As I look at my checkbook balance and see how much money I spent last week to keep my central air conditioning working, I wonder how people throughout the ages dealt with excessive heat and humidity without the benefit of electricity and Freon.
No, I'm not going to research the history of the modern a/c unit. I think it's enough to note that homeowners survived without it until the last 50 years or so. How? Last week, I only managed one hot night in my home after the a/c stopped.
The fan motor on my outside a/c unit died at noon on a Sunday. I stayed that night with my parents, enjoying their air conditioning. The next day I reclaimed my home and scheduled a visit from my a/c repair guy. He couldn't come immediately, so I used fans and made a panicked run to Lowes for a portable a/c unit. But these were only stopgap measures until my a/c repair guy could ride in on his white horse (okay Ford F-150 truck) to save the day.
But what if I couldn't have afforded the repair? What then? Why is a/c so vital now? Our grandparents grew up and survived without indoor air conditioning. What's changed? Is it because of global warming? Is it that much hotter now? Maybe. But I suspect it's more about the way buildings are designed, our proximity to our neighbors, the concrete surrounding us, and the lack of trees.
My house, built in the late 1940s with an addition tacked on in the 1970s, is close to other houses on either side. I have a very deep backyard, but not much yard on the sides. This means that if I open my windows, I have little chance of catching a breeze. I have windows on the front of my house, but the air that manages to trickle in from there, is superheated from all the concrete streets and driveways. And the backyard, where I have trees and grass, no windows on that side of the house. I think the builders were more concerned with keeping the north side sealed up and warm. They succeeded. A couple of years ago, when I had no electricity during a two week period after an ice storm, no pipes froze.
Last week when I had no a/c, the outside temps were hovering around 100 F with very high humidity levels. The temperature inside the house, before the fans and portable a/c began combating the heat, reached a sweltering 90 F with a 70 percent humidity level. (Note: I prefer an inside temperature of 70 F year round, so 90 F inside was miserable.)
I think differently about my home when the electricity is off, when the heating/cooling systems are off-line, when the cable (tv, phone, internet) is on the fritz. It feels like a betrayal. Almost like the building is a living, breathing entity that's failed to live up to my expectations. Very disappointing. I'm sure this relationship will work itself out, but right now ... sigh.
My a/c is again pumping out cool air, although struggling around 3 p.m. when the heat index is the worst. I hold my breath when the temps in the house start to rise, fearful that the overtaxed unit will die again. Around 8 p.m. the unit catches up and all is well, but it's hard to rebuild trust.
Fall weather can't come too soon for me.
aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David