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Surviving College Dorms Without Air Conditioning

Updated on June 5, 2012

Since it's difficult to retrofit older buildings with central air, most older dorms, particularly in the north, will have you working up a sweat in the hotter days at the beginning and end of the school year. Although the blazing heat is generally survivable, you might want to employ a few strategies for staying cool and comfortable when the weather is at its hottest.

1) Bring a fan

The most common sense tip on this list is also most likely the best. Get a fan... Or if you can, get two or three. Oscillating floor fans will help circulate the air in your room, and a small desk fan will help produce a localized breeze where you spend a lot of time doing homework (in theory) and will need it the most. However, if you can only choose one fan, the most helpful is probably a box fan to place on your windowsill. Just open the window and turn the fan on high, and instead of just shuffling the same hot air around your room, it should bring in cool air from outdoors. This is especially effective at night, when the weather might have cooled down on campus, but heat is still trapped inside the dorms.

2) Heat rises, so the bottom bunk is your friend

It's strange the difference that a few feet in altitude can make, but-- especially if you're on an upper floor, you might want to consider spending some time at a lower elevation to cool down. My sophomore year, I lived on the fourth floor of an old Victorian building with high ceilings and no AC. Already on the highest and hottest floor, my roommate decided to loft her bed... and ended up sleeping on a friend's floor for the first month of school. However, if you do decide to loft your bed (which makes sense for purposes of saving space), make sure you have light and breathable bedding. And, if the heat gets to be too much, place a small fan on a high shelf to generate a bit of a breeze in your direction... Or, you could always take a cue from my roommate and have a slumber party on the floor.

3) Try getting a freezer

Although it won't do anything to cool down the room itself, few things are more gratifying on a hot summer day than the chance to indulge in a refreshing popsicle or some cold ice cream. If you have the space, consider bringing a mini freezer to school, as well as the customary mini fridge. Or, if your school only allows one cooling unit per room, try to find a mini fridge with at least a small freezer included. It'll give you the chance to cool your drinks with ice as long as the hot weather lasts, and even if it isn't big enough for a pint of Ben and Jerry's, popsicles removed from the box can slide into the tiniest freezer spaces.

4) Consider the heat an opportunity

Even if your own dorm isn't air conditioned, other buildings on campus probably are. And, since the hottest days of the school year tend to be at the very beginning, you can use the cooler temperatures in the commons and the library as a motivator for getting things off to a good start. So take the heat as a sign, and meet new friends in an air conditioned lounge or coffee shop. Or, head to the comfortably cool computer lab to study for class. Getting out of your room once in a while is a good thing, and doing it early on will make adjusting to college a lot easier.

5) Alternatively...

If bearing the heat is still too much, and you absolutely must have air conditioning in your room, there may still be hope, if you're the crafty type. I haven't tried this, but Apartment Therapy has instructions for making a quirky, water-powered air conditioner that doesn't violate most school's regulations. All you need is a fan, copper tubing, a bucket or two, and some other fairly inexpensive components. The total cost comes to about forty dollars. Here's the link and a related (highly silly) video.


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    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 

      19 months ago from The High Seas

      This was fun. I was once in a tent where the temperature was so hot that my water bottle (plastic) exploded. I had been jamming it under the tent top support because it was easy to get at there. Big mistake apparently because the canvas of the tent top got pretty darned hot I guess.


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