How homes kept cool before the age of AC

By SolarCity

July 22, 2015

5361393892_874e28ce6b_oImage: Green Connections via CC 

The modern air conditioner was invented only in the 1920s, and it didn’t become a common home feature until the latter half of the 20th century.

But, while some of us might wonder how our grandparents survived hot and steamy summers, the fact is those older homes had a few tricks up their sleeves. They were designed and built with features to help them stay cool without AC. 

Mary Wheeler Schap is a registered architect who designs and restores historic buildings to their former glory in Cincinnati, Ohio. She offered this expert insight into the features that made older homes livable in the heat.



In northern states, it was common to create a “stack effect” by opening windows in the basement and top floor. This generated a cool breeze through the house. Further south, before AC many homes were built on blocks, allowing breezes to flow underneath and help keep them cool all summer long.


Tall ceilings

Ceilings as high as 10, 12 and even 14 feet were common in older homes. As heat rose to the ceiling, lower areas stayed cool and comfortable. Ceiling fans—powered by electricity or elaborate rope systems—also facilitated air movement.



A transom—a small window over a door—allowed warmer air at the ceiling to circulate up to higher floors, providing more air movement throughout the house. Transoms over exterior doors often had hinges and special hardware. This allowed easy access to open and close, helping create airflow while still providing security.


Large windows

Many older and historic homes had large, double-hung windows. Opening the top sash would allow hot air near the ceiling to escape. Opening the bottom sash, especially at night, allowed cool air to flow inside. Rooms had many windows, some as large as doors. Thick, long draperies were often used in these large windows to keep out the heat. People would “draw the drapes” to help keep a room cool without sacrificing light.



Wraparound porches offered shade from the direct sun while still allowing light to pour through windows. Screened and furnished sleeping porches were also very common. People would sleep outside to catch the cool breeze of the summer night without all the bugs. Many believed that fresh air had health benefits.


Reflective roofs

Many older homes had light-colored or silver-metal roofs made of lead, tin or copper. This was a great way to reflect heat away from the home to reduce interior temperatures. It’s quite a contrast to today’s dark asphalt shingles that can absorb a lot of the sun’s rays.


Thick walls

If you could afford them, thick brick masonry or stone walls were a great insulator and kept homes cool before AC. Walls 12 to 24 inches thick were common in the Deep South, blocking the heat from the inside as the day wore on, and providing some warmth as the evening chill set in. 


Here’s an expert tip: If you own or are considering buying a house built before the age of air conditioning, Mary recommends contacting an architect or energy advisor who focuses on historic homes: “An hour or two walk-through can help you identify a home’s potential for energy savings. He or she can even help you find ways to preserve the ‘look’ of an older home using modern, energy-efficient materials.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also offers some energy tips for owners of historic homes.

And, regardless of your home’s vintage, you can save money on electricity to power a modern cooling system by going solar. Solar panels can complement any home’s architectural style. And SolarCity makes installation and ownership a snap.

Stay Current: Our Top Solar Links

By SolarCity

July 17, 2015


We’re all about saving you energy, so we’ve rounded up the latest in solar so you don’t have to. 

Three cheers for summer: the last of the snow from Boston’s record-breaking winter finally melted this week, says Time.

The White House announced plans to put more solar on low-income housing and expand access to solar power for renters, CNN Money reports.

Meanwhile, MSNBC takes a look at the fastest growing source of electricity in America: the sun.

Why is a Japanese tech company turning golf courses into solar energy farms? The Christian Science Monitor has details.

According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, Africans believe climate change is the top threat facing the continent – more so than economic instability or terrorism.

Speaking of climate change, Bill Nye (‘The Science Guy’) explains the subject in a language we can all understand: emoji.

Modernize Your Home with Solar

By SolarCity

July 15, 2015

The top four states with the highest number of homebuyers include Florida, California, Texas and Arizona. It’s no coincidence that these states also happen to have more than 200 days of sun every year. In May 2015, California’s median home price increased nearly one percent, making it the highest since November 2007. Combine high selling prices with the fact that California is a top solar state and you could be looking at a homeowner’s dream. California had enough solar power systems installed in 2014 that it could power more than a million homes.

Cost savings and environmental benefits are two reasons why solar is becoming more mainstream, but a big concern of homeowners is what the panels will look like on their homes.


An innovative look

Open an issue of Better Homes and Gardens and you’re bound to see trending articles on home efficiency, eco-friendly properties and tech-inspired upgrades. Solar, like any other technological invention, has come a long way since the first photovoltaic (PV) cell was created in 1954. Today’s panels offer next-level PV mounting technology that not only reduces installation time to less than a day, but also improves safety and aesthetics.

Solar panels can be placed on all types of surfaces. For example, homeowners with roofs made out of shingle, tile, wood and metal can still reap the benefits of going solar. Roof angles are no longer a challenge for installation teams because even if a roof is flat, inclined or steep there is a solar panel for that. 

Panels are even looking different than 20 years ago. Modern solar panels blend right into the roof of your home. Some offer a low-profile design and front trims that have fewer contact points, minimizing the impact on your home. Solar panels often protect your roof from high wind, hail and heavy rain. 


Added efficiency

Solar panels have also gotten more efficient with improvements made to numerous production-based materials. Copper-based electrodes replaced costly silver paste when the cost of silver increased in 2011 due to a shortage. Typical solar panels use silicon to capture sunlight, but that material can be expensive. While using plastic in conventional rooftop systems can be less effective, scientists believe they have discovered a new arrangement of solar cell ingredients. The new discovery could make low-cost solar panels more efficient, and since they are low-cost, available to even more homeowners.


Join the solar movement

If an innovative look and home efficiency don’t persuade you to switch to solar, maybe fame, fortune and Pinterest will. Solar is a home accessory, just like a new stainless steel appliance, and many homeowners are proud of their step towards going green. Celebrities including Brangelina, Johnny Depp and Julia Roberts have installed solar panels on their homes. President Obama has solar panels installed on the White House in support of various grassroots organizations. The solar community is still growing, which makes it a great time for homeowners to join the solar movement.

Home hacks: 7 tips to stay cool and give your air conditioner a break

By SolarCity

July 10, 2015

When the temperature spikes, many of us crank up the air conditioner without a second thought … until the electricity bill arrives. The good news is that many of your home’s standard energy efficient features can help you stay cool—cheaply—by aiding ventilation and preventing unnecessary heating.

So give your air conditioner a break this summer, and try out one or more of these energy saving tips.


1. Get more out of your double-hung windows

Double hung windows—the kind that open at both the top and bottom—don’t just look nice. They’re designed to boost ventilation and energy conservation. Open the lower sashes on side of the house facing the breeze, and the upper sashes on the side away from the breeze. This will bring in cool air, while forcing warm, stale air to rise and exit.


2. Set your ceiling fans correctly

Ceiling fans are made to operate differently based on the season. Look for the switch that changes the spin direction—you’ll find it on the fan’s body, and it might have a pull chain. Set the fan to spin counterclockwise in the summer to blow air downward and create a breeze. Set it to clockwise in the winter to help circulate the warm air near the ceiling.


3. Circulate the air in your basement

Here’s an energy saving tip to help you move some of that cool air sitting in your basement into other areas of the house. To start, open one window in the basement. Then open one window on the top floor, as far as possible from the basement, and set a fan in that window blowing out. Make sure all other windows are shut, and open all the interior doors. This will create a flow that draws the air out of the basement, circulates it throughout the house, and forces warm air out the open top-floor window.


4. Switch your thermostat to the “on” mode

Your thermostat has an “on” and “auto” setting for your air conditioner’s fan. The “on” setting will run the fan continuously, regardless of whether the air conditioner is cooling the air. The benefit of “on” is that it can help circulate air sitting in cooler areas of the house. Experts, including our friends at Nest, recommend using “on” for limited periods to prevent drawing moisture back into the house and unnecessarily running a 300-500 watt appliance.


5. Replace incandescent light bulbs

Not only do CFLs and LEDs conserve more energy than standard incandescent bulbs, they give off less heat. One study measured an incandescent bulb surface at 327 degrees Fahrenheit—heat that’s radiated into the room—compared to 167 degrees for a CFL and 107 degrees for an LED.


6. Run your whole-house fan

When installed and used properly, a whole-house fan can help cool your home and reduce reliance on air conditioning. After the sun goes down and the outdoor temperature cools, open your windows and run the fan. It’ll draw in cool air and push out warm air through vents in the attic. When the house has cooled, shut off the fan and close the windows to keep that cool air in. 


7. Put your window treatments to work

Your window treatments are another ally in managing your home’s temperature. Close interior drapes and blinds during the day. To get some natural light benefit, set horizontal slats to redirect sunlight to the ceiling, where it’s diffused without heat or glare. If you have retractable exterior awnings, make sure you lower them in the summer. 

Staying cool in your home doesn’t have to mean putting your air conditioner through its paces. With a little know-how, you can get a lot of cooling benefit from your home’s energy efficient features.


For more information on how to make your home more energy efficient, click here.

A Solar Revolution

By SolarCity

July 04, 2015


100,000 Solar Ambassadors are helping us change the way we power our country.

We began the SolarCity power revolution nine years ago today.

An idea imagined during a cross-desert drive started to become a reality, as SolarCity was founded on July 4, 2006.

Those nine years have brought some accomplishments that we’re very proud of.

From just two employees in California, we’ve grown exponentially. We recently hired our 12,000th employee, and entered our 18th state. Our grassroots independent Solar Ambassador program, which empowers people to help us promote our mission, recently topped 100,000 members. This has helped us maintain our position as the number one provider of rooftop solar in the United States.


Putting our growth in context

All this has happened in the context of something much bigger… a solar revolution. Americans now recognize there’s a better way to power our country than expensive, dirty, fossil fuels.

According to our 2015 homeowners survey, 87 percent of respondents said renewable energy is an important part of the country’s future. Solar was the most favored source.

Americans aren’t just talking about it. GTM Research announced that in the first quarter of 2015, 51 percent of new, electric-generating capacity in the United States came from solar. There’s now enough installed solar capacity—21.3 gigawatts—to power 4.3 million American homes.


Fostering the solar revolution

Our mission is to “accelerate the mass adoption of clean energy.” That means more than just installing solar panels on rooftops, it’s why you see us continuing to foster the solar revolution.

In recent months:

We’ve announced a community solar program. It gives renters, schools, and municipalities a chance to buy renewable energy without installing solar panels on their property. 

We announced a turnkey battery backup service—featuring our sister company Tesla’s revolutionary Powerwall storage device. The service is designed to provide more reliable power to solar customers during grid outages. 

We introduced MyPower, a first-of-its-kind financing option. It helps solar customers who want to own their system enjoy both a low upfront cost and prompt utility savings.

We’ve continued construction of a one-million-square-foot solar panel factory in Buffalo, NY. When it opens next year, it’ll be the largest solar factory in North America.


Become a Solar Ambassador

As we celebrate SolarCity’s ninth birthday—and our country’s 239th—we offer a sincere thank you to our customers, Solar Ambassadors, employees and supporters. None of this—neither our growth as a company, nor the growth of the solar revolution—would be happening without you.

We invite you to join us. You can become a Solar Ambassador whether or not you’re a SolarCity customer. You’ll enjoy some great advantages —including a $250 reward for referring friends to SolarCity.

In fact, this is the perfect time to join us. Now through Labor Day (September 7), every one of your referrals that goes through site survey get you an entry into our “Win Solar for Life” sweepstakes. So sign up today.

About This Blog

SolarCity's mission is to accelerate the mass adoption of clean energy. Follow solar’s progress here.

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