Summer’s coming, and so is sweaty misery, if you’re in an area that bakes during the hottest part of the day. Even the most powerful AC systems sometimes can’t keep up, but you can help keep your home cool with these low-tech solutions.
For this list, we’ve focused on standard items that don’t need elaborate installations, for those who can’t afford full home systems or can’t install much in the way of hardware since they’re renting. (Landlords don’t always see powerful, efficient air conditioning as a priority for their tenants.)
We’re going to focus on two options here: air cooling and circulation, with things like fans and portable/non-permanent air conditioning units, and heat exclusion, keeping heat and light outside of your home. Check out our selections below.
The Best Window-mounted AC Unit: GE AEM08LX ($289)
A window-mounted air conditioner has the best bang-for-your-buck in terms of immediate cooling power. Although it’s limited to a single room, this GE model can blast you with blessed freon-cooled air without the expense or power draw of a full central AC system.
At a little under $300, it’s also inexpensive enough that it can supplement an existing system if it’s not doing the job for a bedroom or office, or stand on its own for an external garage or workshop. You may need a bit of help installing it if you can’t lift the 60-pound unit, but it comes with an installation bracket and plastic blocker in the box. Once it’s set up, plug it into a standard outlet, and you’ll get a blast of cold air right away.
The Best Portable AC Unit: Whynter ARC-14S ($480)
For those who don’t have the option of a semi-permanent window installation or need to be able to move the AC from room to room, a portable solution will serve them best. We have a whole roundup dedicated to portable AC units, but the best overall pick is the Whynter ARC-14S.
With a massive 14000 BTU output, it can cool a single 500-square foot room or supplement cooling for something larger like a living room. You still need to find a window for the exhaust air and humidity, but it can be set up and broken down in just a couple of minutes.
The Best Window Fan Unit: Holmes HAWF-2041 ($43)
If your budget won’t stretch to an AC unit or you only need an occasional burst of cool air, this Holmes window fan might suit your purposes better. The dual fan design sits in your window and expands to fit, with options for drawing in cool air, blowing out hot air, or running the twin fan blades in opposite directions for full air exchange. It’s an excellent solution for anyone who doesn’t want an elaborate installation or needs to move from one uncomfortably hot room to another. And the price makes it reasonable to pick up two of them—then you can position them so one fan is pulling in cool air and one is pushing out hot air across your room or apartment.
The Best Air Circulating Fan: Lasko 20″ QuickMount ($70)
A traditional floor fan might be all you need if you just want a little air circulation. If that’s the case, skip the fancy futuristic designs for this more conventional 20-inch Lasko fan. There’s some deceptively smart design packed into this unit: the controls are on the front, unlike many high-air-volume models, and its V-shaped bracket can be used on a floor or table or hung on the wall with the included steel mount.
The Best Heat-Blocking Blinds: Belle Max Honeycomb Cellular Shades ($30)
Assuming that the rest of your apartment is in order, the place where heat most easily enters is through the windows. Rental apartments and homes rarely have high-quality blinds, so upgrading yours is an easy and visually appealing way to keep heat out. We recommend the Cellular Blackout blinds from Belle Max.
The double-walled chamber design keeps hot air from entering your house, and interior aluminum lining blocks light. These are available in a variety of sizes from 23 inches wide to 46, with mounting hardware included. If you still prefer a little light in your window, the slightly cheaper white version omits the foil lining.
The Best Full Window Insulation: Infrastop Reflective Foil Insulation ($33)
For the ultimate in light and heat blocking, you can’t do better than this full aluminum foil insulation. The 24-inch roll is double-walled for head dissipation and comes in a roll of 25 feet, which should be enough for an entire apartment or small house.
It doesn’t look great—especially from the outside—but if you want to block the maximum amount of heat from getting into your home, this is the way to do it. It’s also worth checking with the rules of your apartment complex and even local ordinances before just jamming it in the window. Many places have rules indicating that things like foil and cardboard in windows are a no go, and only draperies and proper window treatments are acceptable. If that’s the case, you may want to cut the foil larger than the opening and layer it over the existing window treatment or hang some simple white cloth between the foil and the window. Still, dollar for dollar, you aren’t going to beat this stuff for keeping the searing summer heat out.