Surviving before Air Conditioning

Posted: May 24, 2016

Air conditioner blowing cold air

Posted: May 24, 2016
Posted by: David O’Connell, President of Wilson Oil and Propane

It’s hard to believe that just a little over 100 years ago (1902 to be exact) air conditioning was invented by Willis Carrier. And in spite of global warming, summer humidity and temperatures in the U.S. weren’t much different than today, leaving people to find ways to be comfortable indoors without the A/C options we have available today. Here’s a look at how people kept their homes cool before air conditioning.

Before air conditioning was invented, homes were built in such a way that they could harness natural ventilation to keep the home comfortable. Builders consulted almanacs and wind diagrams to determine local wind and breeze patterns which were used when determining how to orient the home. Home designs facilitated cross ventilation to encourage airflow throughout interior spaces. The placement of windows, doors, and interior walls helped to keep the home comfortable. Homeowners would open windows to allow the breeze in, and window shutters (now used mainly for decoration), were used to close off window spaces during periods of direct sun exposure to shade interiors and block heat gain. To improve natural ventilation throughout the home, sashes were opened to correspond with the breeze direction to create air pressure in the home which facilitated movement. Opening high windows and transoms over doorways on a hot day allowed warm indoor air to vent outdoors, opening outlet windows more than inlet windows increase drafts, and opening bottom windows on the upwind wall of the home while opening upper windows on the downwind wall would move air through the home. Walls which ran parallel to wind direction allowed the breeze to flow across the home, improving cross ventilation, whereas walls running parallel to the windows and doors would stop airflow. With windows open on opposite sides of the home, cool air could enter the interior space while pushing warmer air out.

In warmer climates, homes were built upon blocks or columns, allowing air to continuously flow beneath the home, which helped to cool the interior living spaces and thick exterior walls kept heat out of the home’s interior during the day. Exterior walls were often made of stone or brick, and in the hot southern states, walls could be 12 to 24 inches thick whereas with modern construction exterior walls are typically 2×4 or 2×6 inch lumber. Now used largely for decoration, window shutters were functional in older homes. Shutters could be pulled to close off window spaces during periods of direct sun exposure to shade interiors and block heat gain, yet slats could be opened to facilitate ventilation.

The exterior and areas surrounding a home were valuable real estate when it came to keeping the interior of a home cool. Exterior fixtures, such as porches, awnings, pergolas and even plants played a role in cooling before air conditioners became the norm.

The first outdoor kitchens weren’t used for entertaining as they typically are today – they were used to prevent heat gain inside the home. Cooking stoves created a great amount of heat; the last thing people wanted was to add more heat whenever a meal needed to be prepared. To solve the heat gain issue while ensuring meals were still made, outdoor kitchens, sometimes called summer kitchens, were built. They were situated in freestanding structures away from the main home (sometimes connected by a breezeway) which housed stoves, fireplaces, and cooking equipment, and were sometimes also used for chores such as laundry and baths, which also created heat. As early heating systems made their way into homes, the summer kitchen was sometimes used to house the boiler or coal-fired furnace.

Don’t suffer through another summer without air conditioning. Check out all of today’s options for cooling your home. We can help you find the right choice for your home comfort and can turn your hot and stuffy home into a comfortable indoor retreat.