It’s hot. There is no doubt about it. Whether or not you are a believer in global climate change, it is hot! Nothing about that is unusual though. We aren’t the first generation to go through a sticky, muggy, midsummer. Who doesn’t want to just sit in front of an AC vent with the thermostat set to “meat locker”? We’ve got it that way and while relief from the summertime now is just a flip of a switch away, it wasn’t always that easy. There was a time when AC didn’t exist and folks relied on other methods to keep cool.
It’s nothing new for people to want to stay cool and it is certainly new for people to use architecture to do so. We know that in ancient Egyptian culture structures were built with breezeways that remained shaded from the sun and capture small breezes that through a corridor would amplify into larger breezes. The key to staying cool is, after all, air circulation. One of the most basic ways to do this is by creating a cross-breeze or a cross-draft. We see this in use in tiny houses all the time. In fact, it seems almost synonymous with tiny house construction. If you set one window into a wall on the east side of the house, you set the same window, in the same place, on the west side of the house. Historically speaking this was achieved by building homes that were literally just one room deep (much like a tiny house) so that windows and doors could be located across from one another to promote airflow. We see this primarily in the South where the temperatures tend to get higher than in regions like the Northeast.
A fine example is the Shotgun House, common in the Delta region of Mississippi and Louisiana. The one-room width of the building allows for cross-breeze and creates a much cooler home.
The deep porch on the shotgun style also kept the front of the house in the shade which helped facilitate the breeze even more. Furthering the idea of using breezeways and wind tunnels to keep cool is the Dogtrot style home.
The Dogtrot was most popular in the South from the 19th to early 20th centuries. The open-air “hall” that runs through the center of the home is called a dogtrot. Legend has it that because it was the coolest spot on the homestead, the family hound would spend his “dog days of summertime” there, thus giving it its name. It is important to note that Dogtrots typically had large porch structures as well that promoted shade during the midday but also allowed the home to keep its windows open even when it was raining.
While the South seemed to become more adept at staying cool in the summer, it doesn’t seem the people in cities found much relief. In fact, during the summer of 1896, a 10-day heat wave killed nearly 1,500 people, many of them tenement-dwellers, across New York City.
One way that city buildings—from apartment buildings to townhouses and clubhouses—tried to beat the heat was to use awnings. Much like their southern cousins, awning allowed for a room to stay shielded from the direct sun, thereby keeping a room cooler. It also allowed the windows to remain open during rainy weather.
Perhaps though, the more refined way of promoting breeze was through the use of transom windows. These glass windows were installed above door frames and could be opened to allow air to circulate between interior rooms.
This all changed of course in 1902 when the NEVO, or cold air stove was introduced to the market. The NEVO was a large ice cream freezer attached to a fan that would blow the cool air off a 200-pound block of ice, thus creating a feeling of cool air creation. This could perhaps even be an early predecessor to the off-grid option so popular today with those looking to avoid electrical abuse and freon gases. There are literally hundreds of DIY instructions available on the Internet for building a swamp cooler which is, in effect, a smaller version of the NEVO. It uses ice and a fan to literally blow cool air into a space.
It truly makes no difference where in history you look. Mankind has been trying to stay comfortable and cool since pre-historic times. The pursuit has taken on many shapes and sizes and a number of principles used historically are still find options for keeping your tiny house cool. Fortunately though, where this is an electrical outlet and a little bit of room, you can always buy a portable AC and find yourself int he chilled climate of your own home!