Today’s Hot Question: Can You Live Without Air Conditioning?

“I Don’t Need Air Conditioning and Neither Do You.”

If there’s one thing bound to get a Southerner’s attention, it’s the assertion that we might not need our air conditioning. So when I saw an article from the Washington Post with that title in my news feed, I had to click.

Life without air conditioning? I can’t imagine. Or can I?

Summer in the Seventies

By all accounts, this has been a very hot summer, and we’ve treated it accordingly. There have been days when I stayed inside for the entire day. Days where I stepped outside and went straight to an air conditioned car.

Certainly, the heat and humidity have reduced the amount of exercise I’ve attempted. Even Little Bit has stayed in almost all day.

Somehow, that doesn’t seem right. I remember my childhood. At least in my memory, my brother and I stayed out all day, riding bikes and climbing trees. We found ways to keep cool: wading in the creek, running through a sprinkler or running after the ice cream truck. For the most part, though, summer didn’t decrease our level of activity, it increased it.

No one stayed inside, even at night. Mom would cook dinner, and we’d eat outside on the porch. We’d visit someone’s house, and sit on a patio.

Most of our friends and family had air conditioning. We used AC, but we didn’t need it. We knew how to open the windows, drink plenty of iced tea and lemonade, and take advantage of stray breezes and ceiling fans.

I’m not a transplant. These aren’t mountain summers or Maine summers I’m talking about. I’m a Carolina girl from hot, humid Fayetteville. The world might be a little warmer, but we didn’t lack for 90 degree temperatures.

Summer Now

Life went on into the 80’s and I lived in unairconditioned dorms and spent plenty of time outside. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve spent more and more time inside in the summer to the point where even an afternoon in the mid 80s feels too hot outside unless I’m spending it in the water. I rarely open the windows and catch the breeze, or sit on the porch holding an icy glass to my forehead.

A day in the 90s? Hmmm, we’d better go to the movies or the library.

I’ve gotten wimpified.

But, as the Washington Post article mentions, there are costs to my wimpification.

First, air conditioners use a lot of energy and that costs money. The article said about 5% of your total home energy usage, but it seems like our energy costs are a lot more than 5% higher in summer than in spring and fall. Of course, we probably do more energy intensive activities too: watching TV and playing video games instead of bonfires and other outdoor activities. I know it reduces my gas mileage as well.

Second, when we spend more time inside, we are less social. We’re closed up in our houses instead of interacting with our neighbors.

We’re also less active and probably less healthy, trapped inside with our germs all day.

Today's Hot Question: Can You Live Without Air Conditioning?

The Problem With Turning Off Air Conditioning

So with all those negatives, maybe I should just turn the AC off, at least most of the time. I should ride around with the windows down in my car, open the windows in the house and turn on the fans, dress lightly or not at all, and reset my heat tolerance.

I mean, that’s what we do on vacation. When we went to the beach, we turned off the air conditioning and opened the windows and doors, enjoying the sounds of the surf and the cool ocean breezes. We spent our days on the beach or the porch. When we visit my dad’s lake house, we open the place up and turn on the fans, and spend the day at the end of the pier. If I can go AC-less on vacation, I can do it at home, right?

Only, I don’t think it’s that easy.

Our house has small windows with no screens, and doesn’t let in the breeze easily. There’s no easy water to cool off in, unless I take multiple showers a day. And when we go elsewhere, we have to shiver in the 72 degree temperatures most businesses favor already. If I roll down the windows in the car, I risk bad air (caused in part by all that energy being generated to power air conditioning.)

Plus, well, electronics don’t take well to all of that humidity.

It seems a vicious circle. My need for air conditioning rises as others use more of it. The more I use it, the more I need it.

The Compromise? Notch It Down

So I don’t think I can easily live without air conditioning. Not here, not now. Life in a central North Carolina summer is pretty darn uncomfortable without AC, as we found out last summer when ours died for a week. (If I ever get that beach front cottage, I’ll be happy to reconsider.)

But we do try to notch the temperature up a little and notch the AC down. We leave the temp at 78-79 most of the time and dress in shorts and “bear’s feet.” We take the comforter off the bed and turn on fans. Jon opens the sliding glass door (albeit with the screen door shut) in the mornings, and tries to get just a bit more fresh air in the house. We cook on the grill or in the slow cooker and stay hydrated.

Even riding around in the car, we’ve been trying a bit more fresh air than air conditioning. We’ve moved errands to the morning or evening. Jon wants to get that gas mileage up, and that’s one of the ways we’ve been working on it.

Our goal is to reduce our use of air conditioning as much as possible while staying comfortable. 

I’m glad I read the article. Maybe there’s more I can do to enjoy cool mornings and evening breezes and to reconnect with the outside world even as the temperature soars. I probably need to rebuild the heat tolerance of my youth.

But give up air conditioning entirely? Probably not.

Would you (or do you) live without air conditioning? What do you think about the social and environmental costs of staying cool?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich and, Disease Called Debt*

30 thoughts on “Today’s Hot Question: Can You Live Without Air Conditioning?

  1. Times have changes for sure. As I kid I’d get up in the morning hit the neighborhood and wouldn’t come back until dark. Now kids are making plans via the internet or their smart phone and are certainly inside more.

    AC would be tough to give up cold turkey. I did go without in my car for a few years when paying off our debt. We have taking the same approach of ticking the thermostats up a few degrees in the house to try and save some money.
    Brian @ debt discipline recently posted…Money BlueprintMy Profile

    • I think I could do it more easily in the car. Of course, I don’t have to drive very far most days, so that’s not as big a deal.

  2. Montana has delightfully cool nights. It’s one of my favorite things about living here. Hot days, and cool nights (with no humidity!). After a few years we did break down and get a little window AC unit. It only gets used about 20 days in the summer, but we are happy to have it on those days. We try to spend a lot of time outside, and it helps acclimate us to the cold winters and hot summers.
    Ms. Montana recently posted…September ResolutionsMy Profile

    • Cool nights with no humidity sounds delightful. I’m pretty sure my wimpification has to do with my lack of outside time. Maybe I need to flip my perspective: I’m not staying inside because of the AC, I’m using the AC because I don’t spend enough time outside.

  3. We’re very lucky, during this 100+ degree heat, to be living in the Bay despite the exhorbitant costs otherwise, that we don’t need a/c. It’s been mild here compared to where my family is with the 100-108 degree days they’ve been having.

    Back in the family home, we rarely used the a/c even on the hottest days because it was too expensive, so we’re used to all the usual shifts to keep cool, but at some point it’s just too unbearable and you need a fan or some cooling. I worry more about the pets, small children, and elderly, though, since they can’t just tough it out so well, and for their sake, and my sanity, I’d probably never give up a/c entirely. We’d just keep our use as low as we could.
    Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life recently posted…San Diego Comic Con 2016 RecapMy Profile

    • I think using less is probably a more realistic goal for us. When the weather gets hot, the air quality can get pretty bad and affect kids, pets and the elderly. Plus, heat itself.
      We do have fans in the house, both ceiling and on stands, and use them to help stay cool even when we notch up the temperature a bit.

  4. Our AC stays set at 78. If it’s really hard to sleep, sometimes I’ll turn it down to 76 (I also do this when we have company). It’s so cold in my public places and my work, that 76 actually helps me thaw 😉 We had so many days in the 90s that I was worried we’d have to use more AC. But when it’s 95 degrees out, 78 feels quite good!
    Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies recently posted…Illness, Expenses, & $12 Cherry JuiceMy Profile

    • Most public places blast AC to ridiculous temperatures. At one of my old workplaces, I was constantly wearing sweaters at work. I’ve read articles where they blame the AC on men’s fashions (coat and tie) and talk about how keeping workplaces so cold reduces productivity. But most of the time, 78 degrees feels pretty comfortable to me.

  5. I remember those summers growing up, when we either didn’t have or didn’t use air conditioning, and yes it was a lot different than now. Some of the recent days have definitely been too hot and humid for me to go without A/C, but overall I’d prefer to use less of it. My wife is on the other end of the scale, and with the A/C and fans, it’s still barely enough to keep her feeling cool. So the name of the game is compromise.
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    • Yeah, your heating and cooling habits have to mesh with the others in your household. We kept the house a little warmer in summer and cooler in winter before we had Little Bit. Once the kid came along, Jon notched everything closer to the mean.
      And funny story, Jon claims that when he lived in Orlando he never turned on the AC, and his neighbor told him “No woman is going to be willing to marry you if you don’t turn on your air conditioning.” While he was already in North Carolina when I married him, I told him that his old neighbor knew his stuff.

  6. I could get by fine with setting the AC at a higher temp and doing without it more, but I know my wife wouldn’t have any of that. She is a bit more of a warm body than I am and we’ve learned that our 2 year old is a warm body as well. We usually have the AC set around 80 – 82 degrees which gives it plenty of use here in Charlotte, NC. We ran it even less often last summer, but we are more comfortable using it this summer given our purchase of solar panels so we don’t have to worry as much about the energy cost…although I guess it is just leading to our further wimpification!
    The Green Swan recently posted…The Path to A Million: Finding the ElevatorMy Profile

    • If you are keeping your temperature at 80-82, you are doing better than we are. But that is going to keep the AC going most of the time in a Carolina summer.

  7. I live in an older development, and a lot of houses don’t have central air. I don’t know how they do it. This summer, I’ve only gone outside (in Raleigh) to do a few minor workouts, mow the grass, visit the pool, or run through the sprinkler. We’ve only started going back to the parks in the last few days with such nice weather.

    The kids might be able to handle it, but I cannot!

    • Ugh. I’ve lived with window units and fans, and it can be done, but it’s not as comfortable. When I did, I think I spent a lot less time at home, but I was also more heat tolerant.
      We’ve been to the park twice this week and are going today. (we’re on track out.) It’s so nice this week compared to what it has been for the last 2 months!

  8. Could we live without AC? Of course, but I don’t think I’d want to. Some things are worth paying for and AC is one of em. I would much rather go without heat and as someone from the Windy City some might call me crazy but you can always layer up to make yourself warmer. There’s only so much you can do to keep cool.

    • You know, I didn’t even consider the corollary. I can imagine no AC in my life, but even with much milder winters here, I can’t imagine not having heat in cold weather. I guess we’ve lost power a couple of times during ice storms, and I know how miserable I was, even in multiple layers.
      I do think most of the time, we think AC is worth the monetary cost. It’s the other costs (less time outside due to less heat tolerance, less activity, less interaction because more time in your house) that struck me.

  9. We live on the west coast in the Central Valley of California. Most summer days it gets over 100 degrees and we don’t have air conditioning. The bonus of California versus Carolina is a dry heat instead of a humid heat; but it still gets hot!!! We’ve learned to live without A/C. We have replaced all the windows in our house and added insulation to all the outside walls and have noticed a huge change in how warm the house gets. Our house is from the 40’s so adding A/C is a major change, besides needing all the ducting, we would need to increase our input from our energy provider. We decided it was more work than we wanted to deal with so we deal with the heat instead.

    • I have heard that about dry heat, but at some point heat is heat. and trapped air in the house can get pretty hot.
      It’s good that you’ve done what you can to make your home more comfortable without adding AC. Do you find it easier to spend time outside than those around you who have AC in their homes?

      • Yes… we can deal much better with the heat than most people, both inside and outside. We are happy because our house never got over 90 degrees this summer. My brother-in-law said “he would die if his house ever got that hot,” they keep their house at 77.

        • Thanks for sharing, Brandy. You’ve given me something to think about for next summer. I think we could notch it up just a touch more.

  10. I grew up in the Netherlands and never experienced “privately” owned AC until I moved here. When I lived in Montgomery, AL for a stretch I would literally get colds from going into air-conditioned building. 20 years later and now I couldn’t do without myself. My family, as everyone else in the Netherlands, still doesn’t have central AC and life goes on even as they are witnessing some of the worst heatwaves.

    One big difference here is the mosquitoes. It’s not that easy to leave your windows open. Nothing worse than dealing with buzzing mosquitoes at night.

    We keep our AC at 78 during the summer which still makes it feel cool when you step in. In winter I try to keep the heat at 70 during the day and 65 at night. That those couple of degrees make a big difference.
    Maarten recently posted…Screw-ups up on My Way to a Million: GreedMy Profile

    • Hi Maarten. I like 78 degrees myself, and hate when i have to go into or work in a place that sets the AC to 72 in the summer. I end up with the sniffles. We tend to go a little cooler in the winter (67 during the day and 62-63 at night).

      When it is cool enough to turn the AC off and open the windows in the summer, we usually have a fan or white noise machine on. As long as the mosquitos stay on the other side of the screen, we don’t hear them. But the frogs and crickets tend to be a bit noisier.

  11. My house could be ventilated with open windows but my husband refuses to open them more than a crack–if a small child could get through the window it is open too far. Even if the power is off, If I open the front door to create cross-ventilation, he closes it.

    However, I agree 100% with turning down the ac. Wear summer clothes and set the AC at 77 or 78; its more comfortable that 72 IMO
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    • You do have to compromise with the other people in the house. My stepmother was not one for open windows and doors either, I think in part because my half brother had really bad asthma, but also because she has very little heat tolerance. I always freeze in her house. Fortunately, Jon likes his fresh air as much as I do.

  12. Quick answer for me: nope! They’re actually investigating the correlation between deaths, heat and lack of AC in section 8 housing in Harlem. I think their end goal is to make AC as mandatory as heat is. And that’s up north. I’m not really sure how the heck people could go without down south. Didn’t its advent fuel a migration down there?
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    • As I thought more about this topic, I did realize that air quality is one of the things driving more AC, particularly in larger cities. Heat can kill, and you have to be really careful with older folks and little kids. So AC as an option is probably good for most people. AC at 70 degrees seems like overkill, though, and I do think that we’ve lost some heat tolerance that allowed for healthier habits.

  13. Hi Emily,

    It depends on where you live. Down south, it is almost impossible for me.


    • There are places where it’s easier, as some of the other comments have mentioned. My mom didn’t have it, but while she was in NC, she was in the mountains. Personally, I don’t really want to do it here in Raleigh, just reduce my use.

  14. That’s right, summer without AC is like mental torture to me, AC is good for all of us including house animals. Keep share your article with us.
    Paul Halpin recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

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