Around the Bend: House cooling plans full of hot air
Last Saturday night, during a period of heat-induced delirium, I briefly reconsidered my longstanding opposition to air conditioning.
My inner stoic Vermonter says A/C this far north is a sign of weakness and a waste of money. True, I am not stoic by nature or a Vermonter by birth, but I still believe artificial cooling is for sissies. Just Saturday afternoon, in fact, I had been bragging to a friend that our bedroom is always cool enough for sleeping, even during heat waves.
I swear I never heard the minor piano chords threatening in the background.
But it was true: While in general our drafty old house would make even the most jaded Home Energy Audit professional develop a tic, the bedroom has always cooled off quickly at night.
All summer I do my best to keep the temps down in the house. My MO is nothing new: Draw cool air into the house during the night and early morning, then close things up during the day to keep out the heat. It would work — if our house were airtight, if we had shades on every window, and if my family would keep the doors and windows closed or open based on the time- and temperature-specific color-coded schedule I have posted on the fridge.
It would also help if the weather were consistent. Saturday I started off the day with the house wide open to catch the breeze. Then the temperature and humidity shot up to Near Death Experience level, so I closed everything down. Then it rained briefly, cooling the outdoors and turning the house into a 1,500-square-foot sauna. I quickly opened the doors and windows, but just then the sun came out.
I spent most of the day tugging up or down on stubborn window sashes and grunting like a weightlifter during the clean and jerk. I strained my pecs, but my efforts kept the house a solid two degrees cooler than outside. Who needs A/C?
Luckily, our bedroom is easy. It boasts seven windows, at least three of which can be opened without a crowbar. No matter how hot it gets during the day, at night we can invariably keep the cool air flowing with just a window fan.
When I went to bed Saturday night, I left the fan downstairs with my husband, Mark, with the request that he bring it up to bed with him. I figured a brief spell in a stifling bedroom with no fan would be good practice for my inner stoic Vermonter. I lay in the dark for 15 minutes, panting and wondering if stoic Vermonters tended to die young.
Soon Mark came in and, stumbling through the darkness, stuck the fan in a window, turned it on, and crawled into bed. At last, relief.
But it didn’t come.
I could feel the breeze, but the air remained hot and stale. I tossed and turned for hours and thought bitterly of all those weak-willed A/C lovers who were at that moment snoozing peacefully. I didn’t sleep at all, unless you count the times when I lost consciousness from the heat stroke. (Mark, I should note, slept fine. But unlike me, he genuinely is a stoic Vermonter, and thus isn’t prone to complaining constantly.)
By morning, my disdain for air conditioning had softened slightly, meaning I planned to go shopping for a window unit right after breakfast.
But then I discovered something.
Checking to see if the fan was even working, I quickly found the real problem: Mark had inadvertently stuck it in a window whose storm was jammed closed. So while the temperatures outside had dropped into the 60s, in our bedroom the fan had been recirculating 90-degree air over us like a convection oven, ensuring that we were evenly roasted by morning.
Every time I bring up this little incident (and I bring it up a lot), Mark insists it didn’t matter; the room was perfectly comfortable for sleeping. Maybe for him. I swear my bedside glass of water came to a simmer.
That night was unbearable, but at least now I know we don’t need an air conditioner. I just keep telling Mark that next time, if it’s not too much trouble, he should try running the fan with the window open, just for kicks.
Here’s the thing about stoic Vermonters: They tire of sarcasm really quickly.
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