Friday, August 21, 2009

Air Conditioning and the Outdoors

I spent my high school years, and some college summers, living in Gainesville, Florida. One of those summers, I biked a few miles to work every day. Some days, the air was so thick with humidity it felt like you could cut it with a knife. Most afternoons, the humidity would come to a head in a brief thunderstorm -- and when it was over, the rain would rise right back up as steam.

I spent a lot of time outdoors that summer -- especially some memorable evenings on my friend's front porch. She was renting a house with no air conditioning, so the porch was just as comfortable temperature-wise as the indoors -- plus there was a big hammock. It was a full evening of entertainment just to sit out there, chatting with friends, having a beer and watching the people go by.

To this day, I am a big fan of porch-sitting. So is my next-door neighbor, who's in his 70's. We'll sit and watch the birds in our yards, and chat across the banisters for a bit. Almost every house in our neighborhood has a porch, but we rarely see anyone else just sitting on theirs. My theory? Air conditioning has killed the porch, and along with it, part of people's experience of the outdoors.

Consider this: with the windows closed and the a/c on, it's harder to hear anything outdoors. And we don't really want to go outdoors, because it's so much nicer inside. When we do go out, the heat feels worse because we're not used to it. And, in the long run, we're each doing our tiny little part in making it even hotter out there, by using electricity to run the a/c in the first place.

I'm not a purist -- Matt and I do turn our a/c on several times every summer, usually when we're having people over, or when it's still so hot and humid at 10:00 PM that it's hard to sleep. But do I think leaving it off most of the time makes us more willing and able to go outdoors.

How about you? Is a/c the only way you can live through a DC summer, or do you try to moderate your use of air conditioning? Do you think it makes you more or less willing to spend time outdoors?