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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Air Conditioning and Grand Hotels



In the days before air conditioning it was common practice for the well off to spend summer in the mountains. Grand hotels were built to cater to those escaping the heat of Boston and New York. New Hampshire doesn't have as many of them as in the days of old, but some still remain. Others either burned down, were left to decay, or were stripped for their materials. Part of my house is built from lumber that came from such a hotel.

When air conditioning became common those hotels had to reinvent themselves to stay in business. Just having a big shady porch exposed to mountain breezes was no longer enough.

With our rickety grid a good heat wave could fail from increased AC demand. Cooling takes an awful lot of electricity. There would be more totally off grid houses in the south if it wasn't for the demands of AC.

Houses in the south used to be built to maximize cooling, with large tall windows and good cross ventilation. The humble “shotgun shack” was built with open air flow in mind. Even with good design, there's only so much that can be with natural cooling. Nothing beats the brute force power of air conditioning.

One could argue that the modern south is built on air conditioning. Take that away and people are going to have problems. A grid failure in the south in summer is as bad as power loss in the frigid north. In some ways it's worse. Many homes up north have backup heat independent of the grid. I've yet to see a wood fired air conditioner.

If you have a medical condition or other special needs a well equipped backup generator could literately be a life saver. That's fine for a temporary situation like hurricane or tornado damage, but long term keeping a generator fueled is problematic.

There are ways to lessen the impact of AC loss. I'm surprised at the number of southern people who have no tolerance to warm weather. Their homes, work places, cars, and stores are so air conditioned you could almost use them as meat lockers. It takes about two weeks to get acclimated to heat. Raise the temperature in your house. Get outside as much as you can. Don't forget to drink plenty of water. Water, not sweet tea -limit that stuff, I don't care how traditional it is.

While it's difficult to power AC with solar panels, fans use a fraction of the power. That can make a big difference. Part of dealing with heat is learning to slow down. My house doesn't even have air conditioning. Usually there are a couple days each year that it gets uncomfortably warm. Then I grab a cold beer and wade into the lake until I'm comfortable again. It's no grand hotel, but it works for me.

-Sixbears

9 comments:

  1. We just spent 2 weeks in Florida and south Alabama . It may be possible to live down there with out A/C but your right you would have to build like 1900 style houses. My grandparents house had 12 ft ceiling's and 5 windows in the kitchen to let the heat out, A dog trot hall and a sitting porch.

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    1. AC used to be a luxury but now at my age and where I live it is a necessity. When I was a kid, even the big stores in town where not air conditioned and neither were the vehicles.

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    2. Expectations have changed too. One way to deal with the heat is to sit in the shade and keep hydrated. That's fine, but doesn't get much done. AC allowed factories to run during hot water.

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  2. I still like porches. My wife sometimes pokes her head out the door to ask why I'm sitting in the heat.

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    1. Grandpa loved the porch because granny didn't !

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    2. Is that part of it Gorges? :)

      For me it's sitting on my deck under the big shady trees -with my lovely wife.

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  3. That's the truth. I have often how in God's Name people lived here in the Smoky Mountains without air.

    Some years back, the remnants of a hurricane in the Gulf came through here, and utterly destroyed the grid. It was more than two weeks before "unimportant" people living way out in the woods got power back. I was able to run two wall units off my generator and lived quite comfortably. Without it, I shudder to think what life would have been like.

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    Replies
    1. You might have survived, but it would not have been fun.

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  4. After Hurricane Ike left us in the Gulf Coast of Texas with no power for 15 days, we re-discovered our childhood of no A/C. Back then, no schools, homes, churches, anything except big fancies had A/C. But homes now are not built for it. Our house has only 2 windows total, but 3 set of sliding glass doors, so we at least had lots of shade, and came out ok. I wear jackets everywhere I go in the summer, as it's always too cold in the A/C for me.

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