Residential air conditioning—the invention that allows residents of hot, humid climates to retreat to a cool, dry oasis—only became common in the U.S. after World War II. So how did our great-grandparents manage to live with high indoor humidity?
Interest in this question isn’t just limited to historians, of course. Some Americans—including a few green builders—are interested in designing houses for hot, humid climates that work well without air conditioning. Whether or not these designs are successful depends in part on the expectations and flexibility of the residents.
Comfort is subjective
Some people feel comfortable in hot, humid weather, even without air conditioning. As long as they have a few ceiling fans, they’re happy.
That said, when it comes to living with high humidity, human comfort isn’t the only issue. Condensation and mold can cause hard-to-solve problems for indoor objects and furnishings.
For example, some types of camera equipment and computer equipment can malfunction in humid conditions. The worst problems occur when equipment is transferred from a cool location—perhaps an air-conditioned car—to conditions that are hot and humid. When hot, humid air contacts a cold surface, the result is condensation—and condensation can easily cause problems with cameras or computers.
Moreover, in humid conditions, porous materials like drywall, shoes, and all kinds of fabric (including clothes, curtains, and upholstery) are susceptible to mold. If conditions aren’t extreme, mold can be often prevented by tricks that encourage air circulation: by regular use of a fan, by leaving closet doors open, by moving furniture away from walls, or by designing houses to catch breezes.
While these methods can help, they aren’t foolproof.
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