It’s not even July yet and we’ve already seen back-to-back days with temperatures over 90 degrees here in Portland. Will we see another record heat wave like 2009, with temperatures soaring over 105 and evening lows in the 80s?

I’m not a meteorologist or a psychic, so I can’t predict the future. But I can give you some tips to keep your house cool during Portland’s hottest summer days.

Wait, Where’s the Air Conditioning?

If you’re new to the area, you’ll quickly realize that relatively few Portland homes and apartments have air conditioning.

Many of Portland’s charming Craftsman bungalows were built in a time before central AC became a standard feature in most homes. But don’t worry, you won’t melt. Despite our increasingly hot summers, Portland still has a pretty mild climate.

On those really hot days, you’re going to need to find alternative solutions to keep your home cool. If you do have air conditioning, you can still use my tips to keep your house cool without running up your electric bill.

Use Your Windows

Thousands of people in Portland make it through the entire summer without any air conditioning at all. You can join them!

The simplest way to keep the temperature down inside of your home is to take advantage of Portland’s cool summer evenings. On all but the hottest days, things cool down nicely at night. When it’s 80 degrees during the day, don’t be surprised to see low temperatures in the 50s or low 60s at night.

Leave your windows open in the evening (even all night if you feel safe doing so) and let that cool air in. Don’t forget screens to keep bugs out. Use fans (we’ll talk more about fans soon) to circulate that cool air throughout your house.

Then in the morning, close your windows and draw the blinds, trapping the relatively cold air inside. Thick blackout curtains can help keep the sun from heating up the inside of your house during the day.

This low-tech solution will work even better if your house is in a shady area, like Ladd’s Addition, or positioned so that your windows don’t point directly at the sun during the hottest part of the day. 

Be aware that this tip might not be for you if you suffer from seasonal allergies, which tend to peak during the early summer.

Don’t Touch That (Oven) Dial

Hot Oven

When it’s already hot out, turning on your oven to make dinner can really crank up the heat even further. 

To keep your house cool, try grilling outdoors instead of cooking inside on the hottest evenings. Or make meals that don’t require as much heat. Think cool, crisp salads with fresh fruit for dessert.

You’ll be surprised how much cooler your house will feel during the summer if you’re not running the stove and oven as often.

Photo: Goedeker’s on Flickr

Choose the Right Fan

Ceiling Fan

Photo: Steve Johnson on Flickr

Fans work in two ways:

  1. Multiple fans can efficiently move air. They can remove hot air from one room and replace it with cooler air from another (or from outside).
  2. A single fan that blows directly on your skin works by making it easier for sweat to evaporate, lowering your body heat. The more air movement and the more evaporation that takes place, the cooler you’ll feel.

There are three main types of fans you should consider: ceiling fans, box fans and oscillating fans. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks.

Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans are great for rooms with higher ceilings and they circulate air very efficiently. But installing a ceiling fan takes some work and good ceiling fans can be expensive. Cheap ceiling fans aren’t recommended, as they can warp and bend, becoming unbalanced and noisy.

Box Fans

Box fans are great for placing in open windows or in hallways to help air circulate. They’re powerful and work best in pairs, with one box fan pushing air away from a room and another pulling air into the room. They offer a good balance between powerful, but expensive, ceiling fans and lower-cost, but weaker, oscillating fans.

Oscillating Fans

An oscillating fan is most useful for moving air around a single room. They usually have different settings and adjustable heights, which can make them quite versatile. But they lack the power to really blow a lot of air around.

I won’t deny that sitting in front of one on a hot day can feel nice, though!

Buying an Air Conditioner

portable-air-conditionerIf you do decide to purchase an air conditioner, don’t try to cool your entire home. Focus instead on keeping smaller individual rooms cool, maybe just the master bedroom and/or your kids’ bedrooms.

You’ll probably need less cooling than you think. According to EnergyStar, you’ll be able to easily cool an average bedroom with a 5,000-10,000 BTU air conditioner.

Window air conditioners are generally more powerful and more efficient, but they can be tricky to mount. You might need to hire a professional. Remember, they’ll be booked solid during the summer’s hottest days! 

Mobile indoor units, that can be moved from room to room are popular as well, but most will require regularly emptying a drip bucket that collects condensation and some way to get the hot exhaust air out of the room you’re trying to cool.

Photo: Emilian Robert Vicol on Flickr

What About Central Air Conditioning?

It is possible to add central air conditioning to your home. But it isn’t cheap. Assuming you already have forced air heating in place, you may be able to add central AC to a 2,000 square foot house for around $4,000, according to This Old House.

Need to add additional ductwork? The cost of the project can easily double. Between the high cost, Portland’s generally mild climate and the available alternative cooling choices, I generally don’t recommend this option.

Don’t Fall for a Swamp Cooler

Have you ever heard of a swamp cooler? It’s also known as an “evaporative cooler” and it works by circulating water and using a fan to cool the air by evaporating the water. The first evaporative coolers were invented by the ancient Egyptians thousands of years ago.

It sounds weird but it really works in the right climate.

Unfortunately, Portland isn’t quite dry enough for swamp coolers or other evaporative cooling methods to be really effective.

Plan Ahead
Empty Store Shelves

Photo: Random Retail on Flickr

Ever been to Fred Meyer on the hottest day of the year? The air conditioner and fan departments are nothing but a sea of empty shelves. The popsicle and ice cream freezers are also usually decimated when the mercury creeps above 95 or so. 

That means if you’re planning on buying an air conditioner or fan to help you stay cool this summer, buy it now! Don’t wait until we’re in the middle of a heatwave. 

If you do need your air conditioner in a hurry and local stores are all sold out, look online for reviews and great deals with fast shipping. As I’m writing this, Amazon offers next-day delivery on a highly ranked mobile indoor air conditioner.

Enjoy the Summer!

Jamison Square Park PortlandPhoto: Sam Beebe on Flickr

What to do if your house is still too hot? Enjoy some of the Portland area’s wonderful opportunities to get out of the house and stay cool by:

What’s your favorite way to stay cool in Portland during the summer? Tell me in the comments.

First photo: Stuart Seeger on Flickr