Most people in most climates can tolerate hot days in the summertime, but it's at night when the heat really gets to us. You lie there sweaty and sleepless, wishing you could master levitation just so you wouldn't have to touch your sheets. At times like this when you commit to making cooling the house a top priority. Here are some basic options, from the most to the least expensive.
Air Conditioning ~ It works everywhere, and it works fast. Disadvantage? It can be expensive to buy and even more expensive to operate, because it uses loads of electricity. However, an energy-efficient "room" A/C unit does a great job of cooling a small space such as a bedroom without costing too much.
Portable Evaporative Cooler ~ In dry climates, this works well and uses significantly less electricity than conventional A/C.
Mini Split Air Conditioner ~ In a larger room, a mini split A/C might be a good option. Also called "ductless" A/C, mini splits have a compact outdoor compressor unit linked to an indoor delivery unit. And unlike central A/C systems, it doesn't need a furnace and duct network. This makes them perfect for additions and expanded living spaces. These units can also work as heaters in winter.
Fans ~ Fans work well if you use them properly. In all but the hottest, most humid climates, a whole house fan (also know as an "attic fan") cools your home at night by pulling outdoor air in through windows and exhausting hot air out through the attic. Best practice is to run for a while at night and again in the morning before closing up the windows for the day. You can use window fans the same way by setting one in a window blowing into the bedroom and setting another blowing out of a window in a nearby room to promote cross ventilation. Ceiling fans work if they're blowing on you (they don't cool the room). The airflow will pull heat from your skin and helps your body cool itself. Some people like to run their furnace's blower fan (without the heat, of course) just to circulate the home's air, which can balance the temperature and eliminate hot spots.
Reducing Heat Gain ~ Preventing your home from heating up during the day will help keep you cool no matter what cooling methods you use. Most heat is gained through windows (opened or closed), so at the very least, use blinds or curtains to block the sunlight. This will reduce heat that travels with the light, called radiant heat. Insulated shades block radiant heat, as well as, conductive heat passing through the glass. But the best way to reduce heat gain is with awnings or external shades that stop the sunlight from reaching windows. As for the windows themselves, you can install new high-tech windows with low-e coatings as part of a remodel. For existing windows, you can apply heat-blocking window film that can reduce heat transmission through the glass by up to 60%.
Cooling Tactics ~ When things get desperate, here are a few tricks to try at bedtime:
Wet-towel blanket: Works especially well when coupled with a ceiling fan.
Hot water bottle filled with ice water: Place the bottle over your ankles, on your forehead, or behind your knees to help cool you.
Cotton pillow: You want something absorbent. Synthetic and down pillows are bad for heat.