Life Before Air Conditioning

June 29th, 2016 by admin

The indoors are an excellent place to retreat from the heat during the summer months, but this hasn’t always been the case. Before the advent of air conditioning in the early 1900s, people had to find creative ways to keep cool when the weather was hot.

Building Design

Many old buildings were designed specifically to help people stay comfortable. Brick and stone structures mimicked the geothermal properties of caves. Thick walls to kept the sun out and the cool air in. Today, air conditioning allows us to build out of lighter, cheaper materials like steel and glass, but older buildings needed to be well insulated to stay cool.

Design elements in and around these buildings were also incorporated with warm weather in mind. High ceilings in many homes and buildings meant that the hot air could rise, while the lower floors remained comfortable.

Tall, thin windows also encouraged airflow without letting in too much sunlight, helping to keep people cool. This effect can be reproduced today by opening your windows when the weather is cooler, but shutting them and closing your curtains when the temperature climbs.

Shade and Trees

Shade trees were often planted to the East and West of buildings to help block the sun from entering homes. Southern plantation homes are well known for their use of trees to shade their houses and lanes from the hot sun. Planting trees or decorative plants strategically around your house is a great way to replicate this practice and keep cool.

Porches, Verandas, Fire Escapes

Even with these techniques to keep buildings cool, the indoors often became unbearably stuffy and hot, so people moved outside. Many houses had porches where people could sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze, while socializing with their neighbors.

In the cities, many people slept on fire escapes when the nights became too warm. These outdoor spaces gave those who lived in small apartments a chance to stay comfortable at night.


Sleeping wasn’t just reserved for night time. Taking naps during the hottest part of the day was popular in the American south, and the idea of the “siesta” still persists in many hotter parts of the world.

Other Unique Ideas

People had other, more inventive ways of staying cool before air conditioning was made widely accessible. One popular strategy was to hang wet sheets or clothes in doorways to cool down the incoming air. Some wealthier people even imported snow and ice from colder regions to keep their homes cool, or make refreshing a cold dessert like ice cream.

Though we now have the technology to stay comfortable year round, we can still use some of these strategies to cool off during the summer months. Many of these tips will help you save money on your energy bill, by making it less necessary to use your air conditioner.
Additionally, if your air conditioning system has failed, these are all great ways to beat the heat while you wait for a technician to arrive. Contact us at JK Mechanical for more information on the air conditioning services we offer.

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