Were American houses built differently before the popularisation of Air Conditioning?

I’ve visited the US a handful of times, once or twice in mid-Summer and found the heat and humidity too much. I generally do not like the feel of air-conditioning but in those temps/humidity I found it a necessary evil. In the past were American homes built to deal better with the heat and humidity?
Another question, what techniques did people use to keep cool before air conditioning or did they just all sweat and grumble?
An Gadaí

They wore seersucker and were the height of cool! :smiley:

One building technique used in, at least, Texas, was the Shotgun House. Basically, the house is built with a long hallway that runs from one end of the house to the other, with doors at each end. This allows the owner to open both ends, and have a cooling breeze flow through the entire house.

My great-uncle Jack lived in one all his life, with no AC, in Central Texas. With enough trees planted around it, the inside stays comfortable even in the middle of a scorching Texas summer.

Two features of older houses I’ve noticed are high ceilings and transoms. I think both provided better air circulation to keep rooms cooler.

Found an article that includes this bit of information:

Building partly underground helps, too. The front downstairs room in our Raised Ranch is always admirably cool, even on hot summer days, without any air conditioning at all.

The modern style of apartment buildings- square blocks of brick and concrete with flat asphalt roofs- are nearly unlivable without air conditioning.

Not engineer or architect, so I can’t say if they did better back in the good old day. But.

  • I live in a high humidity region (Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas)
  • Having rented a house that was probably built around 1940’s or 1950’s.
  • Lived in Mexico in my youth without any A/C

How did they keep cool?

Fans. Lots of fans. And. Windows. Windows. Windows.

For example. I noticed that new homes in the bathroom area, if they have a window, it’s a tiny little window. Almost as a decoration than a necessity. Most appartments have no windows. In the old house I rented (and in bathroom in my grandparent’s house in Mexico), the bathroom had a rather large window near the ceiling and in which a ceiling fan help moved the cooler air inside.

Very differently.

In the vernacular architecture of the South, a feature you’ll see very often is the dogtrot house, a house with a wide and open breezeway(scroll down for several examples). Almost all of my ancestors lived in this type of dwelling, and if they could afford it their kitchen was usually a separate building due mainly to the fire threat but also to the heat it generated.

Generally speaking, ceilings were much higher, windows were alligned for cross ventilation, and if you were rich enough you had transoms. Of course then you had the problems of flies and transoms, and it was still hot. One major change brought about to southern houses was wire screen- that’s when “sleeping porches” became larger and more common and windows became wider because you could keep them raised for breeze without having to worry about everything from gnats to cats.

One thing you’ll notice on tombstones in the south and other hot states is how low the birth rate was for springtime (slows down around March, nosedives from April to July). These are the kids who would have been conceived from June to September, when after working in 100 degree weather (especially those who worked outside) people just weren’t feeling romantic at night.

I grew up in a house built in the early 50’s. It was pretty modern for it’s time, basically a ranch design with central air. For a period of about 10 years we didn’t have air conditioning. Instead, we installed a large exhuast fan at one end of the house and ceiling fans in every room. Plus, we had a swimming pool. Even though Indiana sees summers in the 90’s and high humidity, I was rarely uncomfortable.

It’s also a good idea to grill out a lot.

Also, since the development of AC, a lot more people live in the really hot areas–which many of them wouldn’t have done before. The populations of Arizona and Nevada have grown tremendously, and even my little California town was a lot smaller back when no one had AC.

I grew up in Bakersfield without air conditioning. We had a lot of fans and took a lot of swimming lessons. I spent many summer days lying on the floor in front of a fan and reading a book.

I learned something the other day from someone in Las Vegas. Everyone there drives SUVs–not because they enjoy guzzling gas but because SUVs have air-conditioning in the back, which most cars don’t. This makes life livable when it’s so hot that you can’t actually touch your car, because it will burn you.

High ceilings, double hung windows, large, open, central staircases, roof overhangs and large, wrap around porches. Strategic planting of shade trees. Multistory buildings had air shafts, ceiling fans, as well as the tall ceilings and lots of double hung windows.

My alma mater had no air conditioning, in Atlanta. It did have plenty of trees, big windows you could open, porches, etc. It was no big deal. I usually didn’t even use a fan. Now I live in an old house designed for no air, and I’d like to be able to turn the air off sometimes except that the windows are completely unopenable - not just nailed shut, somebody also cut the cords.

Window shutters used to be a lot more popular, because originally they were functional, not just decorative. I’ve never known anyone to live like that, with windows shuttered during the day (on the south side at least), but that’s why they were there.

That, and probably the added protection they offered during stormy weather.

Everybody slept in front of the fan, and some slept on roofs and such. You knew what the the neighborhood did at night. All the windows were open. Houses before electricity sometimes designed in a small room at the top of the house to use as a heat draw like a chimney.

I’m too late to be the first to mention shotgun houses, but I’ll add that they’re commonly built off the ground to allow airflow under them.

Fewer modern houses seem to have porches meant to be actually used anymore. One of my grandmothers lived in Detroit and the other lived in rural southern Indiana. Both of their houses had porches large enough for a swing a and few chairs. Everyone sat on their porches for a while in the evening to cool off before bed.

If we ever live in a post-air-conditioning age, a lot of houses and buildings constructed in the past 50 years will be useless. (In the South, at least.)

The manufacturing places had the roof vents like you still can see in greenhouses. The roof sections at the top are hinged to be open when too hot and no severe storm is raging. Many modern processes require humidity control, which this cooling would not allow for. You couldn’t make a lot of the cheap modern stuff without air conditioning.

The adobe houses have really good insulating properties.

Note in old movies that the hotels and other buildings all have transom windows over the doors. Transom windows are also mounted above larger regular windows sometimes. They are for light and ventilation.

My house was built in 1910. It has high ceilings, a deep porch, a vented attic, and surrounding shade trees.

Even without using the air conditioning system, the temperature downstairs rarely goes over 80, even in the heat of an Atlanta summer. On the other hand, it’s hard to keep the downstairs rooms warm in the winter. I suspect the original owners spend most of their time downstairs in the summer and upstairs in the winter.