52 Weeks: Electricity – Long Hot Summer

Growing up in New York State in the ‘60s, hardly anybody had air conditioning at home. On the hottest days, my mother spent her weekends in a wet bathing suit. She got wet again in the shower every couple of hours and sat on a towel in between. The evaporation had a cooling effect and kept her comfortable.

It’s very cooling to use a spray bottle to mist your skin with plain water. The evaporation creates an immediate cooling effect. The effect is even greater if a fan is blowing on you at the same time. A cold washcloth on the back of your neck and putting cool water on your wrists would be cooling too. If your car has no a/c, a spray bottle can help there too.

Fans cool people by evaporation. They don’t cool the room by actually lowering the temperature. Leaving them on when no one is in the room wastes electricity. A ceiling fan will create a general sense of coolness for everyone in the room. The type of air circulator fan that rotates so it blows directly up at the ceiling will do the same.

One unseasonably hot day in late May of my freshman year in high school, the teacher turned off the big fans which cooled us off a little bit. Naturally, we protested. He explained that it is a scientific fact that running a fan in a hot room actually raises the temperature in the room. The motor of the fan gives off heat, and adds a fraction of a degree to the heat in the room.

Now forty-some years later, I wish I had a time machine. I’d go back and point out that it wasn’t about the temperature of the room. It was about the perceived comfort of the people in the room. That’s the great thing about sweating–when there is a breeze it evaporates the sweat and makes us feel cooler. How did he not notice that he also felt cooler with the fan on, no matter what science says?


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