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Here’s how to cool down at home when heatwaves hit

While warmer weather is often welcomed in the UK, knowing how to cool down during the day and night is key to staying safe in the heat.

Large parts of the UK will enter another heatwave this week – and finding ways to cool down at home will be essential in the hotter weather.

The heatwave comes just weeks after record-breaking temperatures in July, with parts of the country seeing highs of 40C.

Thankfully temperatures are expected to be lower this time around, although the heatwave is expected to last longer than July’s. 

Many of us love getting out and about in the hotter weather, but an overheated home can cause us all kinds of problems during the day and the night.

When temperatures climb at home this can affect our ability to keep our bodies cool as well as sleep well at night. In some circumstances, an overheated home can also cause heatstroke, breathing problems and even death.

Overheated bedrooms can be particularly problematic when we’re trying to rest at night.

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Thankfully, there are a number of ways you can keep both your home and yourself cool during the heatwave. 

Some will involve longer-term actions like retrofitting your home, but other changes can be made quickly and easily with no extra cost to you.

Here are all the tips you need for keeping cool in the heatwave.

What is considered a heatwave – and when is heat dangerous? 

The threshold for declaring a heatwave is different across the country due to average temperatures varying between counties.

As you might expect, southern parts of England have a higher threshold than parts of Scotland, for instance.

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The Met Office is responsible for declaring a heatwave. Last year, they courted controversy when they raised the threshold for eight counties by 1C.

At the time, climate campaigners said the move could make hotter weather appear normal, drawing attention away from the fact that heatwaves are driven in part by human-caused climate change.

A heatwave is officially declared in a county following three consecutive days where the temperature threshold for a heatwave is met or exceeded. 

In the south eastern parts of England, most counties have a threshold temperature of 27C, while central areas have a threshold temperature of 26C.

There’s no exact temperature threshold at which heat suddenly becomes dangerous to human health.

Rather, your vulnerability to heat depends on any existing conditions as well as your age and general health. Elderly people and very young children are more vulnerable, for instance. 

Wet bulb temperature measures how well our bodies are able to cool down by sweating when it’s hot, and the lower the wet bulb temperature, the easier it is for us to cool ourselves down. 

If wet bulb temperature reaches the same level as the temperature of our skin, it becomes impossible for us to cool ourselves down by releasing heat from our bodies or sweating, and the impact can be deadly.

Scientists estimate that a prolonged wet bulb temperature of above 35C can be deadly even for the healthiest people. 

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How can I cool down in the day? 

If you’re at home during the day, whether working or relaxing, knowing how to cool down will prevent you from feeling uncomfortable or getting unwell. Easy actions you can take include:

  • Closing curtains or blinds in rooms facing the sun 
  • Drinking plenty of water throughout the day 
  • Wearing loose clothing made of thin, breathable fabrics 
  • If the temperature outside is cooler than inside, opening some windows 
  • Using air conditioning or fans to keep yourself cool 
  • Keeping lights and other appliances off 
  • Using a wet flannel on the back of your neck 
  • Taking a lukewarm shower – and being careful not to opt for freezing cold water, as your body will try to heat up again quickly afterwards
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How can I cool down at night?

As well as taking the above measures, knowing how to cool down at night is key to getting a proper night’s sleep. Actions you can take include:

  • Moving to a cooler room where possible. If your home has two levels, opt for the downstairs level as heat tends to rise
  • Sleeping with a fan on can help cool you down, but it can also aggravate allergies, so this is something to be aware of
  • Wearing thin clothing to bed and opting for lightweight cotton bedclothes
  • Cooling your socks or your bedclothes in the fridge before bed – cooling down your feet can have a particularly effective impact on your body temperature
  • Tying your hair up if it’s long to keep it off your face 
  • Avoiding sharing a bed if possible 
  • Avoiding big meals or exercise before bedtime 

How can I make my house cooler generally?

Longer term, there are ways that homeowners can make their living space more resilient to high temperatures. If you’re able to, you could consider:

  • Using pale and reflective paint on the outside of your home, and pale paint indoors too
  • Having your loft and cavity walls insulated
  • Growing leafy plants and trees near windows to act as air conditioners
  • Installing stutters on your windows to keep the sun out 

If you live in a rented home, your landlord has a responsibility to make sure that the conditions in it are liveable, so you should contact them as a first port of call if your home is uncomfortably hot.

If the landlord doesn’t act, you could ask your local council to perform a “health and safety standards for rented homes” assessment.

This will assess hazards in your home which could affect your health and could lead to the council forcing your landlord to take action.

If you rent from the council and are not satisfied with their response to overheating in your home, you could consider complaining to the housing ombudsman here.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke? 

Too much exposure to heat can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Symptoms include:

  • Dizziness and confusion
  • A headache
  • Feeling sick and/or loss of appetite 
  • Excessive sweating and clammy skin
  • Being very thirsty
  • Cramps in the legs, arms and stomach

Children with heat stroke may also become floppy and tired. To help someone recover from heat stroke, they must be cooled down quickly. You can help by doing the following:

  • Moving the person to a cool place or room
  • Getting them to drink lots of water
  • Getting them to lie down and raise their feet slightly
  • Cooling their skin down by, for instance, giving them a cold flannel
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