Historic Ways to Cool a House

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Air conditioning has become such an integral part of our lives; it’s hard to imagine getting by without it – but that’s just what people did for the vast majority of human existence. So how did your great grandparents keep cool? Homes were designed a whole lot differently before the advent of AC. Clever architectural features that optimized cooling were a part of home blueprints, and this kept home occupants more comfortable than you might think.

Bright Roofs

If you’ve ever worn a black shirt on a hot day, you know that things can get toasty rather quickly. Buildings work the same way. Today, most homes have dark-colored shingles that absorb the sunlight, because other forms of insulation mitigate the heat. Before modern homebuilding techniques, a home’s roof color served a purpose: reflect the sunlight and keep the interior comfortable. Think of it as a reverse solar panel. These roofs did the trick and served as a protective shell for the home.

High Ceilings

If you ever visit a home that’s over a century old, the high ceilings might be one of the first things you notice. No, people weren’t taller in the olden days; they just knew the benefits of towering rooms. There’s a reason your basement feels so much cooler than your attic when the air conditioning isn’t running – heat, like mercury in the summer, rises. This is a fact of life that your ancestors had to deal with on a daily basis. To account for rising heat, they built homes with tall ceilings, so they could spend their time in the lower part of a room, while the hot air stayed up above their heads.

Big, Open Windows 

Today, homebuyers desire big windows because they let plenty of light into the home. Generations ago, the reasoning for this design element was completely different. During the summer months, people kept their windows open, especially on the top floor and in the basement. Instead of an advanced HVAC unit, people relied on gusty days to push comfortable air through their homes. The weather had much more of a direct effect on people’s daily lives. Airflow was always a welcome guest on hot and humid days, and large open windows served as an invitation for gentle breezes.


A far cry from the four-season air-conditioned porches of the modern age, the porches of yesteryear were often a necessity – and they served dual purposes – keeping people cool and providing an entertainment area for guests. It was often expected to spend summer evenings socializing with neighbors on cozy porches. Because smartphones were still a long ways off, a holler to passersby on the sidewalk served the same purpose as a text message invitation. When it was time to hit the hay, many people spent their summer nights dozing off in this airy part of the home. With almost all the benefits of a patio, and none of the bugs, porches were the ideal place to unwind after a long day. It’s no wonder that wrap around porches were a common sight nearly 100 years ago.

As technology improves over time, so does home comfort. If your ancestors were to walk into your home today, they would probably wonder what kind of magic is making the air so cool. When you really think about the technology, it’s pretty amazing that humans can alter their environments to create comfortable temperatures. The conveniences we enjoy today are the results of relatively recent engineering breakthroughs. Air conditioning has changed the way we live – and the way we build homes. Wondering how to get the most out of your home cooling? Check out our FAQ page and see what you can do to create a more comfortable home.

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