Old building

A century ago, homes were not designed with air conditioners in mind. Instead, architects devised other ways to keep people cool in the hot summer months.

Jill Gotthelf is a New York state-based architect and preservation expert who restores historic buildings. She says many of them were designed to allow breezes in and to allow hot air out.

“In houses this worked with the large open stairwells in the building,” she says, “and then usually windows at the upper part of the stairwell that worked with what we call a chimney effect to let breezes go through and go up the building.”

Porches and roof overhangs were often designed to provide cooling shade in the summer, and thick stone walls helped keep the indoor temperature down.

“So all of these systems made them less dependent on mechanical systems,” Gotthelf says.

But she says when historic homes were renovated in the ’70s and ’80s, some original features were changed or removed. In her work, she strives to restore them so a house can function as it was originally intended. Then she enhances the homes with modern clean energy systems.

She says to make historic houses more energy efficient, people should draw on the best of the new and the old.

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Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Topics: Energy