Before Air Conditioning: 5 Ways Homes Were Designed To Stay Cool

Categories: Energy, Construction Methods

How in the world did people deal with the summer heat without air conditioning? Lots of ways, both time-tested and experimental.

Cooling homes was not the intended purpose when Willis Carrier invented modern air conditioning in 1902. The earliest air conditioners were for industrial quality control; the comfort of the workers was incidental. However, artificial climate control made steel and glass skyscrapers practical. Home air conditioning became widely available after World War II and ushered in the age of suburban tract housing. It also spelled the demise of some old-fashioned architectural details and social customs. 

People had other personal methods for keeping cool, such as hanging wet laundry in doorways, sleeping in refrigerated sheets, and keeping one's underwear in the freezer.

Years ago when air conditioning wasn't universal, we were sometimes miserably hot. But "miserable" is a relative term. We didn't know what we were missing, and we were used to it. We were never as miserable as someone in a small modern home built for artificial climate control when the air conditioner fails!

As we mentioned above, Air conditioning was invented in 1902, but came to the first home (in Minnesota) in 1914. Now we need to ask ourselves what did people do before there was such thing as air conditioning? The design of the home was the crucial factor. Here are a few home styles designed to maximize your chances of not dying from heat stroke:

The Dogtrot

Interesting name, right? The dogtrot takes its name from the breezeway between the two halves—that your dog could trot through. Both sides could get fresh air, and the porch overhang shielded the front windows from the sun/rain. This was popular with 1800s Southern plantations.

Sleeping Porch

As the name might suggest, folks used to sleep on porches in the days pre-A/C. This is the sleeping porch from Eleanor Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, New York.

The Shotgun

Another Southern thing, the narrow width of the house meant the windows and the doors could take better advantage of cross-ventilation. The overhang roof shielded the occupants from the sun and rain, too. (Of course, on “TheWaltons,” they were always sweating in the heat, and plopped down on the porch with hand-held fans.Livvy, how about some more of that lemonade?)

The Cupola

The small dome that sticks up at the very top is supposed to allow for ventilation, on the theory that hot air rises. Fresh air would flow through the tall windows and doors shielded by the porch.

Shutters, Trees & Vines

One of the keys to keeping a home cool is to block out the sun. Shutters and strategically planted trees keep the sun at bay while vines, despite being bug super-highways, help keep walls insulated and cool.

via SimpleMost

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