Areas in the USA where most people don't have A/C

If I can hijack the thread for a bit, I sometimes think that the invention of AC is actually a bad thing. Because before it was invented, architecture in hot climates was designed for the climate. Houses stayed relatively cool, no matter how hot the weather.

But modern houses, where that is not a consideration, truly have to have AC, as you said. If some unlikely but possible event happens, and some place like Phoenix or Las Vegas or Miami is left without power for a long time during the summer, hundreds or probably thousands of people will die from heat exhaustion, because their houses were designed to need AC in order to work properly.

In a worst-case scenario, such as a repeat of the Carrington Event, tens of thousands would die.

I’d say central air is more common than not in Minnesota. It’s been standard in new residential construction since at least the 1980s, and is mentioned a lot of older houses get it when the furnace is replaced. A lot of old houses have hot water heat, but those typically will have a window A/C unit or two. The days of escaping up north to the family cabin every weekend and two weeks a year are gone; people want/need to stay in the city and be comfortable.

Didn’t have AC when I lived in NW NC. Only wished for it one week a year.

Where do you live? In New England and upstate New York air conditioning is ubiquitous. You can get hot and humid spells that last for weeks. In any event, most people don’t deal with it by swimming or going elsewhere to air conditioning – they have window units or central air.

More specifically in Minnesota, Duluth has two separate climates - 10-20 degrees cooler along Lake Superior compared to five miles away on top of the hill/bluffs.

We have a house in Duluth along the lake shore drive (but not on the water, darn) and there’s perhaps two days out of the year when A/C would be nice, but it’s not necessary.

When I was growing up in N.E., one popular alternative was the whole house fan. When I moved out to NorCal, I was really surprised you don’t see them much here. They work really well in this climate where it cools off nicely most evenings. And I notice that there is new regulation being bandied about in Sac to require new homes to be wired for whole house fans. When done right, then can work great for a fraction of the cost of A/C.

Kinda depends on what you mean by A/C.

In New Mexico, there’s a distinction drawn between A/C and swamp coolers, a swamp cooler being something that forces air over cool water, which air is then pumped into the house to cool everything else. If you respect the distinction between A/C and swamp coolers, then a lot of New Mexico homes don’t have A/C; if not, then a lot of New Mexico homes have A/C in the form of swamp coolers.

(Note: My experience is mostly based on Deming, which is in southern New Mexico near Las Cruces. Definitely in the more Mexican portion of New Mexico.)

The homes of the well-to-do in the South might have been designed to alleviate the worst effects of the heat. Most people in the South then weren’t well-to-do. Their housing was not properly designed, and that was the norm for the majority of the population. Besides, people didn’t stay in their houses all day. During the hottest part of the day they were in factories, institutions, warehouses, stores, and other walled sites which were seldom properly designed.

It’s no coincidence that the rise of the Sunbelt economy took place when air conditioning became common. It was a necessary precondition for lifting the South out of a century of poverty.

So the South is now dependent on technology. Hate to break the news to you, but we all are. And virtually nobody anywhere in the U.S. would trade that condition and the comforts and riches it gives us every single moment of our lives just because a catastrophe might sit out somewhere in the unknown future.

Not as much as you might think. The 1995 Chicago heat wave killed 750 people in five days – almost all of them living in the pre-war housing in the city. Going back a little further and you have killer heat waves in 1954, and one in 1936 that killed more than 5,000 people. Once you start packing people relatively close together in cities, architecture can only do so much.