Friday, June 7, 2013

Keeping an Old House Cool

This upstairs 1924 window in a Craftsman bungalow was restored, allowing the top sash to come down and the bottom sash to go up. Sunscreen, a reflective screen, was installed in the window screen. The shade was pulled down during the day, and the summer furnace switch was turned on. The homeowner was comfortable and did not require air conditioning, saving money and the environment.
Photo E. Wheeler
Thank goodness, it cools off in the evening! And, thank goodness, bungalows, Denver Squares, cottages and mid-century moderns were designed to stay cool in the summertime. There was no air conditioning when they were built! And, thank goodness, many older homes are in neighborhoods where shade trees have matured.
Here are practical tips and thoughts about staying cool in the summertime.
The easiest this to do in the summer is to close curtains or shutters, pull down window shades, and turn up slates in blinds in the early morning. Keep windows closed all day.
Open windows and doors at night after it has cooled down. Double-hung windows are designed to pull the top window down to let hot air out and to push up the bottom window to let cooler air in. These windows can still work today if paint is removed and they are "unstuck" by a professional that knows what to do. If your home has transoms - like many Denver Squares - open them to let out hot air and cooler air will rush in to replace it.
Before the marketing of air conditioning, furnaces had fan switches labeled "summer" that could be turned on in warm months. (Today, many of them still do. Few are marked for marketing reasons, but they work just as well.) Furnace fans are excellent for circulating the colder and heavier air on the floor.
Today, homeowners are encouraged to increase insulation to reduce heating costs. Insulation also helps to cool homes. Insulation in the attic is particularly beneficial since there is more heat differential there than in the winter.
If the home is still hot after doing all of the above, a whole-house fan is the next step to consider. Turn it on at night only. If this doesn't do the trick, consider an evaporative cooler, also known as a swamp cooler. Coloradoans have stayed cool in the summer for decades with these wonderful appliances. Today, they do not have to be mounted on the roof; many are mounted on the floor. It makes no difference where it is placed. With evaporative coolers, windows and doors can be open and moisture is put into the air.
Air conditioning is expensive and noisy!
In days gone by, people opened up their homes as the sun went down, sat on the porch and visited with neighbors until Colorado's cool air and drowsiness settled over all.


  1. Anonymous6:08 PM

    More info on old houses and how to take care of them are at under Historic Preservation and Other Links.

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