Let me begin by confessing that we run our central air now because
1. we can and
2. it helps with allergies.
But in the past we couldn't afford it or we didn't even own an AC unit and the allergic spent a lot of time flat on their backs with a cold, wet washcloth over their faces to filter their air. Not a nice way to live, but sometimes it was a necessity.
Here are some ideas we've used (that I can remember off the top of my head) to keep cool in the heat of summer, but what works best will vary based on your climate, your windows, and the position of your house in relation to the southern and western sun.
We opened windows at night and put fans in the windows sucking the cooler night air in. As soon as the sun starts coming up you should shut the windows and pull the shades. If you don't have shades, make or get some. We use the foil sun-blockers for car windshields. You can make some with a pieces of cardboard cut to fit the window. Put foil on one side of the box to reflect the sun away from your walls. Put this in the window. You can make the other side look pretty with paint or fabric (or make a collage with magazine pictures if you like). Keep the sunshine <em>out</em> of your house in the heat of the day..
Other times we opened windows on the west side of the house in the mornings, and closed them and opened windows on the east side of the house in the evening.
Put fans down on the floor, tilted up if you can, to circulate the cooler air that falls to the ground.
Do your chores in the early morning and late evening. Take siestas in the heat of the day.
Drink <em>lots</em> of ice-water. Give your pets an ice cube to play with.
Take cool showers and don't dry off very well before getting dressed. The evaporation really does help.
If it's not too humid where you live, hang up damp sheets where the fans can blow on them, or hang them in front of a window that catches a breeze.
Make use of drafts- do not, for instance, have two fans blowing directly toward each other. Open windows across from each other to get the cross breezes blowing well. If you have a room that stays cooler than the others, spend more time there. Set a fan in the doorway blowing the cooler air into the warmer rooms.
Put in ceiling fans if you can. You can often do this in a rental if you promise to replace the ceiling fans with the original fixtures when you leave.
Eat light. Include lots of salads and raw fruits. Do not heat up your kitchen. IF you need to cook, try the microwave, a crockpot that you can set out in on a deck or near an open window with a fan blowing out, and try to cook early in the morning or late in the day.
If you have the windows that you can lower from the top or raise from the bottom, do lower a few inches from the top so hot air will rise and leave your rooms.
Keep a couple of dampened washcloths in the fridge or freezer to wipe down with when you need to. A spray bottle of water in the refrigerator can also be refreshing, and you can use it on your pets. Spray a top sheet with the water bottle before you go to bed and use just that top sheet as cover.
Wear breezy, flowy, loose clothes (skirts, not jeans, for instance). Use baby powder or cornstarch liberally on parts of your skin that touch other skin.
Turn the lights off and any appliances you can. They do generate heat. It may not be much, but when you live in a sweltering box that seems to absorb all the heat, every little bit counts. Yes, you're turning your house into a cave, but for daily living a cool, dark cave is better than a hot, sweaty, solarium. Unless you're a reptile.
Spend a lot of time in the shade at the park or go to air conditioned public spaces- the library, for instance.
Let the children put on their swimming suits and romp in the bathtub full of cool water.
Fill a bucket halfway up with very cold water. Put your feet in it and read a book.
Never light candles. Don't use halogen lamps. They generate too much heat.
Eat more ice-cream.=)
What are some things you've done?