Heritage Restoration, Inc.

The History of Cool

Rhode Island certainly has a lot of unique characteristics.  The weather, the water, and the landscape brought people here for thousands of years.  The weather was for the most part tolerable despite the 100-degree seasonal variations or the 40-degree daily changes.  These wild swings are all part of the Ocean State experience, with generations of inhabitants learning how to adapt and engage with what nature threw at them.


When European settlers came to this region, it took the indigenous inhabitants help to make the settlers successful, teaching them general survival techniques from farming to hunting.  One thing the settlers continued to do was build they way they knew how.   The European building styles and techniques were miserable failures for function and comfort in New England.  Although in time, improvements in design, building techniques, and technologies began to work.  Buildings were built facing south for winter, trees were strategically placed for summer shade, and windows were installed to provide protection and airflow.  This worked pretty well for about 300 years or so, although somewhere we lost our way.


Technological advances made many things better, although things like electricity and air conditioning made us plain lazy and temperature sensitive.  Many now rely on flicking a switch to become cool.  But not everyone embraces this crazy air conditioning fad, or even can afford to keep their house artificially cool.  But fear not, there is a place for everyone to be cool.


Natural Ways of Cooling

Temperature Changes

Mass, like stone or even furniture, walls and floors, retains heat or stays cool longer than air.  The denser the object or the less the air moves through it the longer it takes to change temperature.  So when something is already cool, keep it cool as long as possible.  Use the outside air to reduce the temperature when nights are cool.  During the hotter day, close all the doors and windows tight like its winter.


Feel the Breeze

A natural cross breeze is best.  When it starts to get cool open the house and allow the air to circulate through. A century ago, they had transom windows above doors to allow the ceiling’s hot air to escape.  This natural convection encourages the cold to rush to the hot air thus cooling and moving the hot air out.  Most houses have operable basement windows to help move the basement’s cooler air upstairs.


Solar Gain

The summer sun can raise the temperature of your house significantly.  Even with doors and windows closed, the sun’s rays will heat up the objects it hits.  Light blocking drapes, shades, or window coverings that prevent sunlight from coming through will keep the solar gain down, and the mass from getting hot.



Trees and shrubs can shade your house and keep it cool.  The landscaping should be a proper distance from your house, preventing moisture from being trapped.  You should be able to walk around the house without obstruction, so the house does not retain excess moisture.  Keep tree limbs at least 10 feet away from the house, to prevent squirrel’s leap.



Keep your house dry.  A higher relative humidity makes the house feel warmer.  Clean your gutters, and make sure the water runs away from the house and not back into the basement.  A wet basement can also bring unwanted scents, like mold, mildew, and “bad house smells”, into your living space.  Keep a clear distance of landscaping from your house, about 2 feet or so for bushes, and about 10 feet for trees and limbs.


Artificial Means

Solar and Wind Roof Vents and Fans

For those looking to not use a lick of electricity, there are solar and wind roof vents and fans.  These fans use both solar and wind power to ventilate both day and night.  Exhausting air passively (driven by wind) also removes hot air from the attic on summer evenings and cloudy days.


Cooking & Cleaning

Cook tops and ovens add heat and moisture.  Barbeque, cook later or earlier in the day, or eat food raw or cold to keep the temperature down.  Use the stove vent that is connected to the outside to expel warm, moist air.  Use the dishwasher at night, its cheaper energy anyway.



Insulating the attic is the best thing.  Darker colored roofs also add significant radiant heat to a house.


If your attic floor is insulated it is not part of the conditioned space.  In summer, you want the hot air to escape as quickly as possible to prevent it from radiating into your conditioned space.  Modern houses have soffit vents (overhang) and ridge vents (peak of roof) allow air to naturally circulate out of the attic space.  Most old house breath pretty well at the soffit already, and some do have gable vents.  Although your soffit vents MUST be clear, without any insulation blocking them.  If they are blocked, moisture can accumulate and rot out your soffit, or moisture can accumulate in the attic space causing mold and mildew to grow.


The hot air can be naturally evacuated, or can be encouraged using an electric fan or solar roof vent.  One of the biggest building performance failures is when this system is improperly installed and the designed airflow vents are closed.  This can cause an inefficient, unhealthy building that cannot breath properly.


If your roof rafters (or angled part of the roof) are insulated, then the attic space is part of the “conditioned space”, where the attic is part of the heating and cooling space.  This system requires specific methods of installation.  Improper roof rafter insulation systems cause roofs to fail prematurely, mold and mildew to grow, and the insulation does not perform well, if at all. There are two types of proper roof rafter insulation methods.


Hot Roof- A hot roof system is where the insulation becomes one mass with the rafters, sheathing, and shingles.  This system should have no soffit or ridge venting.  Although a fan with a damper can be installed to help move air through the house.


Cold Roof- A cold roof system allows air to travel in between the sheathing and the insulation.  If fiberglass insulation is used, a rigid, non-porous barrier is set about 1-2” from the sheathing and the insulation placed against it.  With this system, a soffit vent and ridge vent can be used


There are many houses that do not function well, although with the proper intervention, can be improved to make the house more efficient in the hot and cold weather seasons.  You can also try to make some of these methods work.  The natural ways cannot harm a building at all, so just experiment and see what works best.  When it comes to retrofitting, no two buildings are alike, so be sure to hire someone competent and knowledgeable.  There is no single solution.  There is no simple answer.  But there are plenty of choices.

Leave a Reply