It’s summer, and like everyone else apparently, we’re having some weird weather. In the last couple days, daytime temps have been over 100 fahrenheit, but they’ve cooled to mid-60s during the night.
I’ve just had open windows and a couple fans going. It’s not been great, but it’s been doable.
Last night I got home at around 11pm and it was still in the high 80s. My neighborhood was quiet and no one was out on their porches. Then I noticed my Guatemalan neighbors had set up a card table on their driveway, under a light, and they were quietly talking. It should be noted, these neighbors do have A/C, and they do use it. If anyone in the neighborhood should be an expert in dealing with hot weather, it’s these guys.
I want to have my home (current and future) to be more liveable, and I want to be using less fossil fuel to do it. As my friends post on FB about ways to cool off, I figured it would be good to catalog my options.
How to live without air conditioning
“A lot would have to change. We’d wake up earlier, and nap in the middle of the day to make up for it. We’d ride bikes and scooters everywhere, and swimming would replace running as the preferred form of exercise. Maybe we’d see the return of porch culture—of screened-in card games and flowing iced tea. And maybe we’d start taking pride in tricking out our finished basements. After a while we’d get used to it, just like we got used to the artificial indoor chill we take for granted now. And who knows—eventually we might even come to like it.”
From Beat The Heat: 10 Design Tips To Help You Live Without (Or Use Less) Air Conditioning:
- Install Awnings
“The Department of Energy estimates that awnings can reduce solar heat gain—the amount temperature rises because of sunshine—by as much as 65 percent on windows with southern exposures and 77 percent on those with western exposures.”
- Plant Vines
“Climbers can dramatically reduce the maximum temperatures of a building by shading walls from the sun, the daily temperature fluctuation being reduced by as much as 50%. Together with the insulation effect, temperature fluctuations at the wall surface can be reduced from between 10°/14°F to 60°C/140°F to between 5°C/41°F and 30°/86°F.”
- Plant a Tree
- Tune your Windows (eg, Doublehungs)
- Ceiling Fans
- Install operating shutters
“Shutters really are the most amazing overlooked technology. They provide ventilation, security, shading and storm protection in one simple device.”
- External Blinds
“External blinds “are the most practical method of controlling solar heat gain. The problem of solar heat build-up is combated before it becomes a problem by mounting the blinds externally, where they intercept and defuse the suns rays.””
- Get an attic fan
“A lot of people run expensive air conditioning when it is actually pretty cool out- after the sun has been baking a California house all day, it can be cool in the evening but the house is still holding a couple of hundred thousand BTUs of heat. In more temperate parts of the country, just moving the air and having good ventilation could eliminate the need for AC much of the time.” More on attic fans
- Don’t cook hot food inside
“There is a reason our ancestors built summer kitchens; those stoves put out a lot of heat and you didn’t want them in your house in summer. “
- Make right choices
“Tape up your ducts, turn off your computers and save your money. The simple, low-tech tried and true methods cost less, save more energy and work forever.”
More about windows, and ways to make them energy and heat efficient: Building the Green Modern Home: Looking at Windows
The ways we used to cool our homes:
- The breezeway through the center of the house provided a cooler covered area for sitting. The combination of the breezeway and open windows in the rooms of the house created air currents which pulled cooler outside air into the living quarters efficiently in the pre-air conditioning era.
- More windows, placed to take every possible advantage of cross-ventilation.
- Higher ceilings, so hot air could rise.
- Ceiling fans draw hot, humid air up into the cupolas and out through the cupola windows. A wall encloses the bathroom, but notice that the wall only goes up about 9 feet, and the bathroom is open above, with no ceiling. A ceiling fan is directly above the shower, rotating so that air blows up in the summer, drawing humid air out of the house. In winter, this fan blows air down, bringing warm air from above the woodstove into the bathroom.
- Isolate the bathroom & kitchen where heat and water vapor are generated from the “living quarters” or cook outside of the living space
- Using the basement as a cool sink: This is a good idea for ventilation purposes. The concrete slab and pillars, which are filled with concrete, provide for a substantial thermal mass below the house. We will experiment with partially closing off this area, so that cool air can be drawn into the house from this “basement”.
- Porches are deep and shaded. East and west-facing walls are difficult to shade because of the large range of sun angles they are exposed to during the day. A good solution is to cover these walls with porches. Sleeping porches are great too.
- Roof overhangs: The south-facing wall is easier to shade with roof overhangs, because, in the summer, the sun is always at a high angle to the south walls.
And yet more…
I realized about a week ago that I was profoundly allergic to my living room carpet.
I’ve been sick with some upper respiratory thing (URI) that’s knocked me out since the beginning of July, and I’ve been living in my living room and sleeping in a recliner. My knee gave out (a side effect of the URI), and a doc had given me a thick handout of floor exercises. Every time I did them, I spent the next 6 or 7 hours much much sicker than I had been before I did the exercises.
The carpet had to go. And the room needed to be cleared out.
A cat tree, a sagging old couch, a side table all went out by the street. A bookcase needs to go as well, and it’s spoken for (though it is currently in my kitchen, grrr). In packing up the bookcase, I got rid of 4/5ths of my technical books — and a bunch of library school books — and some other things too — two large grocery bags in all.
Acquaintances came over today and pulled up the carpet in the living room, and on the staircase. They made short work of it. I was blown away by how quickly they pulled it up, pulled up the padding, ripped out the tackboards, removed the staples. I wandered around and swept, and swept, and swept — more than a full garbage bag of dirt and dust and padding dust.
I am so incredibly grateful to them. What a difference they made!
Chicarrón, my cat, is very upset by all of this. When she first came downstairs, she wouldn’t stop meowing. I’m hoping she’s coming around to this.
This evening, I’ve removed a few things back into the living room. The recliner. Two lamps and two side tables. The cat’s bench. And the TV stand. It looks so empty, and so great. I have a book cart that I’d like to add… maybe tomorrow.