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living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

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living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby kappydell » Fri Jul 24, 2015 4:56 am

So many folks are using their air conditioners again that we lost power for a bit tonight. That reminded me to write down about how life was before air conditioning was available for houses. Now it is uncommon for someone not to have it, and I do like having it, but since no power = no air conditioning it is good to know the old timey ways and means of how to live in 90+ degree heat and still get done what needs doing.

1. Clothing: naked is not cooler, and you will just get a bad sunburn and lots of big bites (just look at an episode of Naked and Afraid for proof). Loose is cooler, white reflects the heat and does not attract those evil 'skeeters' quite so much as dark, tight clothing.

It was a staple of my childhood wardrobe to have a loose fitting, long sleeved, white, man's shirt, preferably 100% cotton. Get a really big one, the cheap ones nowdays shrink the first time you wash them in hot water. If you cant find cotton, get as high a percentage of cotton as you can. The long sleeves are for sunburn protection (I also grew up before sunblock was readily available) and loose ones are easily rolled up or down as needed.

Pair with with a loose pair of shorts if you want tan legs. Culottes are even cooler as they are looser. The coolest skirts are circle or half-circle skirts. They also allow better freedom of movement if you are physically active. Again, white is coolest, but if you are like me white pants or skirts get dirty very fast so I often substitute khaki in a light weight fabric. Elastic or drawstring waists will hold things up without a heavy, hot (and often chafing) belt.

Get a broad brimmed hat - preferably straw with some vent holes in it. Yes, it is a little more awkward than a baseball cap, but you will adjust to it, and you will get much better sun protection. I have known a commercial fisherman now for years who has no ears - lost them to skin cancer because he favored baseball caps over brimmed hats. And the wider the brim the better - think african hunter, or frontier farmer hats, not boonie hats (though I like them for rainy places....) If you can find a genuine farm store they often sell them. If you want a more feminine look, ladies, tie a pretty scarf around it for a hat band. Sunbonnets will keep the sun off but range of vision is more sharply curtailed, and they are much hotter than a good straw hat. I have sought out sewing patterns for broad brimmed hats in case it is necessary to make my own - but not everybody knows how to sew.

Sturdy shoes with hard soles for when you are walking around in places other than your own property (presuming that you know what is in your grass). We had sandals for dress up but always wore hard soled regular shoes (lace up styles, buckles are flimsy nowdays) for working in the field, shop, or anywhere where you could find surprises lurking in the grass. Snake boots are hot but a must for me in poisonous snake territory. You will adapt.

2. Use the circadian rhythms of the day intelligently. There is a reason why a siesta is traditional in hot countries - the work is done in the early morning, before the full heat of the sun ramps up, and after things cool a bit in the afternoon. Though I grew up in Wisconsin, not Mexico, we did the same. The field work was for the morning. It was common knowledge that the sun would burn you worse between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm, so around then you would knock off the outdoor work and find something to do in the shade - husking corn for canning, or the like. Laundry was a good job - working with the water was cooling and so was hanging out the clothes (that evaporating water just made the whole clothesline area cooler). If your summer kitchen was not outdoors, you would save the kitchen heating canning action for after sunset.

You did as much as possible outside - foods during hot spells were grilled outdoors to keep from heating up the kitchen, or were made ahead the evening before (after dinner when it was cooler) and refrigerated/chilled/kept in a cold place for the next day. A favorite meal in the heat of the summer was sweet corn (roasted outside) and watermelon (because they were all too big to keep refrigerated for the next day). Refrigerator space was kept for milk, butter, and the like, and it was at a premium. Ice cream was a big treat for the same reason. Look in the old cookbooks and you will see many of them address the 'problem' of hot weather meals. I remember summer kitchens - separate buildings with lots of windows - where food was cooked and canning was done, so as not to heat up the main house and make it too hot to sleep.

3. That brings us to sleeping. No air conditioning? We slept on porches (if you had one, and hopefully it was screened). We slept in basements (naturally much cooler than the upper house). I even had a chair in the root cellar in one old house, big enough to sleep in if it got really hot. Even a bunk-tent was cooler than the big house. Remember awnings? They are beginning to pop up again as a good way to keep the heat of the sun from your windows. They were all over the place before air conditioning became common. You could sleep under those, too. Mosquitoes were controlled by keeping sources of water (the water barrels) covered or cleaned up so they had no place to reproduce. Citronella candles repelled them from sitting areas, and sleeping areas alike, but you had to remember to put them out when you went to sleep. Since temperatures often cool off at night the natural 'air conditioning' was treasured. Shades and curtains kept closed in the daytime to keep sun and heat out were thrown open at night if there was any breeze at all.

And if all else failed, remember that a cool pillow and sheets help you go back to sleep - we just got up for about 15 min, had a cool drink of water, or wiped off with a warm washcloth, and the bed was cooled down again. In the morning, when you made the bed, you first aired it out (to get out any perspiration moisture) then dusted it with baby powder (lightly) to smooth and soothe the sleep the next night.

4. Water was critical - to hydrate and cool your person. You can still purchase crockery water coolers to keep it readily available (nice if you have to pump it up out of a well). Water is still the premier cooling drink; after all your body evolved to use it effectively. Sugared drinks were 'heating' and saved for parties and special days (who else remembers popcorn and koolade for a sunday afternoon treat?

A good kerchief (not those dinky bandannas, but ones twice as big) were popular neckwear, not just for mopping a brow (though they did that very well) but for wetting down to help keep the neck cool. A cool neck meant a cooler head (by cooling the jugular veins) and many folks wore them on their heads wetted down to help cool down.

And for the ultimate cool-down, it is hard to beat a swim. My folks on the hottest days, took the family out in the evening for a swim (the local pool had family hours from 7 to 8 pm, to encourage adults to come swim and control their offspring) knowing that the cooling effect would last all night and every one would sleep better.

Before the pool opened, the nearby beach (well, only 8 miles down the road) was a common destination after the morning labor was done, between 10 and 2 pm it was very nice to take a dip before going home to start up the grill for dinner. The cool down did much to dispel the 'hot weather crankies'.

So there you have the skinny on what life was like before air conditioning was common. Living that way is not unpleasant, just different. Who knows, as the power prices keep escalating I may re-institute more and more of those old timey cooling tricks just to afford the power to the fridge running.

And please, no cracks about 'you can get on a program for that' or 'you can get (this or that) for free'. It ain't free, somebody pays for it, and I don't think that picking someone else's pocket for my comfort or convenience is neighborly OR ethical.
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby Stahlrosen » Fri Jul 24, 2015 6:02 am

We haven't had air conditioning at the house in town for 20 years or so. You adapt. Fortunately that house does have a lot of shade. And I do have a wide brimmed hat, but it is banded with a copperhead skin I killed :)
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby oldasrocks » Fri Jul 24, 2015 6:38 am

Here in Missouri I would die without AC. The humidity level is the killer. Back in Colorado I could live without it.
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby toxoph » Fri Jul 24, 2015 7:09 am

Here in S FL it would be extremely difficult, we AC 8-10 months a year, yes the old timers did it but the house construction was a lot different than the caves we live in now. Condos would be nearly unlivable.

We have no basements, most have no or small porches unlike the old cracker homes that had full wrap-around porches, they also had high windows that opened to extract heat.

Only the tough lived in S FL in the old days, our population would decrease significantly
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby mmpaints » Fri Jul 24, 2015 9:53 am

southern illinois. humidity is often 90%+ no a/c is sometimes nasty, especially when you live in a tin can where the windows only open knee high. Eh, more than 10 years without now, I'm still living.
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby Pedro wyoming » Fri Jul 24, 2015 10:46 am

Central Wyoming at 7000'...
Last night lows were in the mid 50s humidity 37%
One window fan and one ceiling fan for a few hours after sunset and whole house was 65F. Daytime highs will be in the low 90s and the house will be up to 75F by sunset when i do it all over again. No need for A/C. EVER LOL

Summers are like Tatooine, winters are like planet Hoth however..

Cant have it all i guess.

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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby kappydell » Fri Jul 24, 2015 11:52 am

yep, few modern homes are built with any consideration to air flow. in Florida I'd have to sleep in a tent since basements do not exist in many areas, and yep, those cracker houses' porches are a throwback to the non-AC past....I like the all around the house porch, it allows one to have windows open in the rain and gives the little fellas a place to play - out of the house - in inclement weather. It isnt for nothing that many of those porches were tricked out like living areas - day beds (could be used as couches for sitting, or beds for sleeping), cooking areas, and even washing machines were often kept out on the porch. Add a evaporation cooler in a shady spot with a breeze, and you would have a mighty inviting place.....

Such a pity that so many would suffer...
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby condomain » Fri Jul 24, 2015 1:35 pm

Humidity is a big concern. Anything above 70 and it is very hard to cool using evaporative methods and your sweat won't evaporate either.

Google YouTube for various DIY cooler rigs you can make with 5 gallon buckets and ice, or just evaporative coolers. You can power a small fan using solar.
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby Blazer2 » Fri Jul 24, 2015 4:06 pm

One can do it if they put there mind to it. After some time you will not need it.
can i live with out it yes. would i want to nope.
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby msdeltamom » Fri Jul 24, 2015 5:02 pm

I probably *could*, but I definitely wouldn't like it. Not one bit. The real feel has been 108 here this week. AC is the thing I would definitely miss the most if SHTF.
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby Grizbrb » Fri Jul 24, 2015 5:51 pm

Having lived in middle Tn. For the last 20 years without it , I can say no big deal . Don't need it. We haven't even turned on fans this year . I Will say one thing though I I can't wear a hat in the summer . It only makes me hotter .
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby ColoradoPrepper » Fri Jul 24, 2015 6:06 pm


Living without air conditioning can be dangerous for the elderly and others with medical issues and can lead to heat stroke.

There is no reason to live without air conditioning.

If you get a fan that is battery powered or have access to solar power, this can save a life.

There are ice makers that work on solar and I am sure someone can find some that work on battery power or other sources if going outdoors is not possible for some reason.

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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby daaswampman » Fri Jul 24, 2015 6:19 pm

It would be difficult for most. I built my new home with this in mind. Open the French Doors on both sides and you have a dog trot with high ceilings and large covered porches. Opp's we call them lanais now or something like that. And horrors of horrors, don't call it a dog trot, it is an open floor plan! God pity those in the brick boxes, apartments, trailers, and townhouses. Swamp
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby PatrioticStabilist » Fri Jul 24, 2015 7:51 pm

I grew up without it, folks didn't put it in till I my dad passed away. They had it in the kitchen is all. The first thing mom did when
dad passed away was get central air. This was in the 70's.

Our house has tons of windows on both sides they are on north and south side, nice breeze but when the humidity is high that
doesn't matter. It is just miserable.

But you learn to make do. Probably the sweating kept us thin, run some fans all the time that helps. I hope I never have to
give it up.
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Re: living without air conditioning - could you handle it?

Postby MrDanB » Fri Jul 24, 2015 8:59 pm

Never had AC here in Seattle. No need I suppose. In the last few summers, we have had some 90-100f days. People were running around half naked mumbling.lol I DID go buy a tornado fan a few weeks back and it works well enough for me. MOST homes here in the NW have no AC. Some upgrade to central air, but far and away it's the exception, not the norm...
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