Keeping Cool about Keeping Cool, Both Then and Now

By Bill Primavera

The Home Guru

Just as the heat wave alert travels the airwaves, I sprint into my early summer ritual of installing my window air conditioners. Yes, my house is one of those dinosaurs without central air because it was built in the 1700s without the ductwork needed for it. 

And I never added any ductwork to carry cool air throughout the house because window units are more efficient for our situation in that we normally have only one running during the day in my office, and one at night in our bedroom.

It was this installation ritual in our second story bedroom that one year drove me closest to the reality of a fear I’ve always harbored of scoring a lurid headline in The Daily News. This one might have read:  “Tenant Crushed by Falling Air Conditioner; Negligent Landlord Charged.”

It was years ago when window units seemed three times as heavy as they do today. I always needed a helper to install them, one of us to hold the air conditioner while the window was lowered into place by the other.  On this particular occasion, I had hired a strong high school student to help me perform the task and one of us, if not both of us, goofed. My brand new air conditioner plummeting down from the second story and crash landed on my tenant’s patio.  Fortunately my renter had retreated indoors just before this terrible accident, and he was spared.  I still don’t like to think about it though.

Other than this one mishap, window air conditioners have served us fine. And, thank God, both my wife and I love to be as cool as we can get in hot weather by setting our window air conditioners at their lowest temperatures. While the heat wave alert recommended that we keep our thermostats at 78 degrees to avoid blackouts, I thought that the suggestion was unreasonable. To me, 78 degrees is a good temperature when the heat is on in the winter and we want to keep warm.  In summer, I like the temperature to be between 65 and 68 degrees. And my wife likes it the same.

I’m not as lucky at my workplace where there is not so much a difference between the sexes as there is between those in summer who like it really cool and those who would have the rest of us sweating down to our socks. In effect is a highly sophisticated cat and mouse game throughout the day where some of us (ok, I’m included) surreptitiously turn the thermostat up and down trying to achieve personal comfort. I haven’t been caught as one of the culprits who turns it down, but I guess this column blows my cool, so to speak.

I’m old enough to remember the last vestiges of those signs on movie theatre marquees and at motels declaring that the premises are “totally air conditioned” as their most winning feature. But the history of air conditioning can be traced to the late 1700s when no less a personage than Benjamin Franklin experimented with evaporation and alcohol to achieve a freezing temperature.

The first practical use of air conditioning was in the 1830s when a Florida physician named John Gorrie created an ice making machine that essentially blew air over a bucket of ice for cooling hospital rooms.   A close ancestor to modern air conditioner units was developed in 1902 by an American engineer with the familiar name of Carrier who used chilled coils to cool air and lower humidity in industrial buildings.

In 1914, the first home air conditioner was installed in Minneapolis.   But it wasn’t until after World War II that window units appeared and proliferated until central systems were built into all new homes as a matter of course. Today more than 90 percent of homes in the country have air conditioning, of which 72 percent feature central systems and 18 percent have window units.

There is some new technology for central air that may someday lure me away from my trusty window units. One is the ductless mini-split HVAC systems, which are ideal for retrofits, and they both heat and cool.  They require the installation of two components, a small outside condensing unit and an interior evaporator (fan coil) unit. These are connected by copper tubing, requiring only a three-inch hole in the wall. The big disadvantage in my mind is that the inside unit which hangs high on the wall sticks out like a sore thumb with tan metal casing that can’t be painted.  It wouldn’t mix very well with my early American prints.

For me, a better retrofit would be the new mini-duct, pressurized central air conditioning. The system uses the same outdoor cooling compressor as ducted systems but the air blows into rooms from small two-inch-diameter mini-ducts mounted in the ceiling, eliminating the need for a standard duct system which is much bulkier. Another advantage is that its operation is very quiet.

But for now, I’ll stick with my quieter, lighter and more efficient window units, just hoping that I don’t drop another one frommy second story on to somebody’s head.

 Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® affiliated with Coldwell Banker and a lifestyles journalist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. Visit his website at: and, if you would like to consult with him about buying or selling a home, contact him directly at 914-522-2076.