HOW TO KEEP YOUR GERMAN HOUSE COOL DURING SUMMER
Once upon a time, I got too hot at night and had to use a wet towel instead of my covers.
I was living in a matchbox-sized studio apartment on the top floor of a four-story building with a big window facing south. I had just moved out and was experiencing my very first German summer away from home.
Consequently, I had to rely on myself to keep the place cool, which resulted in me accidentally creating what can only be described as Satan’s Sauna: a place the devil himself would want to visit to warm up after relaxing in his comparatively chilling hellfires.
Luckily, I lived to tell the tale and I’m about to let you in on everything I have learned over the past 16 years. Read on, so you don’t have to repeat my mistakes.
Links marked with an asterisk (*) are so-called affiliate links. If you click on one of those affiliate links and buy products and/or services from their website, we earn referral commissions resulting from those purchases. The price you pay is not affected by this.
Die mit Sternchen (*) gekennzeichneten Links sind sogenannte Affiliate-Links. Wenn du auf so einen Affiliate-Link klickst und über diesen Link einkaufst, bekommen wir von dem betreffenden Online-Shop oder Anbieter eine Provision. Für dich verändert sich der Preis nicht.
WATCH OUT FOR THE DOG DAYS
While Germany has a temperate climate, some days can get very hot. These heatwaves often occur during the 30 days after July 23rd – the Dog Days (Hundstage). Then, temperatures will soar to an average max of 22 degrees Celsius / 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit. However, more and more record highs have been documented lately, the worst one being 41.2 degrees Celsius/106.16 degrees Fahrenheit on July 23rd, 2019 in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Despite a few scorching days, summers in Germany are quite pleasant – ticks aside – as long as you stay outside. Indoors is where it gets bad, as most buildings, including restaurants, schools, stores, and offices lack air conditioning, although that’s slowly starting to change.
MASSIVE CONSTRUCTION CAN MAKE FOR MASSIVE HEAT
Most German homes are made of concrete and brick. That’s great for hanging your TV but slightly unsatisfactory for punching holes into the wall when you’re angry.
Houses that are built that way retain heat throughout the day and radiate it at night, which is a huge advantage during winter as it will save you a pretty penny in heating costs.
It does, however, make summers more complicated: First, you have to cool off your house at night and then prevent any additional heat from coming in during the day. While that’s a pain in the patootie, it is by no means impossible.
Therefore, let me walk you through the steps you can take to achieve just that.
IN THE MORNING
Get up early and open at least one window or patio door in every single room.
Create a draft by leaving all your interior doors open. Secure your windows and doors, or else they will slam shut, which will startle you and make you spill your coffee. Then you’ll be a grouch all day and bitch at strangers, one of whom could be me and I don’t like that idea.
So please, for the love of God, just secure them! Get this window stopper*, which also works with doors, to help.
Keep tabs on outside temperatures and close everything before it gets warmer than the inside. If you can bump indoor temps below 20 degrees Celsius / 68 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s perfect! But aim for as low as possible, seeing that your rooms will continually warm up again throughout the day.
Keeping everything open for just ten minutes won’t cut it. The longer the better.
So, plan ahead!
Check your weather app at night to see what time temperatures will hit 20 degrees the next morning. Plan for roughly 20-30 minutes of open windows before that and set your alarm accordingly.
DURING THE DAY
Keep all your windows shut.
DO NOT OPEN THEM.
If you step out into your backyard, immediately close the patio door behind you.
If you have shutters on the outside (Rolläden, window shutters, etc.) close those, too. Leave a gap on the bottom, so you can see. This way you don’t have to waste electricity by turning on the lights during the day.
If you don’t have shutters pull down any blinds you may have on the inside or close your curtains. Consider buying black-out drapes for your bedrooms and family room.
It’s best to learn the exact time the sun hits your windows and cover them before that. Does that make you feel like you’re living through The Purge? Sure.
But your neighbors won’t REALLY be going after you – unless, you know, you mow the lawn during quiet hours, or recycle your trash the wrong way. So you get all the excitement of barricading your house in time for the deadline, without any ACTUAL danger to your life. Win-win.
By the way, once there is no more direct sunlight hitting your windows, you may reopen your shutters.
When outside temperatures drop below indoor ones, open everything up again, the same way you did in the morning. If possible, leave as many windows open overnight as you can. Even cracked is better than nothing.
Pro tip: German homes don’t usually come with screens. Turn off ALL the lights as well as your TV before opening any windows or else your room will be crawling and buzzing with insects and you’ll wake up covered in mosquito bites, looking like you’ve caught the measles.
I highly recommend installing at least one screen per bedroom and living area. Get ones that you can tape to your windows without drilling – they’re perfect for rentals.
STORMS WILL BE YOUR NEW BEST FRIENDS
Oftentimes, it will get windy and cooler when there’s a storm rolling in. This is your chance!
The minute it’s cloudy, double-check whether outside temperatures have indeed plunged below inside ones. If that’s the case, open everything up and create a draft. Leave your windows and doors open for as long as possible, maybe even throughout the storm, if you can prevent your furniture from getting wet.
AVOID APARTMENTS WITH SLANTED CEILINGS LIKE THE PLAGUE
If you live on the top floor and have slanted ceilings: Good luck! Maybe move out.
Those places are much harder to keep cool for various reasons and the fact that slanted windows don´t normally have Rolläden doesn’t help. Still, try to cover them to keep the sun out. I have successfully attached old bedsheets on the outside in the past, which helped.
With these apartments, it’s crucial to leave your windows open at night as often and as long as possible. Sometimes even during the day. It can get so hot and stuffy in there that outside temps might still be cooler, especially if there’s a breeze.
DON’T WASTE MONEY ON A PORTABLE AC UNIT
Some expats swear by it. I have tried it and in my opinion, the German technique still works better.
With a portable AC unit, you have to leave a window cracked at all times for the hose to funnel out the warm air. And no matter what you do, you can’t ever seal up that opening enough to keep out the heat. In consequence, everything you achieve with your AC will be undone. Also, depending on your specific model, the hose will radiate heat and warm up the area around it even more.
Doing it the German way is more cost-effective and won‘t make you trip over any loud-ass boxes sitting in the middle of your living area.
YOU’LL MAKE IT
As a rule of thumb: Whenever it’s cooler outside than inside, open all your windows and create a breeze. I know, that could have been my entire blog article.
But this way it was more entertaining for both of us, don’t you think?
If you follow these steps, you should be able to keep the house fairly cool. It definitely won’t be the same as having an AC unit, but temps don’t stay high for too long at a time.
Simply view this as part of the adventure. You are getting an in-depth look into all aspects of German culture.
Just imagine sitting at a bar back home, wearing your winter jacket because you’re not used to those temperatures anymore, and bragging about surviving several weeks of 35 degrees Celsius/95 degrees Fahrenheit weather with no AC.
It’ll make you sound like a well-rounded world traveler and a tough one at that.