Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Air Cooled or Air Conditioned?

Chipmunks, thirteen-lined squirrels, woodchucks, and many other mammals spend hot weather time underground where the air in their dens is cooler. They also use tree cavities and other places that not only offer a cool reprieve but provide protection from predators, and biting flies.

We enter our homes relatively free from mosquitoes and deer flies because we have screened windows. Many keep windows closed to prevent hot humid air from making the house uncomfortably damp and sticky.

Air conditioners cool the air and reduce the humidity to make it more comfortable for working inside. They also increase utility bills. Having an air-cooled home will save money and can be effective for comfort.

When people visit our home, they think the house is air conditioned but ours is air-cooled. Designing with nature is effective. A sugar maple tree stands on the south side of the house and one shades the west side. They help keep the house from being heated by intense sunlight radiation during hot afternoons.

I like a bright yard, sun, and active butterflies with a well lite garden and field. The open area on the east side provides morning sun that dries the area but does not excessively heat the house. At midday we can sit on the shaded side of the house to enjoy the open area teaming with active butterflies and bird life. We mow a strip by the back porch where we sit comfortably mostly free from mosquitoes because it is sunlit. The backyard was mowed for the first time on 30 June. Grass, catsclaw yellow flowers, maiden pink, oxeye daisies, and other flowers dominate the yard. Plants cool the ground where rabbits and millions of insects thrive to feed birds. Few insects are bothersome to people. The yard is a sea of flower blooms that attract an abundance of life.

Mowed trails provide easy access for daily walks through the sanctuary where we are not likely to twist an ankle, get soaked pant legs, or stir up mosquitoes.

When I was chief naturalist at Morningside Nature Center in Gainesville Florida, my office and location for meeting visitors was a 19th century farmstead. It was designed with nature’s air-cooling comfort. The front door was opposite the rear door to allow air movement. Windows were placed in a manner the enhance air exchange with outside air. Interior walls were minimal so they did not impede airflow.

Florida is humid in the summer where daily rains keep humidity high. In the 1800’s air conditioners were not an option and people learned to design home construction for maximum comfort. One learns to accept surrounding atmospheric conditions like high humidity, daily rain, and sultry conditions. One can also learn to minimize unpleasantries by designing home placement and surrounding vegetation for optimum effect.

The naturalist office in the farmstead was used for visitor programming and was comfortable without an air conditioner. The air-cooled building was shaded by trees but was open enough for free air movement. Close to the home was a fenced area for farm animals. The pine fence was designed for easy assembly and disassembly so it could be moved to allow animals to be housed where they could graze on fresh vegetation. The farmyard allowed open space for air movement to reach the home and for sunlight to dry nearby air.

Current home construction often does not consider “design with nature”. Take a lesson from nature niche residents that live nearby and learn how you can capitalize on cooling effects nature can provide to make your home most comfortable without increasing your utility bill or adding carbon to the atmosphere.

We open windows at night and shut them in the morning. With the aid of shade trees our home remains comfortable. We live comfortably in an air-cooled home without air conditioning. Fans suffice during prolonged heat waves. Learn from early settlers that lived comfortably 150 years ago by designing with nature.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.