Coping Cookbook: Renters' Recipes for Resilience

The Community Coping Cookbook is your go-to resource for ways to stay cool in your home this summer!

We know that rental homes tend to have worse energy performance, so renters have to put up with higher energy bills, less liveable homes, and the threats to health that come from being too hot or too cold. Ultimately, this is something governments have a responsibility to address, and we're proud to be part of the Healthy Homes for Renters collaboration working for a structural solution.

In the meanwhile, renters need help now. So we've brought together these cheap and easy things you can do in your home to try to beat the heat.

Before you use these recipes, it pays to know a bit about the rental laws around modifications. 

In NSW, a tenant must not make alterations to the premises without consent. However, for “minor” modifications, the landlord must not unreasonably withhold consent. What is “minor”? The regulations give an indication. If something doesn’t penetrate a surface, or permanently modify a surface, fixture, or the structure of the premises, then it is “minor”: you still need to ask for permission, but your landlord cannot unreasonably refuse. We have designed our recipes with this in mind, aiming to suggest changes where your landlord cannot unreasonably refuse consent.

That said, it is pretty wild that renters are expected to get written permission just to use some blu-tack or attach a command hook to a wall. Just goes to show, unbearably hot homes aren’t the only problem renters have to deal with! If you want more information, we recommend you contact your local Tenants Advice Service. You can find a list of such services here: www.tenants.org.au/tu/tenants-services-australia

One of the most common challenges in a hot rental is getting a good night’s sleep. To help better understand this issue, and what you can do about it, we spoke with Professor Siobhan Banks and Dr Linda Grosser, two researchers who research sleep. 

Why does heat make sleeping hard?

When it’s getting near time to sleep, your body cools down. Blood vessels near the surface of your skin expand, helping to increase heat loss into the atmosphere. This reduction in the core body temperature (CBT) is linked with melatonin production and a sense of drowsiness. 

But what if you can’t cool down? If the environment itself is too hot, then your body can’t shed heat, so your CBT remains elevated and it’s harder to feel drowsy. The Goldilocks zone for bedroom temperature for most people is between 16 and 20ºC — anything above this, sleep can be affected. Scientists have observed a relationship between hotter nights and worse sleep.

What happens when you miss out on sleep?

The bad news is that it’s not great when you don’t get enough sleep. It’s harder to learn new things, it can compromise your immune system and your metabolism, and can cause inflammation. Too little sleep increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It is linked to worse mood, and possibly depression and suicidality, as well as reduced cognitive performance. In short: a bad night of sleep turns into a bad day of awake. 

What can you do about it?

The good news is there are simple things you can do to help get to sleep in a hot room!

First: cooling your body. Air flow from a fan can make a huge difference, and something simple like putting a wet flannel on your foot can bring blissful cooling relief. Next, can you change your bed? Light cotton sheets make it easier to shed heat during the night. You could also keep an eye out for a more breathable mattress, or bamboo pillows. 

Hydration is also important. Staying hydrated through the day means you won’t wake up thirsty, and it means you can sweat during the night, which helps you cool off. However, avoid drinking lots of water just before bed, as a full bladder does not help one to stay asleep! Other things to avoid are anything that would increase your body temperature just before bed. As you approach bed-time, avoid strenuous exercise, alcohol, cigarettes, or a heavy/fatty/spicy meal. These can all make your body hotter, making it harder to sleep.

For more tips, check out our recipe on Sleeping in Summer.

By Sophie from Sweltering Cities, https://swelteringcities.org/

Renters are baking in dangerously hot homes every summer, and it’s getting worse. Climate change means hotter summers and longer, hotter and more frequent heatwaves. This is bad news for everyone, but especially renters, who are more likely to live in poorly built, low energy efficient homes with no insulation or air con, and no real power to get their landlords to make simple cooling modifications such as installing heat proof curtains or fixing leaky windows that let hot air in.

It’s fantastic that renters are sharing creative strategies to stay cool at homes, from DIY air conditioning hacks to inventive use of fans and ice packs, but it’s important to remember that the ultimate responsibility lies with our state governments to address this systemic issue. Rental regulations across the country must ensure that all tenants have access to safe, cool homes as our summers become hotter and harder to deal with.

Too often, extreme heat is talked about as an individual problem for people to manage on their own. As renters, we are told to turn on the air conditioner, go somewhere cool, or put a wet towel around our necks. In reality, rising temperatures are a collective issue and we all need to work together to find solutions to protect our communities.

In Victoria, where we’ve been running our Heatwave Safe Homes campaign, rental laws don’t reflect the serious health risks of living in hot homes, and cooling is treated as a luxury, not a necessity. Rental homes must have heating for winter, but these rules don’t apply to cooling. So even if renters can provide records of unsafe hot temperatures in their homes, there are no standards that help them advocate for cooling. The burden is on the individual to make their home liveable. 

Heatwave related deaths are projected to increase as our summers become hotter and more severe. Renters are more vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat and Victoria’s current rental laws do not protect people from living in unsafe homes during scorching temperatures.

Heatwaves kill more Australians than all other environmental disasters combined. Extreme heat affects many communities across the country, especially older people, people with disabilities, people with chronic illnesses, and babies and small children. In Victoria, renters are vulnerable to the health impacts of heat because they are more likely to live in homes with no insulation or air con, so are disproportionately feeling the impact of rising temperatures.

The good news is that we have the solutions to ensure that safe homes become a reality for all renters. We need governments across the country to listen to renters and health and housing experts when they say that simple changes to our rental rules will save lives and ensure that people’s homes keep them safe, not make them sick.