Older houses had no such thing as air conditioning to switch on in summer. These old-school (and eco-friendly) design tricks were used to get air flowing through the house to stay cool and invite in the dog days of summer.
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1. Use louvers to draw in air. It’s no coincidence that your favorite resort often has walls of louvers. Fully open, the walls practically disappear, making the space feel truly outdoors. But when a rainstorm hits, the blades can be angled down to keep the water out but still allow air to flow. If privacy is an issue, you can use blades made of frosted glass or a solid material such as wood. (Natural cedar makes a terrific feature on the exterior too.)
2. Make shutters more than pretty faces. For hundreds of years, shutters have been used to help control light and airflow. In Italian houses, the shutters are closed in the middle of the day to keep out the hottest sun—but the windows are left open to draw in air. If you have existing fixed shutters, check for gaps between the slats that can let in air. If there are gaps, you may need to have the shutters reattached with hinges you can open and shut.
3. Build screens into your architecture. For a more modern look, fixed screens as part of the design of your home can do double duty: make a statement on the design and provide security so you can leave windows open.
4. Open up the room. Since hot air moves toward cooler air—and any air movement is good—a house that has vented openings on both sides of the building has a lot more airflow to keep you fresh. While walls of glass that open turn rooms into virtual covered porches, you can achieve the same air movement by having operable windows on the cooler side of the house to draw the air through from the hot side.
5. Use shutters inside. Shutters are more than just a decorative alternative to curtains and blinds—use them as security too. Open the windows behind them to let in air and close the shutters to keep out the hot sun, and you’ve cooled the room down in the old-style, green way.
6. Aim high to vent hot air. Since hot air rises, operable high (clerestory) windows and skylights create a chimney that releases the heat out through the top of a home, helping to draw up cooler air too. If regular summer rainstorms are an issue, look for window systems with electronic sensors that cause them to close automatically when rain threatens.
7. Embrace fans. Any air movement is good, which is why fans have been used since early times to keep things cool, hauling away the warm air and pushing cooler breezes around the room. Ceiling fans come in all sorts of designs, from statement-making to discreet. Some even look like old-school palm-leaf originals. Look for models that can be reversed for winter, helping to push warm air back down into the room.
8. Live outdoors—sort of. Enclose a covered porch or veranda with insect screens (even install a fan if you need extra breezes), and you’ll have an outdoor room that is airy and bug-free. Use furniture that is sturdy enough to withstand the odd splash of rain—wood, metal, wicker, modern indoor-outdoor pieces—and you can live outside for months.
9. Add cooling water. The ancients knew the power of cooling water to create the illusion of cooler air. A bubbling water pot or fountain, a small pond or a water feature helps to cool the air as it passes over—a mini version of sea breezes. Be sure to keep the water clean with appropriate plants and fish, that way it does not become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
10. Update your screen doors. Screen doors have come of age. You can buy smart designs off the shelf to complement your villa, bungalow or contemporary home. A screen door means you can draw in breezes from the front and back doors without risking kids or pets escaping. And it offers a nice summer welcome to visitors.