Friday, June 4, 2010

Something in the Air

Oh, boy.

In our attempt to stay true to our rationing experiment, we're trying to go all summer without turning on our air conditioners (both in the house and in our cars). In the 1940s some businesses, but few residences and no cars, had air conditioning. That is our historical precedent. Additionally, the extra electricity required to run the air conditioner isn't exactly kosher if we're trying to save energy for the war effort, sooo...

This could really suck. We live in the central plains and it is not unusual to have a couple of weeks of 100+ degree (Fahrenheit) highs. Otherwise, most of the summer's daytime temps hover around the mid-90's. Oh, and did I mention the 40-60% humidity?

Since our house was built when air conditioning was but a dream (our house turns 100 years old this year!) it is equipped with lots of windows which are great for air circulation - cross currents are not a problem. Add in three ceiling fans and four floor fans and so far we've been fairly comfortable on most days. Part of the reason is because the nighttime/low temperatures have still been very reasonable and once we shut down the windows (around 10:00am) to trap the cool air in and keep the mid-day heat out, the house remains pleasant (if not a little stuffy). The other day I came home from work and while it was 92 degrees outside (heat index of 96) it was only 79 degrees in the house. Victory!

On those days when the inside temperature has crept into the mid-80s we've been taking cool-down baths/showers and drying off in front of the fans to cool our core body temperatures down. Done right before bed, this serves as a good way to get comfortable and fall asleep while waiting for the pleasing evening air to find its way into the house.

But...we're reaching the part of the summer when nighttime temperatures will be in the mid 70's/low 80's. This is not nearly as satisfying (and cooling) as the 60's/low 70's so we're bringing in the artillery...or, at least, this:

This is a whole house fan, commonly (and incorrectly) referred to as an attic fan. It is huge. Whole house fans are typically installed in the attic floor/top level ceiling and work by pulling cooler morning/evening air into the house through the windows and blowing the hotter air out through the attic venting. I had never seen or heard of one of these until I was in college and was amazed at how effective they can be at cooling down a house. We've been pondering installing one of these in our house for years, and with this year's rationing program we are finally getting off of our tookuses and doing it!

"But, wait!" you say. "Isn't the Rational Living household restricted on buying new appliances during the rationing year?" Yes, faithful reader, you are correct. While we were ready to bend that rule to survive the summer we didn't need to thanks to the clever tinkering of a relative, S.P.

S.P. is quite the handy type and a few years ago was helping renovate a house that had fire and smoke damage. He noticed that the attic fan was slated for replacement, even thought it only had some limited smoke damage. After asking permission, S.P. took the attic fan home to his workshop and there it sat - until I mentioned to S.P. this spring that we were gearing up to install a whole house fan (I didn't know he had one in the wings). He dug the reclaimed fan out, hooked it up to electricity and let it run for over an hour - it worked perfectly fine! So, we are able to install a used fan and thus not violate any appliance-buying restrictions. Thanks, S.P.!

In the next couple of weeks we'll finish cleaning the soot and dust off the fan and begin the installation work. TMOTH will be in charge of this project and luckily our extremely knowledgeable neighbor will be helping him with the wiring (we have the best neighbors, evuh).

Wish us luck - I always get a bit nervous when we start knocking down parts of the plaster ceilings and walls in the house.

In the meantime, we'll be brainstorming other ways to stay cool this summer. This weekend the highs are in the mid-90's with 50% humidity, so it's a good test of things to come. I see a lot of sprinklers, swimming pools, popsicles, watermelon and outside grilling in our future.

Hmm...that sounds suspiciously like a good summer.

One last thought: when we did run the air conditioner during the summer we kept the thermostat at 78 or 79 degrees. What is your summertime thermostat set at?

--Rational Mama


  1. It's strange seeing this post, because the UK is only really using AC in modern offices, shopping centres, some trains and some cars. However, we don't experience the same heat as yourselves, as today was 83F, and we don't get much hotter than that. That house fan still sounds good, though!

  2. We completely killed our AC last year. We had over a week of 100+ and usually temps in the 90's for about 2 months. Our house is a 1940's/1950's atomic ranch that was built before AC as well. We open the windows by 6 am and close everything down at 10am. By 9pm the windows are open again. It works pretty well. When it is nasty, crazy hot we invite the neighbors over and all suffer together with board games and iced beverages in the dark.

    I must say, that house fan is quite impressive and makes our dinky little numbers quite embarrassed to be called fans at all :)

  3. Granola Girl - are you going another year without A/C? If so, it's nice to find someone with which to commiserate! It will be interesting to see how we hold out once the 100+ degrees hit. Ugh!

  4. This is a great post about house fan. Thank for share it here. whole house fan reviews