Warm Weather Approaches

We've had a very cool spring - I could hear the furnace kick on periodically well into April. As we got through May, however, things finally warmed up. Temperatures around these parts have stopped shy of the 90's so far, but we've had some solid mid-80° days.

Temperature control year round is an issue for our old house. We've talked quite a bit here about taking measures - some more successful than others - to manage the cold. Hot weather is also a challenge, though less-so than winter.

We do have central air conditioning. This was something that we had installed by the second year or so that we lived here. My grandparents did not have it, and my uncle will tell sad stories of summer nights in his bedroom just wishing that his sister - my mother - would open up her bedroom door so that the southern breeze entering her room could be shared across the hallway into his.

As I understand the story, she never gave in, selfishly hoarding the refreshing summer breeze to herself; The story, at least, as my uncle tells it.

While we have the central air available, however, we use it sparingly. It gets hot here now, and it also got hot back in the 1860's, when the house was built. With the absence of technological interventions like air conditioning, they employed other strategies to keep the building relatively cool. Those strategies, and the support systems for them, still work today.

Most of this involves keeping the house closed up. Part of this is focused on making sure all windows and doors are sealed during the part of the day in which the outside air is warmer than the inside air. Having it sealed prevents temperature exchange, and the inside will stay much cooler than one would expect without the help of AC.

Another part of being closed up refers to covering windows - particularly those facing south and west. This decreases heat gain from sunlight, keeping rooms that would otherwise be scorching hot from reaching those temperatures and sharing them with the rest of the building. You can see this strategy employed in one of the few very old pictures of the house that we have:

Shutters are Closed

If you look closely you will see that this picture - clearly taken in the daylight in summer - shows that every window has shutters on it, and every shutter is closed. They were external shutters, in this case, which also had the benefit of protecting the glass in high winds. A few of those shutters are still around, incidentally. My grandfather repurposed some of them into use on the enclosed porch windows (the windows were also repurposed from the old bay window that was taken out - the shutters covered the bay windows as well), and into a closet door. Others are out in the shed, far the worse for wear. I'd love someday to be able to use them as a template for new versions, though that's far down the list.

The final part of the strategy for staying cool is something I am thankful my ancestors took care of for me: shade.

We have very large trees to the south and west of the house, planted by enterprising relatives likely both to cool the building and protect it from the wind. It's a gift that just keeps on giving.

To be clear, we still give in and kick the AC on when the weather gets too hot, and particularly when it gets too humid. While I love the care and attention that my ancestors paid to keeping the house cool, that love only goes so far on a 98° day with 95% humidity.