What Southerners Taught Us About Keeping Houses Cool

In the days before air-conditioning, builders in America’s most sweltering states knew how to lower indoor temps naturally.

June 30, 2016
an outdoor space with a ceiling fan

Before air-conditioning, Southern builders designed houses for summer comfort. Cool air swept into tall windows, through central halls, and across transoms while hot air floated up above heads in high-ceilinged rooms, and you could always escape to the covered porch. While changing your home’s architecture might be tough, with these simpler lessons from the South’s past—and modern products—we can be less reliant on energy-hogging AC and more attuned to the natural joys of summer. 

ceiling fan
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Blades Of Glory

Folks in the old South benefited from ceiling fans that draw hot air upward. A model like Haiku from Big Ass Fans, made with sustainable bamboo, can keep you up to four degrees cooler.

open window
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Texas Cool

Lone Star State residents opened windows in the cool of the evening and shut them with shades drawn, trapping cool air indoors, once daytime temperatures rose. Efficient windows help, like Andersen’s triple-pane Eagle/E Series that are made from recycled aluminum and Forest Stewardship Council–certified wood.

Outdoor Kitchen

One of the 10 Easy Ways To Make Your Kitchen More Energy Efficient is to simply move it outside—since a hot oven can raise temperatures by as much as 10 degrees, most Southern kitchens were in separate buildings. Give your range a rest once in awhile and brush up on your outdoor grilling skills.

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Shady Business

Awnings, shades, and shutters can keep inside temperatures from rising more than one degree per hour when it’s 85 degrees or higher out. Woodfold offers plantation-style shutters of FSC-certified red alder, finished with water-based stains and solvent-free paints, and Rawganique’s organic linen Roman blinds are chemical free.

house with light colored roof
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Lighten The Look

About ⅓ of the heat that builds up in your house comes through the roof, so many Southerners had roofs painted light colors to deflect the sun’s rays. Apply a low-VOC white latex coating, which works on most roofing materials, including asphalt.

AC unit
If You Must Plug In

When it comes to AC, sometimes you just gotta have it. Just be sure to review the Signs You're Using Your Air Conditioner Wrong, and make sure that the one you choose has a seal of approval from Energy Star, a federal certification program that ensures a product meets or exceeds the EPA’s efficiency standards.