Saturday, July 17, 2010

Baby It's Cold Outside

I wish.

Instead, it's currently 109.6 outside with a heat index of 116 degrees.  And our air conditioner died last night.  This is when I look at my husband and say "this is why I keep asking you to let me live in an old house."  Because if we did, the dead ac wouldn't be such a big deal.

Because we live in a relatively new home, built in 1998, it is not as efficient as it should be.  Being in real estate, I hear all the time about "green" houses.  I know all about all the things that supposedly make homes built recently so much more efficient that homes built years ago.  But guess what?  Older homes were built to be efficient because they had to be.   Older houses usually didn't have an option of air conditioning.  But it still got hot in the summer so they were built to stay as cool as possible.

In the Midwest, where my first house was, older homes had tons of windows and used cross ventilation as a primary means of cooling.  My ceilings were high and the walls in my home were lathe and plaster.  The outside siding was made of asbestos, which is probably the most effective insulation you'll ever run across, just don't break it and breath the dust!  I did have an air conditioner on the home but I don't really remember having to use it more than a few times.  The house just didn't ever get that unbearable.

In Arizona where I currently live, older homes were built of adobe, brick or slump block.  Most of them have large overhangs, especially on the West side of the house.  And most of them used larger windows on the North and South sides and smaller (or no) windows on the East and West, especially the West.  There was generally more space between your house and your neighbors, which encouraged any little bit of air to come into your windows.  There was also a consistent effort to place trees around the home in such a way that they blocked the harsh western sunlight. 

Homes built starting in the 1980s and getting worse as time went on, were built with getting the maximum amount of square footage in mind.  In order to do this without raising the price beyond what most people could pay, builders started cutting corners.  The overhangs that used to help block the hot sunlight from coming into your windows started shrinking.  Over the last thirty years, they've shrunk so much that anymore, they're really more of a decorative bump out at the end of your roof than anything else.  Walls are consistently built with the bare minimum of materials, plywood sheathing over 2x6 with a sheet of drywall on the interior.  Sure, there's insulation but even with that on a really hot day I'll bet your walls are warm to the touch.

And then there's the lots the houses sit on.  Builders jam as many houses as they legally can onto a plot of land.  What we end up with are houses where we can stand at our kitchen sink and pass a glass of water to our neighbor as he stands at his sink.  And because we're so close, our houses effectively block any slight breeze that might go through.

We also don't believe in landscaping for coolness anymore either.  Because of our small lots (and some HOAs) we can only fit "dwarf" versions of trees in our yards.  In case you're wondering, a dwarf tree doesn't provide a whole lot of shade to anything but a play house.  And because of our small lots, most people use any decent size trees they do have to block their neighbors view of their yard.  So instead of having large shade trees next to the house, they line the block fences that surround our yards.  This creates lots of privacy but very little usefulness.

So back to my current issue...when the ac started to go, it was 74 degrees in my house.  By the time we got four window air conditioners in and running (about four hours later), it was 90 degrees inside.  It took us that long because we had to debate whether the ac was actually going, figure out what to do and go and purchase two new units from two different stores (we already owned two units).  So, four hours with no ac and the temperature in my house went up 16 degrees.  So much for progress.