Feeling the heat? You're not alone.

Singapore’s climate has always been warm, but the past two months have been especially punishing, with sweltering heat punctuated by heavy showers throughout May. Even as the lingering effects of El Nino wear off, if last year’s figures are anything to go by, we can expect the mercury to rise beyond past daily averages throughout the rest of 2024.

The worst part of this has been keeping cool at home, especially while working remotely. Losing focus midway through tasks because of the heat and sweating through Zoom meetings have left many a work-from-homer scrambling to recover from the weather. If you're looking to avoid skyrocketing electricity bills from 24/7 air-conditioning or just seeking a more sustainable way to stay cool, here are a few quick hacks that may keep you from losing it the next time temperatures soar.

Up high

Ever noticed the way your ceiling fans are turning?

It turns out that just because air is moving doesn't mean your rooms are getting cooler. Many ceiling fans, especially those imported from elsewhere, come with summer and winter modes. No prizes for guessing which you would want to use in Singapore.

While most ceiling fans here are set to spin counter-clockwise by default, some may come pre-tuned for colder climates. Such fans turn clockwise, creating an updraught that circulates warm air. This can make your home feel more like an oven, even with all the fans set at maximum speed!

So, look upwards the next time you're feeling flustered from the heat. If those ceiling-fan blades are turning the wrong way, check the fan’s motor; there should be a switch you can flip to turn things around. If your fan comes with a remote control, there may be a button you can press instead. (Just be sure to turn everything off before you try anything!)

Window shopping

Though intuition might tell us to always keep all our windows open when the air-conditioning isn't running, there's a better strategy to get cool even while staying analogue. 

Passive cooling involves deliberately creating channels through a space for air to flow. It's a technique that has been perfected in nature; termite mounds, despite housing hundreds of thousands of inhabitants and surrounding temperatures often exceeding 40°C, maintain a moderately cool 31°C inside.

When it comes to re-creating this effect in human homes, the trick is being selective about which windows to open and which to keep closed. In single-floor apartments, opening windows on either end of the house — rather than facing all different directions — forces air to move through the entire unit. Meanwhile, those living in multi-storey homes should keep windows open on the lower and upper floors, so warm air can move up and out.

Keep it covered

While figuring out the best window configuration for your home, think about how much light comes streaming through all that glass. Sunlight can create a greenhouse effect, where energy gets converted into heat, radiating through air, windows and other surfaces. 

Window coverings come in many forms — from the most basic curtains and blinds to awnings. All these can keep excess sunlight out of your home. Opt for lighter-coloured materials that reflect light better than absorbing it as dark colours do. For curtains, pick natural fabrics such as linen, which are better at releasing heat than thick synthetics.

If you'd prefer to keep your windows unadorned, there's also a wide range of options for films, coatings and decals; these can block out light and reduce glare, so you don't have to worry about getting blinded when the sun meets the horizon. 

High and dry

Muggy weather can amplify the effects of hot days, making the air feel several degrees warmer. The humidity in Singapore, which often exceeds 80%, means sweat on our bodies cannot evaporate as quickly, so heat stays trapped on our skin for longer. It doesn't help that being warm and sticky translates to a higher likelihood of heat rash and other nasty skin problems.

While dehumidifiers are not designed to reduce temperatures, they can help make things feel a little cooler, especially when the air is extra damp. Nowadays, most also double up as air filters, pulling particulates — such as haze, dust and microbes — from the air.

Of course, choosing the right device for your home is key. Specification lists will usually show the maximum room size a dehumidifier is effective for, and the amount of water it can draw out from the air in 24 hours. An overly powerful machine may generate more heat than necessary, so pick something with a suitable range and capacity.

Another major source of dampness in the household is the bathroom. Installing exhaust fans — most can be installed with little fuss — can circulate humid air out, helping to maintain a drier environment indoors.

Think eco-friendly

In the age of digital everything, it's impossible to avoid having a myriad of appliances and devices at home. Though necessary for 21st-century living, these give off heat, and some do so even when turned off. Opting for power-efficient, energy-saving devices and practising good electricity habits can reduce temperatures and keep your energy bills low.

The biggest source of unwanted heat from appliances is incandescent light bulbs in lamps and ceiling lights. It is no secret that such bulbs aren’t the most efficient, and they convert a large amount of electricity into heat. LED lights, on the other hand, run cooler and last longer, so they do not have to be replaced as often.

Turning off devices from the socket is another way to reduce heat discharge at home. This can understandably be difficult to do, especially if you've already worked with an interior designer to conceal your electricity outlets. Timer switches provide a good solution to this problem — simply set the timer for when you'd like the socket turned on or off. 

Coming up roses

There's more than one way to go green at home. Plants can help to keep things cool, but perhaps not in the way you would think. 

Contrary to popular belief, indoor plants can actually make a room feel warmer. Water moves through plants in a process called transpiration, eventually evaporating through pores on leaves and stems. While this may have a cooling effect in other countries, it can make already-humid locales like Singapore feel even more muggy.

Instead of loading up on houseplants, keeping a healthy garden outside can help keep heat from entering your home. Much like a nice set of blackout curtains, a row of shrubs or a trellis wall of vines can block the sun’s rays from hitting your windows, doorways and walls.

Think bigger

If your feverish frustration warrants a larger-scale renovation, consider a fresh coat of paint. White paint, that is. On outdoor surfaces, white paint can keep heat out by reflecting sunlight. Having a white rooftop can reduce temperatures inside a home by 5°C, according to the findings of a project in Gujarat, India.

Indoors, it's the same, with an added bonus: unlike dark paints, white paint does not absorb as much heat in the day, meaning there is less to radiate off at night. Pick a paint that does not include titanium dioxide — a compound typically used in sunscreens for its UV-absorbing properties — to maximise reflectivity. 

The surfaces in our homes also play a part in temperature control. Parquet and other wood materials, in addition to vinyl and carpet, tend to absorb and trap heat. On the other hand, marble, porcelain and stone can dissipate heat more effectively, which explains why they are often cool to the touch.

Watch your diet

This isn’t the most intuitive, but getting takeout for your meals can give you a cooler home. Having to turn on the stove, induction cooktop — or worse, the oven — means more heat generated, which can spread throughout the house.

For days when delivery is not on the cards, keeping the kitchen well-ventilated is key to ensuring your home does not steam alongside your lunch. Installing a range hood, for instance, can help draw out heat, not to mention food smells. Just like dehumidifiers, be sure to get one that is best-suited for your needs, as overly large hoods can make a lot of noise. Matching the width of your hood to the width of your hob is a good rule of thumb.

If a range hood is too invasive an installation to consider, downdraught hoods are more compact and do not involve ducts, so they can be put up and taken down with relative ease. With their smaller profile, they are also less likely to affect the aesthetic of your kitchen, though they can be less powerful than their overhead counterparts.  

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