Climate Control Through the Seasons

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Growing up in rural Oklahoma in the 1950s, we stayed cool (or coolish) through the blistering, humid summers by sitting very still in front of a fan with a glass of iced tea, or by taking our clothes off and running through the lawn sprinkler. We stayed warm in the winter by standing on the floor furnace until our shoe soles had grill marks, or by piling on layers of sweaters long before that became a fashion statement. “Climate control” was not an operative concept; we just took what nature dished out.

Moving to Colorado was like coming to weather heaven. Summer days were hot, but with zero humidity, and there were afternoon thundershowers and night temperatures down in the fifties. Winters were cold but so sunny and dry that almost every day was sweater weather.

That was then.

At our house this past summer we experienced fifty-two days with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It still cooled down at night, but not until the wee hours and not nearly so much. Central air conditioning, once a rarity in our town, has become the norm in new-house construction, and room-size units hang out of many, many windows. And who knows what winter will bring? Not what we used to expect, I’ll bet. It’s on those and related points that we’re having interesting conversations with some of the excellent craftsmen working on our house.

They’re concerned that our house will get colder in winter and warmer in summer than the sixty-eight to seventy degree average that most homeowners consider a divine right. We say if God had meant us to be seventy degrees, he wouldn’t have made us ninety-eight point six. Or if he’d meant us to be warm year ’round, he would have given us substantially more body hair and no Gillette razors. Such levity aside, Thomas and I really are committed to living with the seasons, feeling the changes.

In summer we’re counting on our home’s careful siting, wide overhangs, and a whole-house fan to mitigate the guaranteed, global-warming-induced heat that we’re sure to experience in years to come. In winter we’ll have hot water, at least partially solar-heated, radiating warmth through the floors, and a possibly excessive amount of thermal mass to release stored warmth through the evenings. If we get too hot, we’ll brew up some iced tea. If we get too cold, we’ll break out the long underwear. The weather will be an ongoing, rich topic of conversation, and we expect it will be just fine.

Lighting has been another issue. There seems to be a common expectation that at night, occupied rooms should be evenly lighted, like a sunny day at noon with a bit of cloud cover. The idea of this sort of indirect lighting has plenty of charm, but it takes many fixtures and a lot of energy bouncing off walls and ceilings to create that kind of homogeneous ambience. And besides that, night is supposed to be dark! Otherwise we wouldn’t get to have sunrise! So we’re voting to depend mostly on light shining right on our book or magazine pages or our knitting or our dinner plate, and lots of nice moody shadowed corners.

I often stand out on our little piece of land with dry plains reaching to the eastern horizon and the Rocky Mountains to the west, block out the housing developments and roadways all around, and imagine what it might have been like here 150 years ago. Cold in winter, hot in summer, dark at night, silent. Silent is long gone from this part of Colorado, and dark at night is a relative term, as in so many urban environments. But the ever-changing weather, it’s still with us. Bring it on.

Linda Ligon is publisher of Natural Home. This is part seven of the ongoing saga of her new natural home. The photo above shows wide overhangs that will prevent excessive solar gain in warmer months.