What Kept Houses Cool Before Air Conditioning?
Many of us take air conditioning for granted. It’s easy to forget that before central air systems were commonplace throughout America, many people went their entire lives without enjoying the cool, refreshing indoor air provided by good air conditioning units.
Humans have been trying to keep cool for as long as we have recorded history. Even though air conditioning and central air are relatively new additions to the modern residential dwelling, we’ve been finding innovative and exciting ways to manage the temperature for hundreds of years.
Keep reading to see our favorite ways that generations before us kept cool without the benefits of AC:
Most houses built after WWII tended to have large, covered front porches or wraparound porches attached to them. While these porches are used largely for decoration these days, decades ago they were critical for keeping cool and getting a good night’s sleep.
It wasn’t uncommon for individuals and even entire families to migrate out onto the porches at night to sleep and enjoy the (slightly) cooler evening air, rather than be trapped in a musty, humid house.
Some modern homes have high ceilings which are purely for aesthetic purposes, but there’s a good reason that many “character” homes and apartment complexes have towering ceilings and windows: air circulation. We all know that hot air rises, so the higher the ceiling, the more top up the heat can go, keeping the floor a little cooler. Not just that, but taller ceilings allowed for taller windows; tall, narrow windows improve air flow and move more air through a room than the short, stout windows we see in most homes today.
If you could afford it, building tall houses with thick walls made of stone and brick were commonplace to insulate homes and help keep them cool during the warm months. Many older homes have walls which are between 12-24 inches thick, and by building them with stone and bricks they were able to absorb heat during the day and release the heat at night once the evening set in. This also helps explain why some brick homes are so expensive to purchase: the added insulation (bricks) helps keep energy costs low.
Cross-ventilation is the practice of placing inlets and outlets (usually strategically placed windows and doors) to optimize the flow of air through a building. For example, the famous “shotgun houses” in New Orleans weren’t just built tall and narrow to avoid the high property taxes; the strategically-placed windows allowed for optimal airflow and helped homeowners beat the Southern heat.