Friday, July 06, 2007

Hot, but dealing with it

In general, where I live now has slightly more moderate weather than where I grew up. Slightly. In fact, in general, when you check out a weathercast that features both places, we're generally a few degrees cooler in the summer, and a few degrees warmer in the winter. I'm going to knock on wood when I write this, but neither place is known for tornadoes or other extreme weather, unless you count thunderstorms which, truth be told, usually bring relief if there's enough rain with them. They can be a bit frightening, and sometimes they knock the power out or start a fire or two, but, on the whole, they're a gift, usually.

But, then, there are days like the last few days. We're still cooler here than where I grew up, which means that when they're clocking in 109 we're at 103, or something like that. Yigh.

Of course, if we regularly had weather in the triple digits I'd plan for it. I'd have trellises and shade cloth all over the sides of the house. I might add a screened-in porch or two, or an open-ended lean-to alongside the back side of the house. I'd plant more trees, tall flowers and vines where they'd count for something. I'd probably invest in a second air conditioner, for the bedroom portion of the house. (That's if my shade cloth and/or trellises, etc., didn't do the trick.) I'd figure out how to get into the attic and improve the venting during the summer. I'd increase the insulation. Well, I'd do those things as the budget and the landlord and time allowed, of course, but the point is, since we don't get this hot very often, and it never lasts terribly long, we don't go to any length to provide for it. And so, for a few days here and there we run around jerryrigging heat-fighting apparatus and strategies. And get a bit hot anyway.

Oh, well. I rather like sitting on the porch while the house cools down. I sometimes wonder what we lost when our technology got so good that we could comfortably stay indoors 24/7 in the summer, if we wanted.

Don't get me wrong. I have an ill husband, and I'm not as well or young as I used to be, either. I'm not arguing against air conditioning. I understand that for some people it is not so much a luxury as a matter of life and death. Yay, air conditioning!

I am saying that I spend a fair amount of time wondering about how reliant on fancy technology and electricity we've let ourselves become, and whether it's altogether a good thing. Here we are, with pretty much all of history's solutions to human comfort problems available to us, and we have this tendency to forget or scorn the 'easy' or the 'old': shades, shutters, cooling towers, grottoes, alignment, valley vs hillside vs hilltop placement, porches, courtyards, breezeways, vents, landscaping, etc.

Treat yourself someday to a copy of A Shelter Sketchbook by John S. Taylor, if you can find a copy. I currently don't have a copy (bookseller's remorse strikes again), but I remember spending rather a lot of time marveling at the ways that even very ancient people came up with to deal with whatever conditions needed to be dealt with locally. As an example, some cultures have had ingenious air conditioning systems, drawing air over water, for instance, or using that 'hot air rises' principle to suck the hot air out of the house using a cooling tower.

I remember many years ago reading in Sunset magazine that a house in a desert in California was built with a cooling tower, as something of an experiment, and that the homeowners were comfortable even in the height of summer, just from that. Why don't we do that sort of thing more often? Why do we settle for one-size-fits-all as often as we do, especially since it generally doesn't work all that well, at least in architecture?

I think one of the downsides of our age is that there are too many people walking around for whom pretty much everything is a matter of fashion, of style, of preference, or of convenience. They've either forgotten that there were reasons for something to be the way it was, or else they think they're somehow beyond all that. Well-watered lawns provide cool spots - and also fire protection, just for starters. Why are we so prone to forgetting that sort of thing? Why are so many people hung up on what's novel, or new, or fancy, or kinda sorta looks good to them?... On what is the current fashion - especially for their clique - and never mind if it makes any sense?

I have my theories. Do you?

On a slightly different note, the other day some of the neighbors had a young boy visiting, at a guess eight or nine or ten, something like that. He was running through the spray of the lawn sprinkler. He looked, to be honest about it, like your fairly typical couch potato of the overweight but not obese variety, but there he was, striding and leaping to the best of his ability, with the folks on the porch cheering him on. There was a light in his eyes that I'll bet you doesn't light up while he's sitting around the house.

Sometimes he had to force himself to face the spray, or to brave a mighty leap over the sprinkler itself, but force himself he did, to applause all around.

I had the feeling he wasn't used to pushing himself like that. I also had the feeling he liked it rather more than he thought he would. Heh. :)

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