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5229Re: Air Conditioning, Cars, and livable places

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  • Ken Kifer
    Jun 5, 2002
      John Snyder wrote:
      Without AC and autos people who lived in warm climates
      would cope using Earth friendly methods much like Ken
      described. But with the advent of AC and autos a great
      but somewhat silent migration occurred in the US. What
      was once a farmer's verdant field or biological diverse
      swamp has now in many places become a lifeless
      micro-climate-changing parking lot.

      Ken Kifer replies:
      Indeed, we know exactly how people coped with the heat in the South in the
      past. For a extremely good description of a share-cropper's life, plus photos,
      read "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," a picture of rural Alabama in the 30's. Of
      course, their life was not ideal: too much of the woods had been clear-cut to
      plant cotton, too many hours of working for poor wages, and no imagination to
      supply alternate solutions.

      There is a simple and free replacement for air conditioning everywhere is the
      South. It is called the soil temperature. If houses were built underground or
      mostly underground, most energy costs would vanish. In Northern Alabama, the
      ground temperature is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, year round. In South Alabama,
      ground temperatures would be 60 degrees or above. Windows could be placed on the
      south side (if that side is exposed) or in the roof that would allow sufficient
      light. They could be designed to let the sun shine directly in during the
      winter, to provide additional heat, and indirectly during the summer, to avoid
      additional heat. One problem remains: the air inside would have to be
      dehumidified, as the outside air is very humid and would condense after coming

      The biggest problem with housing design is that it governed by fashion and not
      by where we live. The builder usually doesn't even bother to locate the house
      to take advantage of the sun's heat in the winter or to avoid the sun's heat in
      the summer. Our lawns are the same way. In a cold, rainy climate, such as
      England, it make sense to have the houses out in the open and away from the
      trees, but in Alabama, it's just stupid, yet most new houses are built this way.

      The family wanting an underground home will find no construction company willing
      to build it, no bank willing to finance it, and no seller wanting to purchase it
      if they later have to relocate.

      The old Southern houses were designed for the heat. The ceilings were high and
      so were the windows, which were left open from evening to morning and closed as
      the morning heated up. It took a long time for the heat to penetrate and warm
      all that air. The cooking area was separate by a dog run from the rest of the
      house because cooking was done with firewood in iron stoves, and beans were left
      to simmer for hours, keeping those rooms hot all day long. A few souls are
      designing their homes like this nowadays, but probably mostly for looks.

      People's lives were adjusted to the heat. They got up before the sun and were
      working as soon as it was light. They would quit at noon time, have a big meal,
      and rest or sleep in the heat of the day, and then work again in the evening.

      I don't think the automobile per se has affected the Southern farmer much; the
      pickup truck replaced the wagon. Of course, with trips to town taking less time,
      there are more trips to town. However, farming has become quite different and
      more expensive with high fuel, fertilizer, and pesticide costs. The small
      farmer now has a job and farms part-time.

      Southern cities are frightfully hot. Summer breezes are light, and the
      buildings trap and smother them. The stone buildings and the asphalt roads and
      parking lots first absorb heat and then radiate it outward viciously. Driving in
      stop and stop Southern city traffic without air conditioning with a car already
      preheated by roasting for hours in the sun gives you all the sauna experience
      you would ever want; Southerner preachers who preached hell fire knew that their
      audiences were sensitive to that threat. Nowadays, in the winter time,
      Southerners are prone to leave their cars idling in the driveway to warm the
      interior; in the summer time, they will leave the car running while they go
      shopping just to have a cool car to return to. It would be easy to be a car
      thief in Alabama; you wouldn't even have to turn the key.
      Ken Kifer's Bike Pages: Over 130 web pages -- touring,
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