Keeping Cool or I Love Air Conditioning

I mentioned in this week's Iced Tea Chat that I love air conditioning but you know the first years of marriage I lived without it. Not just during my first marriage but also the first five years John and I were married, too.  We had window units but to run them cost more than we could afford.  Our house  was set up to allow for cross breezes.  That's one fault to be found with many modern homes, you know.  I remember Big Mama's home was built with plenty of doorways and windows that allowed air to flow from one room to another.  Yes, there was a loss of some privacy since bedrooms opened off one another but not so much that  you were bothered by it.  And the result was a home that was somewhat cooler even in deep summer heat and a good bit warmer in the winter too because the heat could flow better.

How did we keep cool?  Oh there was a science to it!  It mostly employed using what we had and doing all we could to insure the indoors stayed cooler than the outdoors, no easy feat.

We put up reflective shades on the sunny side of the house.   My 'reflective shades' were mostly sheets of cardboard with aluminum foil over them.  On the big patio doors it was just straight sheets of heavy duty aluminum which was wider.   I use duct tape to hold in to the glass.  You'd be surprised how well this worked.  Of course, the taped on foil did not get moved on a daily basis but the foil covered boards were moved from the shady window to the sunny one.  I'd say it helped reduce the indoor temperature by at least 10 degrees.  That's pretty substantial if it's 100F outdoors!

We pulled curtains and didn't let in any light on the sunny side.  We put fans in the windows on the shady side and let them push air into the house.  If it was mighty hot (and it was at times) I'd put a fan in a window on the sunny side that was blowing out, so it pulled that cooler air through the rooms better.

We  had plenty of cold water and ice for drinks.   I also made sure the kids had Gatorade and Koolaid so they didn't completely dilute their electrolytes.  We encouraged the kids to wipe off with cool damp cloths during the day and each child was encouraged to take a cool shower in the evening.  I'd tell you we ate cooler meals but with five hungry kids there are no cooler meals that fill them up.  I'll confess that as broke as we were back then, on truly dreadful hot days, we ordered pizza delivered or went to pick up take out and brought it home.  I had only a few meals that were lighter and more filling but we use them often and often during those days, too.

I think night time was the hardest.   Those bedrooms were like ovens even with windows and doors  open.  It was also a little unnerving to sleep with open windows in town, to be honest.   Fortunately our street was a dead end  and that meant people mostly stayed off it unless they lived on the street.
Still, it wasn't unusual to lie awake into the wee hours until the night air finally began to cool ever so slightly. 

I finally revolted after I'd gone back to work and faced working days and evenings at home on too little sleep.  I declared that on Friday evenings we'd turn on the AC.  It was just about bearable indoors by Saturday morning.  By Saturday evening and Sunday it was cool enough to sleep and we all slept.  A lot.  But Monday morning the air conditioners were turned off and we suffered our way through the week.  Despite just using it those three days we paid $350 a month for our electricity in the  summer.  It was ridiculous, but what else could we do?  We went without all week but it was misery and everyone got pretty snarky as the week went on.

Oddly when we moved here John was adamant that we'd not sleep with open windows.  I found it odd, because we are  very isolated.  You don't just wander over past our place.  It seemed to me it was safer than anywhere we'd ever been to sleep with open windows.   We discovered pretty quickly though that this house was much warmer than our former home.  In town we'd lived on a lot that received some shade but at the time we moved here it was an open field.  The sun beat us up from morning until night.   But after our first month we discovered we had a much more affordable form of air conditioning.  Even with it running day and night here we never paid as much as we paid in that previous house.  Still our house payment was more than our rent had been.  We needed to trim the budget.  So we stuck with our previous ways of using fans to move air, and we shaded all the windows on the sunny side with foil.  I found it worked best if I inserted the panels between the storm window and the regular window.  This lowered our bill to a much more acceptable point, about half what we'd paid in the past.  That was enough to make up the difference in what we'd paid for rent and what we were paying on our mortgage.

I think we lived here more than 15 years before the trees finally got big enough to offer some shade to help cut down on the AC running non-stop.

Over the last couple of  years, instead of putting up reflective shades we've bought a better quality PVC blind for each window that actually are room darkening shades.  We have insulated drapes at the windows now, too.  These improvements had to be done a little at the time but they paid off in savings on our electric bill last summer.  I think it's safe to say that last summer, with every window in the house covered with a good new blind and shades, we saved enough  to repay us for the purchases we'd made.

If I had to return to living without AC I'd do all the things we did before.  I'm grateful we have the funds to afford to run this huge appliance but honestly, it costs only slightly more than our winter bills generally run because we learned how to keep cooler in those years we lived without air conditioning.


Lana said...

My husband and I both grew up in Florida without A/C. Most of our neighbors did not have it either and it was just normal. But, I am so very thankful to have it now and don't think we would last too long without it as we found out two years ago when the upstairs unit went out in a 100 plus degree heatwave.

Karla Neese said...

Yep, I spent nearly all of my childhood with either no a/c at all or just window units. When I was in junior high we lived in a really old house that had a water cooler. I remember helping to go outside in the evenings to soak the water cooler with the water hose.

Thanks to your sharing about darkening drapes last year, I went and bought some very stylish ones for our bedroom. Not only are we sleeping better, but our electricity has gone down. We have noticed this summer so far that we are nearly always chilled, even with the a/c set at 78 degrees!

Anonymous said...

With the electric companies fining you for using electricity during certain periods of the is hard to keep cool at all. Now they have applied for a tighter ban on usage. I don't like to have to wash my clothes after dark all the time or get fined. Right now it is not as bad as it is supposed to get. I love how the utilities companies tell us to cut back on usage[of water, electricity., gas] then when we do their rates go up cause they have not gotten enough $ from us. It has happened many times. You can't win! :-)))))) It is all so silly!
It is over 100 and very humid again today. Our roof water cooler is doing the best it can. We are still hot but I am still grateful for what it IS doing. We have done all the things you mentioned and imagine how hot it would be without using them. I hope one day to get a small air conditioner for just one room to use it on those extra hot/humid days and stay in that one room basically. Many people do that.
Growing up like so many of you we just lived with the heat. The nights as you said, were the worst. We had a big fan in the one window in the attic and in the 60s we got one box fan we used in the dining room during meals only. No one we knew had an air conditioner or a cooler. So it was normal to be hot. I imagine the kids felt it less than the grownups. Isn't it wonderful each season has its problems but each only lasts for so long. God had a wonderful plan. :) Sarah

Debby in KS said...

I can't imagine living without an a/c now. Same with heat. The older I get, the less tolerant I am of the extremes. We don't keep them at crazy temps (78 & 62), but it's enough to take the edge off. Our a/c motor pooped out last summer and it got to be 87 inside. I honestly thought I would throw up at times. We ran fans, sprayed water on ourselves, slept in separate beds, etc., but I still woke up after little sleep and I was hot, sweaty, & with a terrible headache.

I went without both in one rental I had in my 20's in SoCal. I used a small space heater in one room for an hour or so just to take the extreme chill off of some nights. The advantage to that house in summer was that there was a pool. It didn't need a heater and it kept the water a nice summer temp. I'd jump in when I got hot, float in a donut in the deep end until I got chilled, & then I was good for a couple of hours. I could clean house, mow, whatever, and I didn't get hot. When I finally did, I'd jump back in & repeat. I repeated that all day and just before bed. I don't recall ever getting uncomfortably hot when I lived there. On extremely hot days, I'd sit on the steps in the shallow end and read with just my head and hands out of the water!!

Kay said...

When I was growing up we only had a window AC in the downstairs because my dad worked at a horribly hot factory and needed the cool to recover & sleep well (my mom said.) We children slept upstairs in the heat. We had to go to bed at 8:30 pm, still light out and not cool yet. We eventually had window fans but it just stirred the hot air around. I don't remember taking a bath each night, but we must have. I just remember being so hot and waiting for the cooler air also.
When we married, we again, had a window AC for the downstairs. My dh was raised without AC. We tolerated the heat in our upstairs bedroom again but our home was shaded by large trees and we survived.
As time has gone on here in Neb. the farms that are irrigated have increased and with that, the humidity has increased.
Our current home has central air. Dh prefers it because of the before mentioned humidity. I am thankful for it but I really miss the fresh night air. Looking forward to September. Debby in KS's comment is exactly what a dear friend of mine does. She lives in the center of a block in the center of the city; in a large old house. No AC. Their old home has a whole house vent in the attic so they open it in the evening. Then they open the basement and all the stairway doors. The heat air rises and creates a draft that brings up the cool basement air. During the day, they use their pool just as Debby did.

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