Staying cool without an air conditioner

Posted 7/14/21

If this rainy summer ever breaks and the skies clear for more than one day at a time, the sunny weather will also bring those nights—the ones where the temperature goes down from near-100 to …

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Staying cool without an air conditioner


If this rainy summer ever breaks and the skies clear for more than one day at a time, the sunny weather will also bring those nights—the ones where the temperature goes down from near-100 to maybe 80, if we’re lucky, before the sun rises again and the thermometer starts climbing. The humidity won’t let up until the arrival of fall.

It’s miserable.

So, you can do the obvious and buy an air conditioner, either the kind that sits on your floor or a box one.

Over at the Australian science news site Particle (and in Australia, they know about heat), they say that older HVACs not only increase emissions because of energy use, but they leak hydrofluorocarbons, which are hundreds of times more potent than carbon dioxide.

There are hi-tech ways to help your house cool down that are a lot easier on the environment. There are emissions-conscious systems. But what else can you do?

Liberty, NY-based architect Victor Dadras, founding partner with Robert Dadras at Dadras Architects, offered a historical and low-tech perspective on how to keep cool in a hot summer.

“Everyone seems to love the Victorian era for style,” Dadras said, “But much of it was functional.”

There were hot days during the 19th century, but our ancestors knew how to keep their cool.

They made use of double-hung windows. The upper sash, Dadras said, was more important for air circulation. That mattered for ventilation, but it also helps keep a house cool. “Air circulates above, at higher levels,” he said. So, if you’re lucky enough to have transoms over your doors, open those, open the upper sash and let the cool airflow through.

Fans: Electric fans will help keep you cool. Ceiling fans are best if you’re underneath them. (Fans blowing on you cool you because they’re evaporating sweat.) Don’t bother leaving a fan on in a room when you’re not there, says my husband.

Bonus fan tip: Take a block of ice (or a sack of ice), put it in a low-sided bowl, and set the bowl in front of the fan. Then sit in front of the bowl.

Be clever with box fans: Put it in the window, and face it outside to send your house’s hot air out. Face it inside to pull cooler night air in. If you have windows on opposite sides of the room, you can use one fan to pull in the cool air at night and blow it on you and another to send out the hot air. (This is how my husband cools our attic when he’s up there, and it works great.)

Use your porch. In the past “that was an in-between space,” Dadras said. “Interstitial space. We’ve become more internalized, more private,” and less likely to sleep outside on our porches. That, and we don’t always enjoy the nocturnal wildlife.

Old-style enclosed porches—you can see them around here—are a compromise. You get the benefit of walls with huge screened windows, but you don’t have to sleep out with nocturnal nature. (Those of us with skunks living under our houses would prefer an enclosed porch.)  Some homes have a balcony hanging off the side of the house. Those were often used for sleeping. Presumably, the occupants didn’t mind bats or mosquitoes.

Side note: You can set up something in your basement, too. Cellars here usually stay cool. Well, cooler than your bedroom, anyway.

Trees: “How you plant around the house” helped make it cooler, Dadras said. Trees close by shaded the house and kept the hot sun from streaming in.

Window treatments: Try closing blinds, shades or curtains in the daytime, or you can install reflective film on your windows, Consumer Reports says. (They warn that film will reduce visibility.)

Use awnings: Does that just scream “old-fashioned?” Too bad. Some homes and hotels here had them, said Sullivan County Historian John Conway. And Consumer Reports quotes the Department of Energy, “Window awnings can reduce solar heat gain by up to 65 percent on south-facing windows and 77 percent on west-facing windows.” They recommend awnings in light colors to reflect sunlight. My grandmother rolled hers up in Buffalo winters.

Ventilate the attic. “Heat rises to the second floor or attic,” Dadras said. “The more you can ventilate the upper floor, the more you let air escape so you don’t create a blanket of hot air.”

Keep in mind that babies and older people may need to stay cooler.

In the next issue of Our Country Home, Robert and Victor Dadras will discuss the importance of ventilating our homes. Cool air is lovely in the summer; fresh air is vital.

air conditioner, staying cool, summertime, heat


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