How did we cope without air conditioning?

Sat here in a cosy, temperature-controlled office, it seems hard to imagine a time before split air conditioning solutions. We take cooling systems for granted today, we switch them on when we are hot, flip them off when it feels too cool, we can even use them to keep us warm during the winter.

At one time we didn’t have air conditioning

Prior to 1902 the mere concept of air conditioning would have seemed like a flight of fantasy, people went to work and they simply coped with the conditions, no matter how uncomfortable the environment became. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the first modern air conditioning unit was invented and thanks to this, we can now beaver away if it’s 400C in the shade outside and feel perfectly fine indoors.

Can you imagine what life must have been like for the poor folks who lived through heatwaves in bygone years, imagine how uncomfortable they felt?  They didn’t have the luxury of climate control, air conditioning or electric fans; all they had was their imagination and creative construction skills, back in the day they had to be slightly more inventive to cool the interior of buildings down.

This was done in a number of clever and some fairly practical ways and we’re going to tell you a little bit more about them here.

Efficient property cooling methods

Smart architects and crafty home developers had a variety of techniques they adopted to cool down the interiors of buildings.

Here we explore some of the most practical methods adopted at the time, some of the cleverest approaches included:

  • Deep Eaves
  • Porches
  • Larger Windows
  • Higher Ceilings
  • Transoms
  • Creating Airflows

Eaves offered plenty of cooling relief

Deeper eaves were a good answer to the problems caused by the heat of the sun. Eaves are the edges of the roofline, they overhang the sides of the building, by making them deeper this offered greater protection from the sun and helped to create shaded areas underneath.

On a number of older buildings the eaves were purposely made to be slightly larger, they helped to keep homes cooler on the hottest days and they offered much welcome relief for homeowners.

You still see traditional houses that are fitted with large eaves today, live in a period property and there’s every chance your home has these features.

Sheltered porch areas were chilled places to relax

Covered porch areas were popular features at one time, homes in America for instance, would have large porch areas built outside, many of which were used for recreational purposes. Most of them were covered by large eaves and this protected the porch from the extreme heat of the sun, they were pleasant places to relax during the day and throughout the evening.

The good thing about porches is if you felt too stuffy inside, you could sneak outside under the shade of the veranda and take advantage of any air currents that might be passing by.

Porches were often filled with a number of accessories to aid rest and relaxation, features might include:

  • Chairs
  • Benches or sofas
  • Swing seats
  • Plants
  • Tables or furniture items to rest drinks etc

Sash windows offered improved light and air quality

Buy a period property and there’s a good chance it will still be fitted with the original sash windows, or have good quality replacements at the very least. Large sash windows served a number of purposes and primarily they threw tons of natural light into the home, making the interior feel bright and breezy.

Dual action sash windows were also useful because you could slide the upper sash down slightly to allow heat to escape upwards and out of the room. Or you could slide the bottom sash open to let air into the room and take the stuffiness out of the home.

Higher ceilings cooled areas down below

Heat rises and the architects of old were quick to recognise this. In older dwellings tall ceilings were quite a familiar site, as well as having greater architectural appeal, they also enabled the lower parts of the room to stay cool.

This simple but effective design feature works really well, walk into a traditional Victorian or Georgian home on a hot summer’s day and you’ll notice how lovely and cool it is inside.

Transoms tastefully created air currents

What exactly is a transom? Putting it simply this is a small window usually placed above a door, it can be fixed or in certain cases, it has a pivot, so you can open it a little to let in fresh air. Transoms are other period accessories that were used in the days before air conditioning and you might find them above features such as:

  • Front doors
  • French Doors
  • Interior Dining or Living Room Doors

When fitted to a front door a transom was usually equipped with hinges and a lever, you could open or close them from the interior of the house depending on whether you wanted air to flow into the home or not.

Airflows acted like basic air conditioning

One other trusted technique people used in the days before air conditioning was to open certain doors and windows throughout their properties to create natural airflows. You can still do this at home if you don’t have air conditioning fitted, hopefully, if you run a business you’ll already use climate control to create the perfect environment indoors.

Creating a welcoming airflow is relatively easy, simply open a few windows on the ground level then do exactly the same on the upper levels of the building, this will generate a passage of air throughout the house.

Architects were thoughtful about the positioning of windows within buildings too. They often designed buildings that had windows facing each other on either side of the room, this allowed residents to open up the frames, and that created a crossflow of air.

How inventive was air cooling back in the day?

As you can see, architects and builders were pretty inventive back in the day, but then again, they had to be if they wanted the people who bought their properties to keep cool.

Thankfully we no longer have this problem to worry about anymore, if you want reliable and efficient air conditioning systems for your business, all you have to do is contact us here at Sovereign Air Conditioning and Mechanical Services, and we’ll do all the rest.

Author: Gareth Whalley
Sharing my vast knowledge in the Air Conditioning and Mechanical services field especially in HVAC installation, service and maintenance across a broad range of sectors, including Healthcare, Education, Transport, Banking, Retail and Commercial developments.