Monday, July 26, 2010

The Art of Sweltering

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


  1. When talking summer verses winter,I still hear people say: if you're cold you can put on more clothes but if you're hot there is only so much you can take off. How true! :) Autumn is my favorite season not only for the milder temps but also the colors of the leaves and even the smell of burning leaves. Which btw has almost been banned where I live. But that's a topic for another day...

  2. I'm with you, fall can't get here soon enough!

    Hope the a/c holds out!!

  3. I lived without ac in Hawaii for four years but we kept all the doors and windows open plus we had the trade winds. Today's neighborhoods don't allow for the air to flow through the houses. My sister keeps her house at 75 degrees and all her windows covered. I want the light in from outside I say make the windows heat resistant and turn the ac down and let the daylight into th ehouse :-). Autumn/fall is sad time for me because it means the end of another year. I like spring best.

  4. I don't know what I'd do without AC when it's 100 degrees outside! I've got things set at 74, but the finished basement is always about 68 and upstairs is about 82. We've got ceiling fans upstairs, which helps a lot. In fall and spring, I love to open windows. But when it's this toasty, I keep windows shut and blinds half-closed. Here's hoping all our ACs hold out through this long, hot summer!

  5. We're all a bunch of sissies. Wasn't all that long ago when no one had air conditioning. When I lived in Maryland with my husband's family, pregnant with my first, we sweltered. No ac, no swamp coolers, no fans--except the kind you held in your hand. Hot and humid--but we lived through it.

    I grew up in L.A., when it was hot, it was hot. As kids, if it was too hot we played in the sprinklers.

    When we drove through the San Joaquin Valley on our way to Bass Lake for vacations, we opened all the windows on the car and wondered why on earth anyone could live in such a hot place. (This is where I live now.)

    Don't wish your life away, youngsters. Fall will be here before you know it.