Our readers’ turn: Keeping old homes cool without AC

(Image: City of Boston Archives via CC. Cropped from original.)

People clearly have a passion for old homes. Our recent post on “How homes kept cool before the age of AC” was very popular. It inspired hundreds to share their experiences and know-how, including telling us about some cooling features of older homes that we’d missed.

Here’s a sample of the best and most interesting comments (some are lightly edited):

Many wrote about features designed to help airflow.

“Some homes were built with a large central cupola, allowing hot air to rise up the center of the house and bring in cooler air through lower floor windows.”
—Barry W.
“I lived in a house built in 1901 … a wall was built into a bay window to put beds out into the breezes. This was in south Texas, where it stays hot.”
—Bobby B.
“From 1993 to 2006 we lived in a 1906 ‘dog-trot’ farmhouse … with a wide open hallway from front to back …. The term ‘breezeway’ is a more modern word. These dog-trot farmhouses were built to allow the moist, cool air to flow through.”
—Jonell H.


“I grew up in Central Texas, in a home built in about 1846. We did not get air conditioning units in the windows until the late 1960s. One feature of older homes not mentioned (in the original post) is that all the windows and doors lined up from one side of the house to the other so there was cross-ventilation.”


“Many houses in my city have south and east facing doors in the front that empty out through open rooms to doors in the back, creating airflow through the house …. There’s a clear line of sight through the house if all the doors are open …. I live in Louisiana and these throughways are common architectural features in older homes.”
—Yah Yah


Several mentioned clever tricks homeowners used to stay cool.

 “(I) toured an old mansion in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. They used part of the basement for the ice house (a storage room for ice, common before refrigeration). In the summer they opened a vent in the parlor. Simply brilliant!”

—Doreen P.
“We lived in a two-story home. All the windows in the upstairs would be open. There was a window in the hallway and in that we put a fan facing out. To avoid having cool air pulled up from downstairs, my father put a door at the head of the stairs. This worked quite well!”
 —Kathy R.
“Most likely you will need to add rat sills (bottom plate of a wall frame) to prevent air from being drawn through the walls from beneath the house.”
—Priscilla R.


Shading was important.

 “We lived in Minnesota on the Canadian border. It gets hot and humid in mid- to late-summer. But it usually cooled off significantly overnight. My grandmother and mother would open up all windows overnight and blow in as much of that air as possible with fans, then shut the windows in early morning and pull the shades down. That, coupled with the shade of large oak and elm trees around the house kept it nicely cool all day long. Ahhhh…”

—Trish L.

“You omitted awnings. My grandmother had these put up each summer.”
“I spent my childhood years in a two-story house (built in 1903) with a full basement and third floor attic, and there were huge elm trees along the sidewalk. My parents installed a huge window fan in the attic that pulled cool air up through the house. Dutch Elm disease destroyed all the shade trees in the 1970s … about that time, people installed air conditioners and stayed inside. That changed neighborhood life.”
—Kathleen R.


And, when all else failed … people just dealt with the heat.

 “We lived in a one story home with lots of windows …. It had fans and a window fan in the living room. We bathed in the summer two to three times a day! Your body adjusted to the heat. And, you sweated a lot!”

—Joan F.  

Whether “home” is a 19th century Victorian … a 21st century contemporary … a Texas “dog trot” farmhouse … or anything in between, going solar can help you save energy and money year-round. Modern solar panels are designed to work with all architectural styles and roof types. And with SolarCity, installation and maintenance are affordable and easy.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *