Air conditioning seems to be one of those “necessities” we simply can’t do without in our modern society.
But humanity has managed to spend most of its existence without air conditioning. Electromechanical air conditioning has only been around since the beginning of the 20th century. Let’s look at some of the things people did to stay cool before modern air conditioning came along.
Prior to Modern AC
If you are building a home, then you can take these points into consideration. Before modern AC, people built their homes differently than they do now. The right structural elements and building materials made it possible for people to live relatively comfortably with the heat of the summer. Here are a few ways:
Stone, Brick, and Clay
Building materials for homes were always something thick and heavy, some natural stone-like material that could mimic the rock surrounding a cave. The stone or brick act link a heat sink, absorbing the heat that is shining down on your home and trapping it, releasing it slowly later on. This keeps a large portion of the heat out of your house, making the interior more comfortable. Modern homes and buildings are built with lighter materials that allow the heat to pass right through them.
If you have ever been in an old house, one built in the 19th century or early 20th century, you might have noticed the 10-foot ceilings. These served the purpose of climate control. Heat rises, so with such high ceilings, the heat would collect in the top 3 feet, leaving the cooler air closer to the floor. People tended to only use the upstairs in the evenings and at night, with the windows open.
Ceiling fans have long been used to help cool a home and are especially effective when used with high ceilings. Fans can be set to pull the warm air up during the summer months (pushing it down during the winter), helping to keep the cooler air down by the floor.
Basements and Split-Level Homes
The idea behind the split-level home and basements was to find a way to keep part of the home underground, where it was cooler. This would allow for good food storage and for a cooler area of the house in which to live during the heat of the summer.
Having trees planted so that they provide shade for the house was a common way to keep a house cool. The trees were traditionally planted on the east and west sides of the house, keeping the sun from heating up the interior in the morning and the evening. The trees would also cool down the breeze before it reached the house.
Awnings and porches act in the same manner, shading the windows of a house to block the sun. In fact, the porch is where people went to escape the heat of inside, where they could sit and socialize in the shade with a cool breeze. And have you ever noticed all those old houses with vines, such as English Ivy, all over them? Again, the vines helped keep the heat out of the structure.
Tips and Tricks for Living without Air Conditioning
Having talked about the way homes were built prior to the invention of modern AC, most people don’t actually live in those kinds of homes. Even back then, a lot of people, particularly in big cities, lived in apartments. It is more likely that you live in a home built after the use of AC in homes became common place, something from the 1920s on, or that you live in an apartment building.
If you don’t have air conditioning or don’t want to be dependent on it, then you still have some options. If you do own your own home, you can do some of the things mentioned above, such as installing ceiling fans and using awnings, building a porch, or planting trees and/or vines to provide some shade. Obviously, if you live in an apartment, you don’t have many options, but here are some things you can do, regardless of where you live:
Windows and Coverings
Have your windows open from evening to morning and then close them and all window coverings before the morning sun can start sending its first rays in through the windows. This will help keep the heat of the day out and let the cool night air in. You can couple this with closing off the warm rooms in your home.
Lights and Electrical Equipment
Lights, particularly incandescent light bulbs, and electrical equipment generate heat. When it’s hot during the day, turn off all lights and only use them when necessary, even in the evenings. Turn off all electrical equipment and appliances, or better yet, unplug them.
Use Appliances When It’s Cool
When you need to cook, do laundry, iron, or use any appliance that generates a significant amount of heat, do it during the hours when it is cooler, either early in the morning or in the evening. Get a clothesline and dry your clothes that way, instead of running the dryer.
Seal and Insulate Your Home
If you own your home, you can add extra insulation in the attic, which will help in all seasons. You can also add weather stripping, caulking, and other sealants around doors and windows to ensure you keep warm air out and cool air in.
Unusual Ways to Keep Cool
They say that back before air conditioning, when the nights were really hot, people used to sleep on their porches and people who lived in apartments took to their fire escapes. Chances are, you won’t see anyone doing that these days, although there is no reason people couldn’t. The thing is, if there is no way you can change your landscaping or add features to your home or if you live in an apartment, then you are going to have to find other ways to keep cool. Yes, you can leave your home and go to the movies, a museum, or the mall, but you can’t do that every day. Here are some unique ways to stay cool during the summer heat.
This is an ideal way to keep cool, but it only works in low humidity environments. If you take old linens and tack them up over open windows and then spray down the linens to make them damp, they will keep your home very cool. The dampness in the sheets will evaporate, taking the heat with it. All you need to do is rewet the sheets when they get dry. This is not only a great way to keep cool, but it works even if you have no electricity. Note that the reason this doesn’t work in a high-humidity environment is that in humid air evaporation cannot take place as efficiently, if at all.
You can also use water to keep yourself wet and cool. Keep your hair wet or wet a bandana and wrap it around your neck or head. You can also mist yourself, both skin and clothing, with a water bottle. Back in the 30’s, people were even known to put their underwear in the freezer before wearing it!
Create Your Own Breeze
If you have a nice breeze coming in your window, but it isn’t as cool as you would like, and you have electricity, you can make that breeze cooler. No, I’m not talking about a fan. You can do the following. Place a saucer on a windowsill and place a piece of paper towel over it. Then place a bowl on top of the paper towel and put ice in it. As the breeze blows through the window, the ice will cool it. You just have to have enough ice to get you through the hot part of the day. An alternative to this is to place the ice in a small cooler (regular or Styrofoam) and position a fan so it blows over the ice, creating a cool breeze.
Cool Down Your Bedding
You can also make your bed cooler before you climb into it. You can dampen your sheet if you wish or you can stick your sheets in the freezer before going to bed. That way they will be very cool when you settle down, helping you stay comfortable while you fall asleep. Just be sure you use cotton sheets, as they are more breathable and cooler.
A few other tips include:
- Take cool showers
- Stay as close to the ground/floor as possible
- Sleep alone (sorry no cuddling)
- Sleep in a hammock or cot
- Sit and sleep in the cross-breeze between windows
- Wear as little clothing as possible, keep what you do wear light in color and ensure the fabric is light and breathable
- Keep your level of activity down in the middle of the day (think siesta!)
- Drink a lot of water to keep from getting dehydrated and overheated, something that can happen before you know it in the heat
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