The Best Options for Cooling Bedrooms This Summer

chendra/stock.xchngMost people in most climates can tolerate hot days in the summertime (if allowed to complain ad nauseam), 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. And forget about cuddling up to your spouse. The last thing you need is contact with another 99-degree blob who’s just as grouchy as you are. At times like this, you commit to make cooling the bedroom a top priority. Well, here are your basic options, from the most to the least expensive.

Air Conditioning

Obviously. A/C works everywhere, and it works fast. The only problems are it’s 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 like a bedroom without costing too much. In dry climates, a portable evaporative cooler (a.k.a. swamp cooler) works well and uses significantly less electricity. For a large bedroom, a mini split A/C may be the best 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, they don’t need a duct network, so they’re perfect for additions and expanded living spaces. Many double as heaters in winter.


Fans work pretty well if you use them properly. In all but the hottest, most humid climates, a whole house fan (“attic fan”) cools your bedroom and the rest of the house at night by pulling outdoor air in through windows and exhausting hot air out through the attic. Run it 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 pulls heat from your skin and helps your body cool itself. Finally, 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 bedroom heating up during the day will help keep you comfortable no matter what cooling appliance 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 reduces 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 sun 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, try heat-blocking window film that can reduce heat transmission by up to 60%. If looks aren’t a concern, block both light and heat with rigid foam insulation board cut to fit every window (hold it in place with a stick-on Velcro button at each corner).

Guerilla Cooling Tactics

When things get desperate, here are a few tricks to try at bedtime:

  • Cold-water bath: More effective than a cold shower. Tap water is plenty cold for this, and it cools down your whole body in a couple of minutes. Just make sure your heart is up to the task.

  • Wet-towel blanket: Cover yourself with a blanket dipped in cold water. This trick 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 your boiling blood.

  • Cotton pillow: You want something absorbent. Synthetic and down pillows are bad for heat. And obviously, pair your cotton pillow with cotton sheets.

One or more of the above tactics is bound to work, at least enough to let you get to sleep until a window fan can cool down the room with outdoor air. Whatever you do, don’t stand in front of your freezer with the door open; it’s really hard on the appliance, it wastes a lot of energy, and it makes you look like a bad actor in a really bad TV commercial. 

Philip Schmidt writes for

Updated March 5, 2018.

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