Termites live in naturally air-conditioned homes and so did humans before the advent of air conditioning. But how on earth did they do it? You’d think their lives would have been unbearable in the scorching summers, but they survived. Air conditioning has been in use since the early 1900s and like many stories of serendipity, the invention of the first electrical air conditioner by US engineer Willis Haviland Carrier in 1902, wasn’t meant for cooling homes. Air conditioning was designed for use in industrial air quality control, and only later became a must-have for the lovely carpeted homes back then and up to the present day.
It wasn’t until the late 1970s and ‘80s that Australians became accustomed to home air conditioning, and before that they coped with the blistering heat using a variety of designs and methods handed down through the centuries including central hallways, high ceilings, wide verandahs, and sleep-outs. Older, two storey buildings took advantage of ‘stack effect’ where open stairwells let hot air rise upstairs. Probably the easiest way to get cool before air conditioning was to have a nanna nap on the grass underneath a big tree. The temperature on a hot day can be 10 degrees cooler beneath a shade tree than even under a shade structure.
The Legendary Wide Verandah
Wide verandahs that encircled the entire house are a legend in Australia, like wide-brimmed Akubra hats and R.M. Williams boots. These verandahs were brilliant at reducing sunlight hitting the walls which acted to lower the heat load. These verandahs were the perfect place to sit on a hot evening taking in a blissfully cool breeze.
‘The Queenslander’, another legend in this country was built on stilts in Queensland where it’s very hot and stiflingly humid in summer. Being on stilts allowed plenty of air to flow underneath the house to cool it, and a wide verandah added to the mix.
Another legend in Australia is the ‘12-foot ceiling’ often seen in homes built before the 1950s. These ceilings allowed room heat to rise and escape through little air vents in the upper walls. The high ceiling cause internal air convection – heat gathered at the top third or so and made the bottom part cooler. Ceiling fans could be set to add to this by drawing the hot air up in summer and pushing warm air down in winter. Chimneys also helped create cool draughts.
Old homes in Australia often have a hallway running from the front door to the back, so when it was hot people simply opened both doors and let the breeze flow through the house and into all the rooms.
A section of the wide verandah was often made into a sleepout where people could spend a hot night rather than sweltering indoors. These sleepouts were often only made of flyscreen wire or louvred windows and the whole family would sleep there on mattresses on the floor in summer.
In very hot places such as Lightning Ridge in NSW and Coober Pedy in South Australia, people still live underground to stay cool, and mine for opals. The temperatures there can reach 50C, but it will be 20 degrees cooler underground where 80 percent of the inhabitants live, like hobbits. They have all kinds of amenities such as electricity, the Internet, and the underground Greek orthodox church even has a red carpet.
A lot of the older homes in Australia were built of sandstone or granite. Thousands of tonnes of sandstone were used in the 19th century to construct Sydney’s first major buildings which are still standing 200 years later. Stone is a great cooler in summer, but it takes a lot to heat in winter.
Although most of us wouldn’t want to trade in our air conditioners to live underground or go to the expense of building a 19th Century home, it’s still nice to sit on a cool verandah and watch a sunset in the evening. But you can still watch the sea or a sensational sunset through glass with the air conditioning on, some relaxing music and a nice red.
Alex Morrison has been an digital marketer in Melbourne for over 10 years. In this time he has worked with a range of businesses giving him an in depth understanding of many different industries including printing, graphic and web design. As the owner of Integral Media he is now utilising his knowledge and experience with his rapidly increasing client portfolio to help them achieve their business goals.