Is there any better feeling than stepping into a wonderfully cooled home on a hot Southwest Florida afternoon? That blast of cool air can instantly erase any memory of the scorching heat outside and transport you to a world of comfort and relief. Air conditioning has become such a central part of our lives we sometimes forget that affordable A/C is a relatively new amenity. So what did people do before the air conditioner became commonplace?
In the days prior to air conditioning, architecture was the key to keeping cool when temperatures were on the rise. In ancient Rome, affluent citizens had their homes built with pipes running through the walls. Water would be run through these pipes from the aqueducts and the result was a cooling effect on the home. Another popular way to cool a building was introduced in medieval Persia and was known as a “wind tower” or “wind catcher.” The wind tower was a vertical extension on a building with strategically placed windows and vents designed to draw the cooler wind down into the dwellings. These features were not only effective but visually stunning as well.
Architecture and home design were used to keep homes and their residents cool in more modern times as well. A common practice that can be seen in many older homes, particularly those in the south, was to build them with very high ceilings. The high ceilings would allow hot air to rise, letting the cooler air settle down lower. Window placement also played a key factor in keeping the heat manageable. Windows were purposefully placed in homes to minimize sun exposure when the sun’s rays were at their strongest. Small windows would be placed above doors to allow the hot air to vent from the room. This practice was particularly popular in large buildings, like schools.
This final method of keeping cool blended home design with a way of life. Although today we think of the porch as a nice add-on to be enjoyed when the weather is nice, prior to air conditioning, the porch was an integral part of life. The porch gave homeowners an escape from the stuffy confines of the indoors. While the temperature was almost always the same on the porch as it was inside, the outdoors allowed fresh air and gentle breezes to offer relief from the oppressive heat. Planting trees near the porch offered additional shading.
Humans have always been trying to find an escape from sweltering summer temperatures. From ancient Rome to the Middle East to our own back yard, different methods and technologies have focused on bringing a bit of comfort to all of those facing the heat. So the next time you walk into a perfectly cooled room, remember the thousands of years of history it took to get this point!