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Why Do College Dorms Not Have AC (& How To Stay Cool)

Imagine the middle of summer and temperatures are climbing past 90°F. Going outside is definitely not recommended. It’s better to stay indoors – focusing on your studies and the upcoming semester. But what’s that you say – the college dorms don’t have air conditioning?

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Some college dorms don’t have air conditioning because the building infrastructure is decades-old, HVAC systems are highly expensive, and the dorms are intended for sleeping at night when temperatures are lower. That said, you can stay cool by using a fan, improving the airflow, drinking cold water, and taking showers.

In this article, I’ve given you a detailed rundown on why most college dorms don’t have an AC. And if you’re stuck in a non-AC college dorm, I’ve shared many practical solutions to help you stay cool this summer season.

Why college dorms don't have air conditioning.

Why Do Many College Dorms Not Have an AC?

Almost every modern US household has an AC, and you most likely grew up in a proper air-conditioned environment. As such, when moving out to college, it can be shocking and even concerning to find out that your dorm rooms won’t have an AC. But why is that (source)?

Most college dorms skip out on installing an AC mainly because of the following reasons:

  • The colleges were built when ACs weren’t common.
  • ACs are expensive.
  • Students are expected to be in dorms at night.

Let’s go over each of these points in more detail.

The Colleges Were Built When ACs Weren’t Common

Most college dormitories are decades old, with some even older than your great-grandfather. When they were built, ACs weren’t as standard as now.

But why is that a problem? Can’t the college just install an air conditioning unit in the dormitories? Well, it’s not that simple!

Modern ACs aren’t compatible or rather optimized for rooms planned during the early 1900s. As such, to ensure adequate cooling, colleges need to renovate the dorms before installing an AC properly. 

Furthermore, there’s also the issue with power delivery. Older dorms can’t handle the huge electrical demands of modern AC units. And so, the electrical systems need to be upgraded as well.

So as you can imagine, installing air conditioning in older dorms is a big challenge for colleges and a major reason we’re left with non-AC dorms (source).

Air Conditioning Systems Are Expensive

Besides the expense of installing an AC, we also need to factor in the cost of running an AC. 

Even if ACs were installed, the students would need to bear its electrical expenses as well as the maintenance charges. As you can imagine, this would drastically increase the housing rates for AC dorms, making it a burden for many students.

As such, in order to keep the rates reasonable and within budget, colleges and universities choose to skip out on AC dorms. 

Instead, institutions go with central cooling systems for the hallways and the libraries, where all the students can go to escape the heat, thereby sharing the expenses among everyone leading to a marginal increase in housing rates.

Students Are Expected To Be in Dorms at Night

Dorms were designed as a place where students would go to sleep – at night. 

And since the temperature is cooler and much more comfortable at nighttime, the institutions choose to skip out on ACs.

During the day, students are expected to either attend classes or study in libraries. Both these places are generally equipped with ACs. 

There are also communal areas with central air conditioning like hallways and the cafeteria, where students can go to relax and unwind.

How To Stay Cool in a Non-AC Dorm?

So, you got into college, and you have to make do with a non-AC dorm room. Well, don’t sweat (pun intended) too much about it, as there are many ways to beat the summer heat without resorting to an air conditioning system.

Here are 10 practical steps you can take to help you stay cool in a non-AC dormitory:

  1. Avoid the dorms at daytime
  2. Use a fan
  3. Improve the air flow
  4. Hydrate yourself
  5. Keep a mini-fridge
  6. Turn off electronics when not in use
  7. Take a shower
  8. Get a cooling blanket
  9. Buy a dehumidifier
  10. Keep windows shut during the day and open at nights

Let’s cover each of these points in more detail.

1. Avoid the Dorms at Daytime

If the dorms are hot during the day, avoid it and go elsewhere. That’s the best way to escape the heat, literally.

One of the reasons why colleges don’t put ACs in dorms is because they’re primarily meant for sleeping at night when temperatures are typically cooler. As such, if you use dorms as they were intended, then daytime heat waves shouldn’t trouble you.

If you’re in the mood to study but don’t feel like attending regular classes, you can go to the library, which should have central air conditioning.

Also, if you feel the need to relax and hang out with friends, the college hallway or cafeteria are excellent and far better alternatives to stuffy dormitories. 

Now, during the summer season, even the nights can get too hot to handle on a couple of occasions, especially cloudy nights. In those situations, you can get in touch with an off-campus friend or family member who has an AC apartment and also lives near your college. You can tell them about your condition and take permission to sleep over for a few nights.

2. Use a Fan

Fans are one of the best and most affordable alternatives to an AC. Now granted, it won’t technically lower the room temperature. Still, it can help you feel cooler by circulating the air – constantly replacing the warm air touching your skin with cooler air.

Now, if you’re planning on buying a fan for your dorm, I’d recommend staying away from ceiling fans. They’re more expensive, and you can usually get a standing fan along with a desk fan for the price of a single ceiling fan. And trust me, two fans are always better than one.

Furthermore, these fans are more portable than ceiling fans which means you can easily carry them with you when shifting dorms or returning home.

Also, if you’re up for a DIY challenge, you can easily build a makeshift AC using a standing fan and copper tubing. Here’s an awesome 2-min YouTube video by Howcast on how to build this contraption:

How to Build a Dorm Room Air Conditioner

3. Improve the Air Flow

Another way to stay cool is by improving the airflow in your dorm and allowing for better ventilation. You want the hot indoor air to go out and bring in cooler air from outside.

The best way to do this is by opening up your windows. 

However, some dorms don’t have windows. In that case, keep the doors open – provided you feel safe doing so. The corridors are generally much cooler, and opening the doors will help with proper ventilation and lowering the room temperature.

Also, if you have a standing fan, place it near the window or door to draw in the cooler outside air more effectively.

4. Hydrate Yourself

Keeping yourself hydrated and drinking water at regular intervals is crucial if you’re feeling hot. Sure, it doesn’t directly or immediately cool you down, but it does play an important role (source).

You see, your body has an in-built cooling system – your sweat glands. If it’s too hot, you’ll automatically sweat, which after evaporating off your skin, will make you feel cooler. 

Now, for this biological system to function properly, your body needs to have adequate water to lose out as sweat. As such, you should stay well hydrated.

However, this doesn’t mean simply drinking plain water. You also lose many vital minerals while sweating, and you need to replace that as well (source).

I recommend gorging down on some juicy water-rich fruits like watermelons, cucumbers, and even grapefruit. You can also try sipping lemon juice, which contains the necessary electrolysis missing in plain water.

5. Keep a Mini-Fridge

Most colleges won’t authorize you to bring in an AC for yourself. However, you can have your own personal freezer or mini-fridge.

You can store any drinks you like or even a bottle of water inside the freezer to cool it down and enjoy a refreshing ice-cold beverage when the temperatures get too hot.

These also come in handy for creating ice cubes, which you can either dip in a glass of water or use in an ice pack to cool you down more directly.

See What Do College Dorms Come With?

6. Turn Off Electronics When Not in Use

Electronics dissipate heat, and if you have too many electronics in your dorm, it can make the room much hotter than it needs to be (source). 

As such, it’s best practice to switch off any electronic appliances that you’re not currently using – which can include desktop PCs, TVs, gaming consoles, and ironically even freezers.

That being said, one of the most common heat-producing electronics in dorms are probably light bulbs, unless they are LEDs. 

In fact, if your dorm doesn’t have LED bulbs, I’d recommend that you switch to them right away. They’re far more energy-efficient, and as a result, have negligible heat dissipation.

7. Take a Shower

Jumping into the shower is often the best remedy to fight the heat and feel refreshed.

Now, it’s counter-intuitive, but you should take a warm shower to feel cooler instead of a cold shower (source). 

You see, when you take a cold shower, your body reacts by constricting the blood vessels in your skin. As a result, most of the heat remains trapped inside your body. So while it may feel pleasant taking a cold shower, the moment you walk out, you’ll again feel the heat.

As such, I’d recommend that you take a shower in lukewarm water 10-20 minutes before your bedtime to enjoy a goodnight’s sleep.

8. Get a Cooling Blanket

I recommend ditching blankets altogether if it’s too hot to fall asleep. However, if you can’t sleep comfortably without a comforter, I recommend getting a cooling blanket to replace your regular one (source).

Cooling blankets are specifically designed to keep you cooler, all the while allowing you to cocoon up so you can peacefully fall asleep. 

These are generally designed using breathable material that efficiently absorbs and dissipates your body heat, allowing you to stay cozy, comfortable, and cool.

9. Buy a Dehumidifier

Humidity levels can greatly influence how hot you feel in a room. 

More humidity means there’s more moisture in the air. And if there’s too much moisture, your sweat won’t evaporate off your skin, making you feel even hotter and uncomfortable.

However, getting a dehumidifier solves this problem by maintaining a comfortable humidity level in the air, typically between 30-50%. At this range, the air won’t feel too dry or wet, and overall comfortable, enough so that you might feel some relief from the outside heat.

10. Keep Windows Shut During the Day and Open at Nights

During hot summer days, you should keep your dorm windows closed and not let the hot air from outside enter the room and warm it up. 

Also, if you have glass windows, make sure to close the blinds or draw your curtains. This is because 76% of the sunlight that enters your room through the windows gets converted to heat. As such, you want to minimize both outside wind and light during the day (source).

However, at night, the temperature gets cooler and much more pleasant. At this time, you want to keep your windows open and allow for air circulation, which can cool down your room.

Again, as daybreaks or when you wake up in the morning, lock up your windows to ensure the cool air inside the room doesn’t escape or get replaced with warmer outside air.

Maintaining this routine should help improve the thermal conditions inside your dorm.

Final Thoughts

College dorms don’t have ACs because they were mostly built decades ago, and tons of renovation is required to make the rooms appropriate for installing air conditioning. 

Also, it’s expensive to run and maintain air conditioning systems. As such, AC dorms will need to charge much higher housing rates which can be a problem for students. 

That said, colleges and institutions do have air-conditioned classrooms, hallways, and libraries where students can go to beat the heat during the day and return to their dorms at night when the temperature is far more pleasant.

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