The phrase “cool as a cucumber” may have originated from the fact that even in hot weather, the inside of a cucumber is approximately 20 degrees cooler than the outside air.

The Big List of Nasty Disaster – Part 15: Beat Extreme Heat and Stay as Cool as a Cucumber, Even Grid-Down

Extreme Heat – An Underestimated Danger

I know that a lot of people prefer hot weather over cold. However, If you’re like me, there’s nothing you hate more than extreme heat and high humidity. But that’s because I prefer to spend my time outdoors.

It drives me crazy when people say they like it when it’s hot outside, but then spend all of their time inside, in the comfort of air-conditioned spaces.

Sadly, I think we may be in for a rude awakening when we find ourselves experiencing the hell that life can be without the air-conditioning we have become so accustomed to.  Or even worse falling prey to heat-related illnesses — especially in a grid-down situation.

Unfortunately, the danger that extreme heat poses is often underestimated or ignored.

How Dangerous is Extreme Heat?

Even with widespread air conditioning, the danger of heat-related illnesses is significant.

heat related deaths
Heat-exposure related deaths from 1999-2009.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — there was an average of 658 heat-exposure related deaths per year from 1999-2009. 1

Obviously, the number of heat-related deaths will significantly increase in a grid-down situation — especially in the major population areas of the southern and western US.

urban heat islandMega-Cities and Migration Trends — A Recipe for Disaster?

An interesting issue with large cities is the “Urban Heat Island Effect.”

According to the EPA, 2

The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8–5.4°F (1–3°C) warmer than its surroundings. In the evening, the difference can be as high as 22°F (12°C).

22° hotter at night! That’s pretty intense.

This is an ever increasing recipe for potential disaster as studies show that migration and immigration trends will cause the large cities in the south and west (where extreme heat is most prevalent) to continue to swell significantly.

In a grid-down, SHTF scenario people in the major cities will quickly learn that they are ill prepared for the hell they face when their AC and city water services fail.

An event that illustrates this well is the heat wave that hit Europe in August of 2003. That heat wave killed an estimated 50,000 people.

Furthermore, according to NOAA’s 76-Year list of Severe Weather Fatalities,3

Extreme heat is the number one cause of weather-related deaths over a 30-year average.

But Our Ancestors Survived Extreme Heat Without AC, How Did They Do It?

Before air-conditioning became common, homes were purpose-built with features that kept them cool in even the most extreme heat.

While it is true that people successfully survived in hot climates in generation past, they were only able to do so because they prepared in the following ways.

First, their homes were purpose-built, with features that kept them cool in even the most extreme heat. These features included:

  • Airflow. Careful consideration was given to the flow of breeze, and many homes were built on blocks allowing breezes to flow underneath.
  • Tall Ceilings, with ceiling fans — some of which were powered by elaborate rope systems.
  • Transoms. A transom is a small window over a door. It allows warmer air to circulate to higher floors and increases airflow.
  • Large Windows. Many homes had double-hung windows with top and bottom sashes. The top sash would be opened during the day to allow rising heat to escape and the bottom sash would be opened at night to allow cool air to enter the home.
  • Porches. At night, people would spend time on their porch to catch the cool night breeze. Some would even sleep on their porches to keep cool. Roofed, wrap-around porches provided shade and blocked the sunlight from hitting the windows directly.
  • Reflective Roofs. Many homes had roofs that were covered with light-colored, silver, lead, tin or copper.
  • Thick walls. The walls of historic homes were typically 12 to 24 inches thick in the Deep South. This added insulation would keep the home cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Secondly, water came primarily from wells so there wasn’t as much of a concern of losing access to water.

There are examples of modern buildings with similar features. However, the vast majority of homes are not purpose-built to be viable, comfortable shelters without air-conditioning, and of course, they are completely uninhabitable without access to water.

In places where humidity is high, mold and mildew will quickly begin to grow on the walls of modern homes and begin to destroy the drywall.

All of these things are factors you must consider if you are thinking of trying to shelter-in-place in an extended grid-down scenario.

Who is at Risk of Heat-Related Illness?


However, if you are elderly, young, or work or engage in extreme outdoor activities, you are at greater risk.

extreme heat
Physical activity in a hot environment greatly increases the risk of a potentially dangerous heat-related illness.

Heat-related illness can affect anyone at any time and can be particularly dangerous when you do not have access to immediate emergency medical services.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Heat illness during practice or competition is a leading cause of death and disability among U.S. high school athletes.4

Therefore, learning how to survive extreme heat and prevent heat-related illness — without the convenience of air conditioning and immediate medical help — is essential.

5 Dangers of Extreme Heat


thermometerWhen you experience heat stroke your body is no longer able to control its temperature and your temperature rises above 103°F. This can cause your organs to swell and the result can be permanent organ damage.


Some of the symptoms of heat stroke are similar to the symptoms of a regular stroke and include: 5

  • Low blood pressure.
  • Blue lips and nails.
  • Cool, clammy skin.
  • Red, hot, and dry skin.
  • Profuse sweating.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Chill.
  • A throbbing headache.
  • High body temperature (above 103°F), * a rectal temperature of 104°F (40°C) after exposure to a hot environment is most accurate. NOTE: While digital thermometers work very well and are convenient, don’t forget to include a non-digital, mercury free thermometer such as the Geratherm Mercury Free Rectal Thermometer in your first-aid kit.
  • Confusion.
  • Dizziness.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Convulsion (seizure).
  • Moderate to severe difficulty breathing.
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Unconsciousness for longer than a few seconds.

If you show the symptoms of heat stroke, the CDC recommends that you take the following steps. 6

  • Call 911 immediately — this is a medical emergency. Even with immediate medical attention heat stroke can be life-threatening or cause permanent damage.
  • Move to a cooler environment.
  • Remove unnecessary clothing and lie on your side to increase exposure to cooling winds.
  • Reduce body temperature with cool cloths or by taking a bath or by spraying cold water on the body, and fan the body to further reduce body temperature.
  • Apply ice packs over as much of the body as possible.
  • Try to reduce body temperature to 102°F or lower as quickly as possible.
  • Do NOT give fluids.


exerciseThese painful, involuntary muscle spasms are usually caused by heavy exercise in hot environments. Fluid and electrolyte loss are often contributing factors.

While any muscle group can be affected the most common are your arms, calves, abdominal wall, and back.


According to the Mayo Clinic, if you suspect heat cramps:7

  • Drink clear juice or an electrolyte-containing sports drink. Another great option to throw in your BOB, first-aid kit etc., to take with you on hikes or when engaging in any extreme physical activity is the Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes – Electrolyte Replacement Supplement. These really work. If you doubt me please read the many 5 Star reviews on Amazon.
  • Rest briefly and cool down.
  • Practice gentle, range-of-motion stretching and gentle massage of the affected muscle group.
  • Don’t resume strenuous activity for several hours or longer after heat cramps go away.
  • Call your doctor if your cramps don’t go away within one hour or so.



Limited exposure to sunlight is good for your health. Your skin uses the sunlight to produce vitamin D — an essential nutrient for the absorption of calcium. However, too much exposure, without proper protection can cause long-term skin damage and skin cancer.

According to the CDC, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes.8

How to Respond

The CDC recommend’s the following steps for prevention.

  • Find shade under an umbrella, tree or some other shelter before you get sunburned.
  • Wear clothing that will cover your skin. Made from tightly woven, darker fabric.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Wear sunglasses. They protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the skin around your eyes.
  • Wear sunscreen.


Natural DIY Sunscreen - a safe & simple recipe that actually works.Many sunscreens contain toxic or endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may actually promote skin cancer and free radical production in your body.9

Therefore, many people chose to use natural and organic options that utilize the following ingredients that naturally contain SPF.

  • Almond Oil- SPF around 5
  • Coconut Oil- SPF 4-6
  • Zinc Oxide SPF 2-20 depending on how much used
  • Red Raspberry Seed Oil SPF 25-50
  • Carrot Seed Oil –  SPF 35-40
  • Shea Butter – SPF 4-6

Homemade Natural Sunscreen


  1. Combine ingredients except zinc oxide in a pint sized or larger glass jar. I have a mason jar that I keep just for making lotions and lotion bars, or you can even reuse a glass jar from pickles, olives, or other foods.
  2. Fill a medium saucepan with a couple inches of water and place over medium heat.
  3. Put a lid on the jar loosely and place in the pan with the water.
  4. As the water heats, the ingredients in the jar will start to melt. Shake or stir occasionally to incorporate. When all ingredients are completely melted, add the zinc oxide, stir in well and pour into whatever jar or tin you will use for storage.
  5. Small mason jars (pint size) are great for this. It will not pump well in a lotion pump!
  6. Stir a few times as it cools to make sure zinc oxide is incorporated.
  7. Use as you would regular sunscreen. Best if used within six months.

NOTE: The ingredients in this recipe have a natural SPF but since this has not been tested by a regulatory organization, I can’t make any claim regarding the combined SPF.

Pre-Made Natural Sunscreens

The brand that I recommend is Badger.  They have several organic, non-nano versions:


Most common with athletes, heat exhaustion is caused by extreme sweating, water depletion, or salt depletion and results in weight loss. When heat exhaustion sets in the body will stop sweating and core body temperatures will rise to 1o4 degrees.

What To Look For

With Water Depletion

  • Weakness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Headache
  • Sometimes unconsciousness

With Salt Depletion

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
How to Respond

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends:

  • Move the person to a cool, shaded area.
  • Remove tight clothing.
  • Give fluids, if conscious.
  • Apply active cooling measures, such as a fan or ice towels, if the core temperature is elevated.
  • Refer to a physician to assess the needs of fluid/electrolyte replacement and further medical attention, especially if nausea and vomiting are present.


Caused by the blockage of sweat glands, heat rash looks like small red bumps on your skin. Heat rashes are most common with infants but adults can get them as well.

The Mayo Clinic recommends:10

  • Calamine lotion to soothe itching.
  • Anhydrous lanolin, which may help prevent duct blockage and stop new lesions from forming.
  • Topical steroids in the most serious cases.

Sheepdog Man Printable: First Aid for Heat-Related Illness.

Preparing for Extreme Heat While on the Move

Obviously, heat-related illness can be extremely dangerous when you do not have access to immediate medical help.

Therefore, the following preventative measures are essential when engaging in outdoor activities far from help.

1. Stay Hydrated

If you cannot bring enough water with you to drink at least once quart of water per hour, be sure to pack a water purification system such as the LifeStraw or the Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System.

Remember, sip, don’t gulp!

2. Eat to Replenish Salt

Salt helps your body maintain homeostasis so eat regularly to replenish salt. To little salt will lead to heat cramps and not enough salt with not enough water will lead to heat exhaustion. Therefore, eat and drink regularly.

3. Use Climate-Specific Clothing and Gear

There are some things your clothing will do to protect you from heat-related illness.

First, it will help your body retain water, otherwise lost through sweat evaporation. With high heat and low humidity, your body may not sweat much, therefore, try to keep sweat on your skin by avoiding direct sunlight and by wearing clothing that covers your entire body.

Second, it will provide shade and protection from harmful UV rays. Wear lightweight clothing that will provide adequate shade and comfort. Use sunscreen to protect any skin not covered by clothing and carry a tarp to shade yourself if you can not find natural shade.

Therefore, while it might be tempting to remove clothing to cool down, don’t do it!

4. Take Frequent Rests to Allow Your Body to Cool.

Remember that retaining water is crucial so avoid exposure to the sun and the wind which can increase water evaporation from your body. Do not eat unless you have sufficient water. Limit activity.

Preparing Your Home for Extreme Heat

Here are some steps you can take to prepare your home for the next killer heat wave.

  • Improve the efficiency of your air conditioning system by having your insulation and ducts checked.
  • Install window reflectors. You can use aluminum covered cardboard in a pinch.
  • Check, replace, or install new weather-stripping.
  • Use drapes, shades, awnings, or louvers. Awnings can reduce heat by up to 80 percent.
  • Install storm windows.
  • Make an emergency kit.
    Military M17 Combat Medic Kit with First Aid Supplies is a Decently Stocked Kit.

In a Home with no AC

  • Use Box Fans.
  • Use water! Soak feet and use wet towels or bandanas to cool skin. Keep cool with a spray bottle.
  • Stay downstairs.
  • Turn off lights and appliances that can generate heat.
  • Eat food that does not need to be cooked.
  • Don’t eat large protein-rich meals (increases metabolism and raises body heat).

Additional Strategies for Survival

  • Create a family communication plan and emergency contact card.
  • Stay informed.
  • Limit exposure to the sun.
  • Stay on the lowest floor (it is the coolest).
  • If your air is not working go to public places with AC.
  • Eat well.
  • Drink Water.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Check on family friends and neighbors. Especially the elderly.
  • Never leave children or pets alone in vehicles.
  • Avoid Strenuous work.
  • Install a pool, pond or water fountain where you can cool off.

Okay, now that we have talked about the dangers of extreme heat, how to respond to and prevent illnesses as well as how to prepare both on the move and at home, let’s talk about some long-term preparation strategies to beat the heat.

Long Term Grid-Down Strategies

One of the best ways to discover how you can prepare for extreme heat — without air conditioning — is to look at how your ancestors did it.

They did it by living in caves, underground or dugout houses and deep basements, split-level houses, and homes built into a hillside.

They also built their homes with careful consideration to breeze patterns and utilized thick brick walls, high ceilings, transoms (a small window over a door), berms, porches, reflective roofs, and trees planted strategically for shade.

The Romans even created a system of aqueducts and plumbing that pushed cooling water through the walls of their home.11

The Ultimate Extreme Weather Prep – An earth-sheltered home

The more I learn about earth-sheltered, underground, and dugout houses the more I want to build one on my homestead.

These structures are bullet proof, fire-resistant, can withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, and just about anything nature can throw at them.

But best of all, they maintain a constant temperature using the moderating energy of the earth to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Many who live in such homes say they never need either heating or air conditioning.

Therefore, in a post-grid collapse, I can’t think of anything better than an earth-sheltered home, and if a collapse never happens, you will save money and achieve a greater level of self-sufficiency. That’s a win-win in my book.

What do you Think?

Do you have a heat related illness story, or have you built an earth-sheltered home? Please tell me about it in the comments section.

As always, thank you for your time, my friends. And please consider becoming part of the Sheepdog Man community by joining our Facebook Group or even better by signing up for our Newsletter.

Press on!

BACK TO INDEX: The Big List of Nasty Disasters and How to Prepare: Part One

  4. Heat Illness Among High School Athletes — United States, 2005–2009
  5. List provided by the CDC, WebMD, and Medical Daily
  6. CDC – Heat Stress – Heat Related Illness
  7. Mayo Clinic — First-aid for heat cramps
  • Show Comments

  • Cooling Az

    I do air conditioning for a living, and have been an avid supporter of using thermal mass and underground housing for years. Instead of trying to make houses like lightweight ice chests make them heavy with cinderblock, brick, or adobe walls. This gives you the flywheel effect with temperature fluctuations. The walls start cooling from the outside in at night, and by morning are releasing the cooling into the structure during the day as the outside starts heating up again. Earth sheltered or underground is best, for all the reasons you have suggested. One suggestion for an extended grid down cooling system would be, if you have access to water, to modify a small evaporative cooler with a solar panel and a 12 volt automotive radiator fan, and a 12 volt water pump.

    • Justin Cummins

      Thank you for the feedback. Your solar powered evaporative cooler idea is fantastic. I would love to see somebody build one and do a write up.

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