Air conditioning was invented more than a century ago, and there are many in North America who have never lived in a home without it. We are so reliant on AC for comfort that it can be hard to imagine a time before you could control your home temperature with a few taps of a button. But even in the hottest places, people have found their own ways to beat the heat since time immemorial.
While we’ve come a long way since the days when cave-dwelling was a practical way to both stay cool and keep warm, the time before air conditioning shaped the way we built our homes and lived our lives.
Built to Chill
If you’ve been inside homes that were built in the 1800s or earlier, you may have noticed that they share design elements that you see less often in modern homes. Many of these elements, like especially high ceilings, were included specifically to help people stay cool. Because hot air rises, higher ceilings create more space for hot air to linger, keeping things cooler at eye-level.
Another common architectural feature that provided relief from the heat was the front porch, which was often very deep to provide lots of shade. A large covered porch meant there was always a place to go when the house felt too stuffy, and the shady buffer zone helped to cool down air coming in through front-facing windows. Screened-in porches were even nice places to sleep on the hottest nights.
As the only sources of ventilation, windows were extremely important and would be installed on opposite sides of the room where possible to create a nice cross-breeze. To help block out the sun and cool down the breeze, shady trees were often planted along the west and east sides of the house.
Eventually, electricity made ceiling fans possible to help keep homeowners comfortable in the home stretch before the advent of air conditioning. By keeping the air moving continuously, fans can create a significant cooling sensation without actually lowering the temperature of the room.
A Cool Social Scene
You may hear people complain that our society has grown more distant, with people glued to their smartphones and interacting less and less in public. But air conditioning may have had an even bigger impact on everyday socialization.
During the summer months, it was common for people to gather on their shady porches after dinner while their houses cooled down. People would stroll around the neighborhood and say hello to someone at almost every house as they passed.
In the days before air conditioning was common in homes, neighbors would also congregate in those few public spaces that did offer the comfort, often a small movie theater.
Summertime traditions designed to beat the heat certainly had fringe benefits, but we’re guessing you’d rather not go back to the pre-air conditioning days. And if you find you need help keeping your modern AC running, remember to always turn to your local HVAC experts.