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How Did People Survive Before AC Units?

People love their air conditioning. The ability to control the temperature in your home – so that it’s at the comfort level you crave – is incredible. It becomes a necessity in the hotter (read: summer) months however, when the heat is too much to bear. In fact, we’ve grown so used to air conditioned office buildings, climate controlled vehicles, and automated thermostats in our homes that you may wonder how people survived before having an AC unit.

What you may be surprised to learn is that our “homes” are usually built out of a necessity to control the temperature.


The History of Air Conditioning

Of course, you go back to the Stone Age, historians will tell you how much cooler the temperature was in caves or houses created somewhat underground (i.e. mud huts). In fact, the temperature under the ground is about 50 degrees’ year round, so setting up home in a cave was to beat the heat.

Then, as we learned how to harness the stones’ ability to remain cool, noticeably, homes started being built above ground out of rocks and stones. The coolness of the stone kept people cool when it was hot outside – and it was a bit more flexible in design and location than a cave.

Jump forward in time and you’ll find a modern cooling technique that was actually invented around the Egyptian’s golden age. Perhaps you’re familiar with the cooling technique of dampening a pillow case and putting it in front of a fan? The pillow case can also be replaced by a bucket of ice. The fan blows the icy fumes towards you. This cooling technique was first performed by the ancient Egyptians and adapted by the Romans, Greeks and Italians to cool the warm parts of their homes – of course, their “fans” were typically servants, but it was their idea first.

Then as architecture evolved into more of an art form, it gained some additional practical applications as well. For instance, archways, high ceilings, and large windows were all constructed so that outdoor breezes could be funneled in to create cross ventilation. Porches built in the shade also gave people a cool-off effect during the evening. Not only this but long ago, homeowners planted trees on the east and west sides of their home. Trees not only blocked the hot rays of the sun, but also cooled down breezes that came through the home. It’s so effective that this is still applied today.

Older homes, say a hundred years ago, had silver-metal or light-colored roofs made of lead tin or copper. These light colors reflected heat away from the home, which reduced the inside temperatures. Wind catchers, also known as towers that were built to catch strong desert winds, were also used along with high windows. The wind would be brought in by the open side of the tower and then funneled into the home, which later forced the warmed air inside, up and out the windows. This was prevalent in Persian architecture and is still be done today if you don’t have an AC unit. You can simply open windows on both the second and first floors, thereby forcing warm air to go up and out the windows on the second floor while drawing cool air in.

Speaking of windows, one of the greatest inventions of its time was the double-hung sash windows. These were windows that opened from the bottom or top. By opening the top sash, hot air near the ceiling could escape. Then, by opening the bottom sash – especially at night – cool air could flow inside. Also, at that time, long, thick draperies were used in the windows to keep out the heat. Without sacrificing light, homeowners would draw the drapes to keep a room cool; much like many do today by closing blinds in the heat of the day and opening them in the cool morning hours.


Modern Day Cooling

Closer to modern day, the invention of the fan provided quick relief from the heat. By placing a few fans strategically throughout a home, people could transform their warm home into a cool abode.

Without a fan, many people relied on deep eaves and porches to protect them from the heat. Not so long ago (say 50 or 60 years) many felt refreshed by simply sitting on their front porch.

In addition, some older homes built with sleeping porches, which were screened-in porches where one could sleep during the summer and protect them from bugs and other critters. Later, many in New York replaced this idea by sleeping on the fire escape when it was very hot.

The sweltering heat also caused movie-going to become quite a popular outing. Years ago, before air conditioning, many would go to their local movie theater because it was one of the few places that was air conditioned.


Air Conditioning Makes a Home, “Home”

So much of the motivation for our homes comes from having control over the temperature. It was a huge factor in determining where we live. Today, we have the benefit of numerous options to keep us cool.

Modern technology has provided us with air conditioning options that are both energy efficient and improve our indoor air quality. Heat pumps and ductless heat pumps not only provide cooling but provide year round air filtration and heating in the winter.

Ductless heat pumps are increasingly popular and kind of like todays “new window air conditioner”. They are less expensive than traditional heat pumps, do not need ductwork, are less expensive and can have different temperatures in each room controlled by a wireless remote.  The installation time is quick and ductless heat pumps provide energy savings as well as generous rebates and incentives from most utility companies.

Traditional heat pumps today are highly efficient and provide year round comfort with great air quality. Heat pumps displace the air around the house, so it’s much more balanced and comfortable throughout the space. And there are additional air filtration and UV light options that can improve indoor air quality even more.

So if you’re feeling your evolutionary urges kicking in, or wish to learn more about energy efficient options for air conditioning, then contact Entek for all your HVAC needs! We can consult, provide free in home estimates, clean and seal ducts, leak test your home, install, and even provide 24-hour emergency repair.