Summertime in the City. [in a few months]
November 28, 2006 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Am I crazy for thinking of living in Durham, NC without air conditioning? Considerations: I get really really hot, have a somewhat crazy internal thermometer, I have lots of books, and I don't want to be miserable. Problem: we found a super cute house and it doesn't have AC. What to do?

I'm from way up north living in (for me) a hot and humid climate in the Triangle area. I've had central AC down here for 4 years, and I definitely keep my entire place air conditioned in the summer and fall - it's hot here all through September. I can likely escape out of here during July and August this summer.

Questions: Do window units actually work? I could put one in my bedroom, so that I could at least sleep in relative coolness.

What about my books? I have lots and lots of books, most of which won't fit in my bedroom. Will they suffer for being in the kind of humidity that settles in here, or am I being paranoid? What about photographs or art?

If I don't live with AC, will I actually become better adapted to the humidity? What are tips on dealing with it? This seems weird to be asking when it's gorgeous outside, but this house is a good opportunity and I need to weigh options here. I know that I'm being a bit of a baby about this but my heat issues are just one of those things that I've never been very good at adapting to down here. Help me, hive mind!
posted by fionab to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
Not sure about the books, but I've done well with window units in most of the houses and apartments I've lived in. YMMV.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:02 AM on November 28, 2006

Yeah window units are great- if this is a rental, make sure your landlord will approve use of a window unit and make sure the wiring can handle it (some of the old houses around here will blow fuses using window units). But yes, you are crazy to not have some form of AC if you are so sensitive to heat. I'm in Carrboro, and it took me 6 years to get used to this kind of heat and humidity, but I still refuse to live without AC.
posted by greta simone at 7:06 AM on November 28, 2006

I wouldn't do it; I live in GA and consider central AC a necessity. Having said that, you should be able to add central AC to your house for a few thousand dollars; it will be cheaper if you already have central heat with existing ducts. Get a rough estimate and use that when bargaining for price. Other buyers will see the lack of AC as a drawback too.
posted by TedW at 7:06 AM on November 28, 2006

If I don't live with AC, will I actually become better adapted to the humidity?

I'd definately have a window unit in at least one room of refuge, but be prepared for a shock when you walk out of that room.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:07 AM on November 28, 2006

Response by poster: This is a rental - sorry for the confusion.
posted by fionab at 7:08 AM on November 28, 2006

Even a small window unit will lower the humidity in a room, so it will be a lot more comfortable.
posted by jjj606 at 7:18 AM on November 28, 2006

I've lived in Florida for most of my life, so you might say I'm better adapted to heat, but I would NEVER do what you're suggesting. This year I lived in Oregon for 6 months, and by the end of June I was completely miserable without A/C. I imagine that NC will be much worse. I don't think you'll become adapted to the humidity, especially if you're already aware that you're sensitive to it. Ugh it's making me uncomfortable just thinking about this.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 7:21 AM on November 28, 2006


When I was at Duke, my frosh year our dorm was without air-conditioning. While we missed the peak of summer, I wouldn't say it was that bad. We just relied on 2-3 fans, and we could hardly notice it.

My friend who stayed in an unair-conditioned dorm over the summer swore by his window unit, but he managed.

It's actually pretty cool in the mornings (60-65, yes that's cool because i'm from texas!) so you can leave your windows open at night and be fine up until the afternoon.

As far as absolutely high temperatures. This is going anecdotally, but I think we only had 2-3 100+ days all summer, if that.

Hope this helps!
posted by unexpected at 7:26 AM on November 28, 2006

I spent 8 years in the R/DU area. You're not nuts, but you're getting close. You should be able to eke by with a window unit or two, but that's no guarantee.

Window units actually work, but only keep a room or two cool each.

Your books should be fine.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:30 AM on November 28, 2006

Response by poster: You're not nuts, but you're getting close. This is true on oh-so-many levels. Thanks for the laugh.
posted by fionab at 7:46 AM on November 28, 2006

Yup, window units work. I survived 3 1/2 years in DC with a window unit.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:47 AM on November 28, 2006

Easy... just get one or two window units ($130 is a typical price) and keep certain parts of the house cool. You can do your cooking and "storage" areas (bookshelves, etc) in the non-AC parts, and do your sleeping and living in the cool parts. Use doors or a good thick drape to partition the area off. When I lived in Austin the city had pretty darn good energy rebates (like $50 off) on energy efficient models... I would think that a progressive place like the Triangle area would have something similar.
posted by hodyoaten at 7:47 AM on November 28, 2006

If you are used to heat and humidity you can certainly get by with just a lot of fans, but the "I get really really hot" indicates that this is not going to be an option for you.

Window AC units work just great but you have to remember that they only are designed to cool that one room, so you either need one in each room or you need to keep the door closed.

(And yes I was born and raised in Durham and lived in Raleigh through undergrad.)
posted by Rhomboid at 7:49 AM on November 28, 2006

A/C is probably a personal thing, I have a rarely run window unit and I live in central SC, so it's possible.

However, my books and photos have been a the mercy of silverfish, humidity and mildew. You've got to remember that when you don't have central A/C the air in your house is less controlled (windows open, doors open, not everything run through a central intake, wildly varying temps and humidity) and there's going to be lots more bad stuff in the air. This is not to say that my favorite books and photos in my living room have actively disintegrated, but things in storage do seem to have suffered.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:50 AM on November 28, 2006

Three disadvantages of window units vs. central air:

1. They keep the hot side hot and the cool side comfortable. That is to say, they're great at cooling a small area, less so at cooling an entire apartment. You'll want one in the living room and one in the bedroom at the minimum. You probably won't be able to get one in the kitchen and that's going to suck; when you cook meals in there, the heat will be intense. So parts of your home will be pleasant and others decidely not. Put up drapes, shades, whatever you can to block the incoming sunlight; that'll help.

2. They're very, very noisy. If you want to watch a movie on a July evening, be prepared to turn the sound on the TV all the way up. Otherwise, you won't be able to hear it over the roar of the window unit.

3. Air from window units, in my experience, usually smells worse than air from central units.

The point here is simply that there's a big difference between the two types. So, you know, be prepared. If it were me, I wouldn't do it; I'd find a place with central air.
posted by Clay201 at 8:15 AM on November 28, 2006

Eh, our house (In Savannah, Georgia) has no Central Air, just a couple of window units. I'm mostly ok with that (we're still thinking of putting in Central Heat and Air), but what really helps are ceiling fans. They are an absolute must if you don't have AC.

But as someone else mentioned, it can limit how much you move about the house i.e. you avoid the un conditioned places. If you DO have enough units to cover the house, then it make sense to turn units off and on, depending where you're going to be spending most of your time.

However, the electric bill ($70 buck vs $200) REALLY likes not having central A/C and I've gotten pretty use to it and kinda like it. The women of the house tend to be really bothered by the lack though.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:24 AM on November 28, 2006

I lived in Greensboro for college and I was just fine without A/C (had it available centrally, but I was cheap and stubborn). Just make sure you have a LOT of circulation, and you will find yourself growing to enjoy the heat. I recommend window mounted fans, that can be set to blow in either direction, then try and set them up so you have a constant stream of air moving through your apt. If you can put one on the top of a window and have it blow out then even better, you will be pushing hot air out of the room. You mentioned you were in a rental unit, but not what floor it is on, higher equals hotter, so I would not recommend this as heartily if you are above 2 or 3 stories up.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2006

I used to live in Durham, and had no AC for a week after Hurricane Fran and it was pretty bad. I had to fall asleep downstairs and then wake up when I was still half asleep and go upstairs to be able to sleep up there. I cannot fall asleep when I am sweating.

Of course, since we had no power, we had no fans either, so you still may be able to make it work if you have a good cross breeze, which we did not have b/c we did not have enought windows.

So as long as you have a window unit you are fine. we had one downstairs and one in each upstairs bedroom and all was well (this was on Lancaster St., BTW).
posted by 4ster at 8:52 AM on November 28, 2006

I dated a girl who lived outside of Duram without A/C in her house. They thrived on leaving the windows open and having a few fans blowing and it never seemed to kill them.

I lived in the New York area for a while and never had A/C either since I lived in an old home. Sometimes I sweat myself to sleep living on the second floor.

If you do it, I would have one A/C unit in your bedroom and never use the oven in the summer. I would only have the unit going at night when you come back from work.

Installing a ceiling fan does a lot to move the air in your home as well. If you can afford it, some companies will install central air into your home. It's not really my feild but what I understand is : The price depends on the size of your home and the amount of BTU's that will be needed to pump in to maintain a constant temperature. (This is determined by many variables). It could also increase the value of your home in the long run.
posted by thetenthstory at 9:32 AM on November 28, 2006

I live in Durham and I wouldn't do it. There are a ton of places for rent right now. You can probably find another house that's just as cute that has the AC.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:15 PM on November 28, 2006

Window units do just fine, plus, you can turn off the unit in the rooms you are not in thereby saving energy!

I grew up in Alabama with window units. You'll be fine in North Carolina.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:24 PM on November 28, 2006

I've spent the last three summers at Duke without air conditioning in June and it was awful. Rooms with window units were fine, though. For some background, I found it incredibly humid and hot and I'm from the Dallas area. It rarely got above 95 or so, but the humidity was murder. Ugh.
posted by MadamM at 5:48 PM on November 28, 2006

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