and a small electric fan.
  • Construction: Set the vents on either corner of one end of the lice chest lid and trace around them. Put the fan facing down on the other end and trace around the perimeter. Grab a serrated knife. Cut out the vent holes; cut the hole for the fan inside the traced line a bit.
  • Assembly: Fit the vents snugly in their holes; place the fan so it rests on top of its hole, facing in, but won’t fall in. Fill the cooler with ice. (Keep a few water-filled milk jugs in your freezer, and you’ll always have a free supply that lasts longer in the cooler.)
  • Operation: Turn it on. As the fan forces air over the ice and out the vents, you’ll get cold air blowing into the room. About the same temperature as an air conditioner — until the ice melts.

Technically, you may want to call this an air cooler, as your cheap trick doesn’t have a condenser and coils, so it’s not really an air conditioner. But you won’t sweat the difference when your room cools down.

Get yourself a battery-powered fan, or a battery and an inverter, and your air conditioner will work in a blackout as long as you’ve got ice, he notes.

While you’re enjoying your cool air, consider these additional tips.

2. Strategically applied ice

Woman with ice pack on her cheek.PhotoMediaGroup /

Apply flat, compact ice packs you keep in your freezer to your joints or other areas that tend to perspire a lot – your neck, forehead, wrists, lower back, backs of your knees or upper chest. Not only will it cool those areas quickly, but you’ll focus on the burst of frigidity, instead of the overall heat.

3. Time your activities

Person running along a beach at sunset.Somkiat.H /

The hottest time of a summer day is usually midafternoon, not noon. That’s because there’s a delay of up to three or four hours between when the sun irradiates the Earth-atmosphere system and when the temperature begins to increase on the planet’s surface. This delay, known as the thermal response, means you should get outdoor activities done in summer before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

4. Drink the right fluids

Small child drinking water.Maria Madrinan /

Dehydration is a key factor in heat illness, warns the Mayo Clinic and other health organizations. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, which helps your body sweat and cool down. If you exercise intensely, a sports drink, rather than water, can also replace sodium, chloride and potassium you lose through sweating. Alcoholic drinks, however, actually promote fluid loss.

5. Eat cooling foods

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Fruits and vegetables hold lots of water to help keep you hydrated in the heat, experts say. These include celery, cucumbers, apples, watermelon, strawberries and many more. And don’t forget spicy foods, like chilies, mint and ginger, says Voice of America. Spicy dishes may make you feel like you’re burning, but they actually can help cool you down by making you perspire, giving your skin the relief of evaporative cooling. Also, try gazpacho or other chilled soups.

It’s a question of comfort — and health

Man exercsingMaridav /

Mayo Clinic doctors explain why hot weather puts extra stress on your body.

“To help cool itself, your body sends more blood to circulate through your skin. This leaves less blood for your muscles, which in turn increases your heart rate. If the humidity also is high, your body faces added stress because sweat doesn’t readily evaporate from your skin. That pushes your body temperature even higher. Under normal conditions, your skin, blood vessels and perspiration level adjust to the heat. But these natural cooling systems may fail if you’re exposed to high temperatures and humidity for too long, you sweat heavily, and you don’t drink enough fluids.”

For more ways to beat the heat check out these unusual ideas.

What tricks have you discovered to stay cool and healthy in the heat? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.


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