Life Without Air Conditioning

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Air conditioners Air conditioners (Todd Morris/flickr)

During this heat wave, many of us are thankful for our air conditioning, despite the power costs. We're talking about the problems with our reliance on A/C and about some of the cultural changes that go with shutting ourselves indoors. We want to know from you, What would your life be like without air conditioning? Would you leave your house more? Interact with more people?

Stan Cox is author of "Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer)."
He joins us with a look at how air conditioning has changed the way we live in America.

And 71-year-old Sarah Edwards remembers the days before air conditioning. She was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia and says she misses sitting outside with the neighbors drinking iced tea on hot summer days.

Comments on Facebook:

"Unfortunately, the air conditioning only makes the heat wave worse. Coal-fired electric plants feed all that cooling. Believe it or not there are those of us alive who remember when there was no air conditioning." —Richard Carlson

"Hot, smelly and irritable." —Tyrone Thorpe

"All I can say is thank god to the one who invented the 24 hour no show deodorant." —Suzanne Joblonski-Philip

"Not any different then it was when I was growing up. Turn on a fan, or find a shady tree and drink lots of water. We, as a nation, are spoiled beyond belief." —Rusty Roy

"Um. we don't have AC — so we drink fluids, move slowly, have a few ceiling fans going, endure. Sure makes a fudgesicle a reward." —Jo Papa Kenney


Stan Cox and Sarah Edwards

Produced by:

Noel King

Comments [27]

David Clark from Australia

There should definitely be many more of these books and much lesser use of air conditioners over all.

Dec. 06 2012 01:59 AM
greg from Gulf Breeze Florida

I am trying life without airconditioning this summer. Sweating my ass off, which may be a good thing. June,July, and August (the hottest months) are still coming down the pike. Three cold showers a day. I have lost some weight but today my body was very very hot. Today it hit 86 degrees in my home and it was cooler outside. I am in Gulf Breeze Florida....Wish me luck.

May. 26 2012 10:10 PM
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i don't imagine Life Without Air Conditioning...

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May. 15 2012 05:28 AM
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it 's really life is difficult Without Air Conditioning.i read this blog and know the importance of Ac.

Apr. 28 2012 06:27 AM
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Stan Cox thoughts are very good.i impressed this thoughts.

Apr. 25 2012 05:35 AM
Air Con Sydney from Sedney

i knowing because I've never had air conditioning in my home. Fan circulated air and curtains covering bright windows work great for me.

Apr. 10 2012 01:59 AM
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Home repair could really blow a hole in your pocket as it is quite costly theses days.

Apr. 05 2012 03:35 AM
john from los angeles

life without a/c in california would be terrible. plese visit heatingairconditionrepair

Aug. 23 2011 08:13 PM

As others have said: could I live without it? Yes (though there are some that can't, including many elderly--I hear a lot of news stories about those that die in the hot summer months.) Do I want to all the time? No.

To be honest, I don't need it much of the time. I might leave it on for the well-being of the cat and fish (it can get mighty warm in the apartment sometimes). It's my partner who gets too hot and ices down the apartment, especially after he's spent the day working mostly outside and driving home in a car whose AC doesn't work. I love it dearly in my car--less than a year ago I owned an older car without AC, and didn't much enjoy coming home after a 45-60 minute commute with my clothing literally soaked in sweat (unfortunately a north-south drive means the sun is constantly beating in).

I'm one of those "cold" people. I freeze in winter, and then freeze in summer when work, businesses I frequent, etc. crank up the AC. But there are days when I appreciate it.

Jul. 09 2010 09:18 PM

Come to think of it, even you can live without AC by:
1) Running fans in the house – this still creates demand on power grid although not as much.
2) Taking cold showers or bath – creates demand on water supply. Water plants need to expense energy to purify, convert and deliver the water to your household.
3) Consuming ice cold drinks, popsicles, ice creams etc – indirect demand on electricity, still need to make and refrigerate those products.

There is no way out to Global Warming. Either way we are still contributing to the green house effect, though in lesser amounts and intensity.

Jul. 08 2010 12:22 PM

I think that the idea that living without AC would make the world a better place is misguided. I agree that overuse, especially by large buildings and businesses is wasteful, but this is due to improper usage. As for the environmental impact, how about making AC more efficient, homes and offices more efficient, and the source of the electricity greener?
I think that would be a more fruitful avenue for improvement than having those of us who are miserable in the heat suffer! You can't put technology "back in the box", you just need to use it more efficiently and responsibly.

Jul. 08 2010 10:38 AM
Lynn Ashley from New York, NY

Can I LIVE without AC during very high temperatures? Yes. Would I be happy, coherent, easy to talk to, productive, able to work to the best of my ability? NO. A/C makes life better!!! It does! All these comments/ideas that there was a time without A/C and people lived fine--that's true. There was ALSO a time when there were items such as washing machines and dryers, water from a faucet, or flushable toilets, cameras, toothpaste, or airplanes, public radio...shall I continue? Embrace the idea that this invention does more good for people's well being than harm. If someone does not like it, they don;t have to use it, or patronize places that have it.

Jul. 08 2010 09:34 AM
David Zapen from Miami FL (WLRN)

Some parts of Miami have houses over fifty years old that have inefficient wall-unit air conditioners instead of the central air of most apartments. Ironically, Florida renters can sue for not having a heater but not for missing an air conditioner, possibly a cut-and-paste legality from New York. If you see someone in the street with a photo-free ID and long pants, it's probably a Census worker trying to finish what was thought to be done July 1st, this despite the hottest May ever and June as the hottest month ever. Sorry, sweating more doesn't guarantee weight-loss, despite old sitcom subplots and ready-to-wear plastic bags for joggers; that's correlation without causation.

Jul. 08 2010 09:17 AM
moshe from Surfside Florida

Growing up in Baltimore we didn't have central AC. My brother and I shared a small room with a green metal window fan (that I would be frightened to put near my kids). We spent the summer nights talking like Transformers ("more than meets the eye") into the fan!
Now, living in Miami- I can't imagine how my grandmother lived here without AC. We are a "green" family by all accounts, but we need our AC!

Jul. 08 2010 09:16 AM
Amy from Boston

I could live without a personal car. It would mean some changes - taking a taxi home from the supermarket, for instance, or buying less, but more frequently. I chose where I live specifically so that I could get to work on public transportation. Not every city or even state has this as an option, so I realize how lucky I am. I wonder how things will change in the next 10-20 years if gas prices increase as much as predicted.

Jul. 08 2010 09:10 AM
CK from Brooklyn

We live without AC too. We tried using one a couple of summers ago and the only results were minor colds from the temp change and it made everything else (indoors and out) feel that much hotter.
It is Summer. It is supposed to be hot. Drink some water, move a little slower, eat lighter foods and take a cold shower right before bed.

Jul. 08 2010 09:08 AM
Victor Arrieta from Miami, FL

Why do you guys think that one of the Florida Statues in Statuary Hall is Dr. John Gorrie, the inventor of the air conditioner. I think we should have more statues, at least in Florida.

Jul. 08 2010 08:52 AM
Lyn Randolph from Key West, Florida

I live with my husband and two cats on board a 41 foot Morgan Sailboat in the anchorage in Key West , Florida. We live on wind and solar power, but don't generate enough power to run an air conditioner. I have small fans throughout the boat to move air around and most of the time we get a breeze.In August and September,however,which are the hottest months of the year in these parts, we swelter and try not to move around too much We have lived like this, without air conditioning, since 1993..

Jul. 08 2010 08:44 AM
losnova from Quanset Point, RI

Ever since I had the pleasure of immersing myself in the German culture I have, indeed, been able to envision a world without AC. Entire corporations have headquarters designed to function without the energy demanding luxury. I must say, the entire commitment is a noble one: When in summer, expect to dress for the heat - even at work.
People moved slowly, ate lightly (even the summer beer changes), men dressed in short sleeves and women dressed in shorter skirts with no sleeve tops. It was wonderful! no one was sweaty or uncomfortable.
I could only dream we as a nation embraced the infulence of Van der Rohe in our construction of our environment. At least our women can steadily embrace the "less is more" dictum, if only in wardrobe.
Now if only I could give up the ice cold drinks and quench my thirst like the Germans.

Jul. 08 2010 08:33 AM
Peg from Hot humid Southern Tier NY

I've never had air conditioning in my home. Fan circulated air and curtains covering bright windows work great for me.

What I can't live without is fresh clean oxigenated air. I have trouble breathing city air - so full of vehicle exhaust - so horrible in the summer. (Wunder how that foul air affects growing lungs of city children?)

Jul. 08 2010 08:13 AM
dan ahearn from new York

I remember life before air conditioning too, Sarah... It sucked!

Jul. 08 2010 07:17 AM
marikaaart from Connecticut

Today, (day three of the heat wave I believe?) I had to drive to a medical appointment New York City from my shady house in Connecticut. The air conditioner in my car is broken so before leaving I grabbed some ice packs from the freezer, a spray bottle full of water and a towel. Despite the heat, I had a nice drive sitting on ice packs with the windows down and listening to Leonard Lopate on WNYC who inspired me to write this comment.

I elect to live without air conditioning in my house, but do have a couple of table fans. When the heat becomes oppressive I do the following things:

1. Close the windows and drapes during the day. Black out windows as necessary with dark paper or cloth.
2. Open the windows at night when the air is cooler.
3. Keep a spray bottle ($2.95+/- at a Walgreens-type store) filled with cool water close by. Spray myself and then let the air from the fan cool me more.
4. Nap during the day and work at night or early in the morning (okay, I can do this because I am a freelancer).
5. Fill a bucket with cool water and stick my feet in it while I am working on my laptop.
8. Sit in a tub filled with cool water.
9. Eat popsicles.

I understand that in the city air conditioning may be largely a necessity but some creative efforts can reduce our power usage.

If everyone did a little bit we could help the planet and that should make us feel really cool.

Jul. 07 2010 08:36 PM
LD from BK

I'm another member of the anti AC tribe. Like the Aussies, I came from a very hot climate - Las Vegas, NV. I too was more worried about the winter, but I've winter climate people in my bloodline and not so bad. The summers were harder to get used to...but so far I've managed 23 New York summers without AC. I have a couple great fans...but they only go on when it hits the upper 90's. My apartment is usually 10 degrees cooler than outside. You get acclimated, the way nature intended. I've noticed I'm much more adaptable to temperature than the man-made environment loving types.

Jul. 07 2010 08:07 PM
Mason from New York City

I am told by friends that the Chinese use a pad made of woven bamboo tiles to remain cool while sleeping in the hot weather. My friends report that is works very well with a fan in their bedroom and no AC. The theroy, as I understand it, is that the mat allows for air flow. I am sure my friends' assessment is on the mark for them, I am wondering if any one else can verify this.

Jul. 07 2010 12:05 PM
Jean-Marc from Manhattan

My wife & I recently moved to Manhattan from Sydney, Australia and our greatest concern weather-wise was surviving the extreme New York winter. Coming from a warm tropical climate like Australia we mocked all those air-conditioners hanging from apartment windows... I mean just how hot could it be?
Well, yesterday we bought an air-conditioner.
We love New York... extremely cold, extremely hot... always extremely something.

Jul. 07 2010 11:33 AM
Jean-Marc from Manhattan

My wife & I recently moved to Manhattan from Sydney, Australia and our greatest concern weather-wise was surviving the extreme New York winter. Coming from a warm tropical climate like Australia we mocked all those air-conditioners hanging from apartment windows... I mean just how hot could it be?
Well, yesterday we bought an air-conditioner.
We love New York... extremely cold, extremely hot... always extremely something.

Jul. 07 2010 11:32 AM
Nora from new jersey

Actually... I know what it would be like, because I don't have air conditioning. The house is actually comfortable during the day (thermostat said 86 this morning. I like heat). We keep the blinds drawn so the sun won't heat it during the day and run the window fan at night with the windows open. I admit the 2nd floor bedroom got hot last night, but that was an exception (hey, it was over 100F out there yesterday) . Usually we're fine.

Except in the office, where I'm being slowly refridgerated and need to wear a sweater all day.

Jul. 07 2010 11:07 AM

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