Escaping the heat is a matter of simple physics. The first rule is: Heat Rises! The second is, The Sun is Hot. The third is, Trapped Heat Doesn’t Dissipate Well. Knowing these rules kept out grandparents and those before them relatively comfortable most summers. A couple of generations of air conditioning and it seems everyone has forgotten these elementary lessons.
Consider our housing; we no longer site homes and landscaping to take advantage of natural heating and cooling. A look at well-built homes from the last century shows how rising heat was used to advantage. Before central heating became common, it was usual to heat a home with a wood stove or furnace. Many times, these furnaces used gravity flow to move heat to the upper floors. Cheaper homes with a wood stove often had one or two registers in the ceiling downstairs to allow heat to rise to the second level. Cross ventilation window placement was carefully considered in most homes, as natural forces were used to moderate the temperature. These same common ideas were used to beat the heat, too.
Typically roof overhangs, particularly in the south, were wide to shade the windows from the higher summer sun. When the sun dropped lower in the sky in the fall, the sun would then stream directly into the rooms. Porches, besides being a neighborhood gathering place, added cooling shade to the front door-which was often kept open in summer. The more well-to-do often had sleeping porches screened to protect from insects, where sleepers retired to hammocks or chase lounges on particularly hot nights. Most old home had large shade trees, such as maple or elm, to condition the immediate environment.
People also worked WITH the environment, not against it. Heavy work was done in the early mornings or the evenings after it started to cool off. Early kitchens were often lean-to attachments, away from the rest of the house so that heat generated from wood-stove cooking didn’t penetrate the home. Hard-working farm families usually ate a huge breakfast, before the day’s heat made cooking and eating unpleasant. By working outdoors year round, workers acclimated to both heat and cold and could function in anything but the hottest weather. Cool salads were big on the lunch and dinner menu-along with iced tea, lemonade and plenty of cool water. Where water pressure allowed, children-and sometimes adults-ran thru the lawn sprinkler and cooled through evaporation. A picnic dinner of sandwiches and salads at the nearest county park lake provided both evaporative cooling, lake breezes to dissipate heat and swimming to wear the kids out so they’d be able to sleep.
Many of these ideas are just as valid today as they were one hundred years ago. Rising energy prices are quickly causing routine air conditioning use to be unaffordable. We can take a lesson from our elders in staying cool by incorporating their temperature moderating ideas into our lifestyle wherever they will fit. Even if you have air conditioning available, using some of these ideas may cut your electric bill and allow you to make it comfortably through hard economic times. If you have a two-story home, close off the upper floor early in the day. If you have an attic, make sure it is well-ventilated-an attic fan will quickly pay for itself in saved AC costs. Invest in window fans and position them so that cooler air is brought in from the north side of the house and exhausted out the already hotter south side. Keep interior doors open to aid circulation.
Invest in solar shades. A cheap solar shade can be made from Mylar space blankets clothes-pinned inside draperies on the south-or sunniest side. Keep extra lights off-its surprising how much heat a light bulb gives off. A grassy yard-and shade trees-helps to moderate the temperature outdoors, thus cooling the indoors. If you have a yard, invest in a screen house. Plan easy grilled meals around your screened “dining room”. Now is the time to make full use of your slow cooker and microwave-keep that oven off to avoid adding heat to the home. A patio misting fan can cool down an outside area considerably. And if it’s too hot to sleep. . . there’s always the screen house.
Learn to “live” the temperature. Move from hotter afternoon south-facing rooms to east rooms during the hottest part of the day. Keep hair short or pinned up above your ears. Invest in cooling neck ties to use in very hot weather. These products utilize Grandpa’s system of a bandana soaked in water to lower body temperature and add the technology of polymer crystals that, when soaked in cool water, do the same thing-only better. These Kool-Off products even come in a cooling bandana for your pet. Pets are prone to overheating as they don’t have the ability to cool through perspiration as do humans with their expanse of naked skin-they primarily dissipate heat through panting and the pads of their feet. Make sure they have plenty of shade and plenty of water. Adding a few ice cubes to the water bowl will make them more comfortable.
If you really are desperate for cooler air, you can purchase a Kooler Aire air conditioner to use with ice and a cooler. I have one of these and they do work-although less like air conditioning and more like a “swamp cooler”. These are only good for small areas and can be very helpful for the ill or the elderly who cannot regulate their temperature well. As melting ice can get messy, it is best to use milk jugs of frozen water to act as the cooling agent. Made for 12-volt, they work with a 110 volt adapter or a battery pack. In fact, two or three “jump-start/battery packs” can be invaluable when summer storms knock the power out and can run a fan or lights or even a tv or laptop.
Plan ahead for the invariable time when your air conditioner quits-it will always be when you need it most. If you start now to research where heat enters your home-and how, you can start accumulating the things that make it more bearable. And, who knows? You might even manage to reduce your electric bill.