NZ heatwave: How to stay cool when the temperatures are sizzling

With extreme heat set to sweep the motu this weekend, many of us will be cranking the air conditioning, cracking open the ice blocks and preparing for sweaty days in the sun (but preferably shade).  

While most of the country is set to be swathed in heat, Aucklanders in particular are being warned to brace for high temperatures on Friday and into the weekend, with MetService advising residents to stay hydrated, seek shade, check in with vulnerable people and look after pets and livestock.  

"Extreme heat during summer can be draining and have an impact on people's daily lives - especially their health and wellbeing. Everyone is vulnerable to extreme heat," MetService said on Friday.  

With that being said, now is a good time to rehash some tried-and-tested tips for keeping cool when the weather is turning your home into an air fryer. Here's what you can do.  

Keep your house cool   

Keeping your windows open at night is a simple tip for a more comfortable temperature during the day: doing so lets out the hot air and allows the cooler, nighttime air to circulate.  

If you have fans, turn them to face an open window so they can blow the hot air out. Another tip is to place a bag of ice in front of the fan, which blows refreshingly cold air into a space.   

It may seem counterintuitive, but studies have shown that keeping your curtains and blinds closed to block out the sun during the day can noticeably decrease the temperature in your home. To let out the heat, you can leave them open at night.   

If you're cranking the air conditioning, it's advised to keep your windows and blinds closed to ensure its churning out cool air at a consistent pace; open windows and blinds will let in hot air and force the air-con to work harder to maintain the set temperature.  

Restricting your use of heat-generating appliances, such as the oven or hairdryer, is another simple way to help keep the home cooler.  

Avoid venturing out in peak heat  

If you need to be out and about during a heatwave, try to schedule your to-do list around the hottest time of the day - typically between 11am and 3pm. Early morning or late afternoon errands will be a better bet than heading out into peak midday heat. This tip is particularly important for children and the elderly, as they are more likely to be affected by the extreme temperatures.  

If you're and out and about with children in tow, don't be tempted to leave them in the car while you nip to the supermarket: there are a number of cases where children have become extremely ill, or even died, due to being left inside a hot vehicle.  

Avoid alcohol  

While cracking open a cold one on a hot day is second nature for many Kiwis, hitting the booze during a heatwave can be harmful.  

Alcohol interferes with the regulation of water in the body, causing more frequent urination and dehydration, in turn leading to headaches, dizziness and confusion - which is only exacerbated by hot temperatures and sweating.  

"If you think someone's not drunk enough water - or, in particular, if you think they've had too much alcohol, because that will also dry you out - I think a bit of friendly advice can often stop someone from ending up in the emergency department," Canterbury District Health Board medical officer Alistair Humphrey told Newshub in 2019.  

Take care of your pets  

Like children, our furry friends also need to be looked after during periods of extreme heat. Dogs and cats find it more difficult to regulate their body heat as they only sweat through their paw pads and tongues, vet Charlotte Hviid previously told Newshub.

Hviid said it's the owners' responsibility to ensure their animals stay cool during the hottest time of day, which can extend from 9am to 7pm.  

Hviid's tips include wrapping pets in a wet towel, making sure they always have access to shade, and only walking dogs in the early morning or evening to avoid the heat.

She also advises moving birdcages to a breezy area with good airflow, and not riding horses in the middle of the day. And, like children, never leave your pet inside a hot car - it can be fatal.  

Help your air conditioning work smarter, not harder  

If you're lucky enough to have an air conditioner in your home, there are a few tips to help it run more efficiently - and without costing you an arm and a leg.  

While many of us will turn the temperature down to its lowest setting, selecting a higher number will help save you money in the long run. Setting your unit at a slightly warmer temperature - for example, 23 degrees - will mean it isn't working as hard to cool the air. If the temperature is pushing 30 degrees outside, setting the air conditioning to low-to-mid-20s will still keep the house cool, but is more cost-effective than trying to dial 30 degrees down to 18.  

Another tip is to have your air conditioning running for a longer period at a higher temperature, rather than blasting it in bursts every time you start feeling sweaty. Using the machine sporadically again makes it work harder, which will reflect in your power bill.   

And it may seem obvious, but if your unit has an eco setting or energy-saving option, use it.  

All in all, the most important rule of thumb for making it through a heatwave is staying hydrated, using your common sense, and of course, slip, slop, slapping and wrapping.