Tag: air conditioning

The Miracle of Air-Conditioning

With the temperature in Washington, D.C. in the mid-90s, it is perhaps worthwhile to recall what life was like before the arrival of air-conditioning. Below are a few excerpts from a New Yorker essay about air conditioning penned by the great Arthur Miller in 1998:

Exactly what year it was I can no longer recall—probably 1927 or ’28—there was an extraordinarily hot September, which hung on even after school had started and we were back from our Rockaway Beach bungalow. Every window in New York was open, and on the streets venders manning little carts chopped ice and sprinkled colored sugar over mounds of it for a couple of pennies. We kids would jump onto the back steps of the slow-moving, horse-drawn ice wagons and steal a chip or two; the ice smelled vaguely of manure but cooled palm and tongue…

Even through the nights, the pall of heat never broke. With a couple of other kids, I would go across 110th to the Park and walk among the hundreds of people, singles and families, who slept on the grass, next to their big alarm clocks, which set up a mild cacophony of the seconds passing, one clock’s ticks syncopating with another’s. Babies cried in the darkness, men’s deep voices murmured, and a woman let out an occasional high laugh beside the lake…

Given the heat, people smelled, of course, but some smelled a lot worse than others. One cutter in my father’s shop was a horse in this respect, and my father, who normally had no sense of smell—no one understood why—claimed that he could smell this man and would address him only from a distance…

There were still elevated trains then, along Second, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Avenues, and many of the cars were wooden, with windows that opened. Broadway had open trolleys with no side walls, in which you at least caught the breeze, hot though it was, so that desperate people, unable to endure their apartments, would simply pay a nickel and ride around aimlessly for a couple of hours to cool off. …

Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

record-setting heat wave has settled on the Beltway this week, resulting in my thermometer topping the 85°F mark by the time I came into work today.

Did I mention my thermometer is inside my apartment?

“Oh yuck,” you’re probably thinking. “You should get a place with air conditioning.”

But you see, my unit has air conditioning. The problem is that, under Virginia law, it can’t be turned on until May 1.

My apartment is in an older building (1958) with a centralized HVAC system. As a result, the whole building must either be in heating mode or cooling mode. One of the quirks of this system is that it takes a couple of days for it to be converted from one mode to the other.

That physical reality doesn’t jibe well with Virginia law, which requires (in the words of an Arlington County government brochure) that:

Every dwelling unit is … to have heating facilities that are properly maintained and keep all habitable rooms at a temperature of at least 65° during the day and 60° at night during ordinary winter conditions from October 15 - May 1.

The result is that, unless the building superintendent knows for certain that cold-weather conditions have ended for the year, a building with a system like mine (which isn’t uncommon) can only be in compliance with Virginia law if it keeps the air conditioning off until May 1. Hence my 85°F apartment.

No doubt, Virginia regulators will explain that such rules are necessary to protect the comfort and safety of apartment residents. But I wonder what they would say about the comfort and safety of the small children who live in my building and who spent the last few nights trying to sleep in 85°F heat?