D.T. Pennington

Writer – Photographer – Creative Coach

It’s a Wet Heat

We’re hitting the first hot and wet days here in Asheville. And as uncomfortable as it is, I tell myself that it could be worse. I know the Piedmont and coastal regions are easily 10 degrees warmer and 40 percent more humid just by being. I’ll never forget our late-July trip to Wilmington for a few nights (after seeing Rage Against the Machine in Raleigh, made a whole little trip out of it) where the heat was just downright oppressive. Easily 100 degrees with all of the humidity, all day. At night the temps dipped down into the 80s. Looking for relief I dipped into the pool, but it was as warm as bathwater.

It was rough. All of it, mind you, was complicated by coming down with COVID as soon as we got home.

The wife and I have a self-imposed challenge to go as long as possible without turning on the air conditioner (or, in the winter, the heat) and I think we’re hitting the end of that window. Last night was warm, even with the window open, and we were further kept awake by the neighborhood cats getting in a scrap and the start of the screaming cicadas. This year we have the dog to think of. She’s getting old, the heat probably isn’t doing her much good.

Our Denver house was old, built long before central heating or air was an idea. For decades, houses in Denver needed furnaces far more than they needed air conditioning. We went without it for as long as we could until the nocturnal presence of our neighbor, Teddy, drove us to drop the pretty penny on getting a system installed (dedicated a whole chapter to it in my book about Denver Gentrification) Before that, we would make a careful practice of opening every window in the evening, shutting in the cool air in the morning, and setting up a series of fans to circulate air for the dogs. Even with the effort, it was still 85 degrees by the time we got home from work.

“But it’s a dry heat” Coloradan’s would say, as though that makes anything better.

There is an estimate floating around out there claiming 10% of all energy produced throughout the world is consumed by cooling. Air conditioners, refrigerators, freezers. The same estimates points out the resulting greenhouse gases from using this energy is only making the planet warmer, which means the future will use more energy to cool things off.

Today, everything is constructed with air conditioning in mind. A loose equation: how many BTUs to cool this space down? From a strip mall office to a warehouse that fills the horizon – we can cool it. It wasn’t too long ago that buildings were designed to consider their environments. How would heat dissipate (or be held in?), what about airflow? Light?

Visiting historic Charleston, SC you’ll see hundreds of examples of how homes were designed with coolness in mind. Sure, these multi-million dollar lots are passed from one generation to another and have certain historic standards to uphold, but most of the interiors are gutted and modernized. The lots were constructed so the main building was between the street and the garden, giving the (often well-off) residents somewhere to hide out. To cool the main buildings, the upstairs windows were opened to draw in air from the street level. The only “conditioning” this air would get is from the fragrant flower boxes at the street window – lest you fill your home with the smell of mud and excrement.

To get an idea of what they did with the backyard gardens, which were well hidden and very exclusive, I encourage you to give the satellite view a zoom-in. For grins, here is a map of the zestimates in the area. At least one of these properties is owned by the Murdochs.

The heat even makes you want to live differently. Consider the siesta – what else is there to do at 3 PM on a hot day other than lay in a hammock, in the shade, and just let the warm hours pass over you? Asides, by 3 in the afternoon (which is getting close as I write this) the studio is typically in some sort of insufferable state. My fingers are sticking to the keyboard and my head swims with the stuffiness – and this typically happens even when the AC is running. But, as Austin Kleon recently reminds us in his blog:

To survive the punishing heat, you have to go easy with yourself, not force anything. When the temperature starts to rise, I try work all morning until my brain melts and then I spend the rest of the afternoon on a raft, reading a book. Summer is when I’m really able to read without guilt or expectation.

-Big Books For Summer by Austin Kleon

So, go easy on yourself.