Keeping homes cool before air conditioning – did you know?
You could work up a sweat wondering how people stayed cool before air conditioning. The answer lies in the practical design of homes built with features that took advantage of natural insulation and airflow.
Homeowners created ventilation by opening windows in their basement and top floor. This "stack effect" generated a natural breeze throughout the house. Tall ceilings were also common. As heat would rise, living areas remained more comfortable. Ceiling fans powered by rope systems and later on, electricity moved the air.
Many homes had large, double-hung windows. Opening the top allowed hot air to escape, while opening the bottom allowed cool air to flow inside, especially at night. Small transom windows over doors served to allow more airflow.
Deep basements, split-level homes and houses built into the hillside provide cooler living spaces. Thick walls of brick or stone were typical in the Deep South to insulate the home from the heat and also provide warmth from the chill at night.
Outside, homes featured large porches where neighbors would socialize and families could sleep in the breeze on the hottest nights.
Air conditioning was invented about a hundred years ago to manage humidity in a printing plant. The room air conditioner arrived like a cool breeze in the early 1930s, but at $10,000 or more, it was only available to the very wealthy. The economic boom after World War II brought many comforts home, including AC. But it has only been since the 1970s that air conditioners became a standard feature in our homes.