Handling a Heatwave in a House from the 1600s
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Hello from the Heatwave in France
Hey there. Thank you so much for the thoughtful notes you’ve sent about my nephew’s family. The most recent update is that they are waiting and preparing for their hearing, which will be this Thursday, or possibly next week. While we wait, I’ve been doing some other writing — a little something to distract:
As I’m sure you’ve seen in the news, or are experiencing yourself, a large chunk of the world is in the middle of a heatwave. Our house in France does not have air conditioning. And I have never been to a home here that has air conditioning. Some stores and businesses have air conditioning, but it’s pretty much unheard of residentially.
But if your house is an old stone house like ours, we’ve learned that it’s possible to keep the house quite comfortable, even when it’s over 100 degrees (or 40 in celsius) outside. Here’s how it works:
In the night, when the temperature drops, you open all the shutters and the windows (or at least most of them) and let in the cooler air. Mosquitos aren’t a big issue where we live, so the windows don’t have screens. You might think we would get lots of insects coming in at night, but that hasn’t been the case. As long as the lights in the house are off when we open the windows, the insects aren’t drawn in. For bedding at night, a top sheet or light blanket is all we’ve needed.
In the morning, all the windows in the house are closed, and the shutters too — like a full-on fortress. It feels a little strange because it’s July and the inside of the house is very dark — most of the natural light has been shut out. But, closing the windows and shutters keeps the cooler air trapped inside, and the thick stone walls (they’re about 18-20 inches/50 cm thick) keep the heat out.
It really works! We’ll come home from running errands, and the sun will be pounding on the face of our house, but when we open the door, we feel a rush of cool air and the house is very comfortable inside. It’s not that icy feeling that you sometimes get from air conditioning, it’s just nice and cool. When hanging out in the house, I don’t feel hot at all. (If we’ve been outside in the sun for a longer stretch, we can also regulate our temperature with a cool bath or shower, and that does the trick.)
The house does get warmer as you go upstairs, but not by much. Because we added thick insulation to the attic ceiling, even the attic has remained comfortable on hot days (Ben Blair’s desk is in the attic so he spends time up there every day).
Interestingly, the type of construction really matters — there’s a big temperature shift between the kitchen and the laundry room. The laundry room was added a century or two after the main house was built and it doesn’t have the same thick walls as the rest of the house — it has thinner brick walls instead. And because of this, the laundry room feels at least 10 degrees warmer than the rest of the house. (To help combat this, I’ve only been doing laundry in the early morning, or late at night.)
The thick stone walls really regulate temperature in a wonderful way.
All of that is terrific. BUT. This system only seems to work for a few days. If the heatwave is long, and the nights don’t cool off much (two nights ago, it mostly stayed in the 80s), then this system doesn’t work as well. The interior air doesn’t get a chance to cool off, and the attic becomes unusable. It’s as if this type of construction was designed to be ideal for a climate where it only gets hot for a couple of days, a couple of times each summer. But as we’ve seen, the climate is changing, and this may be the coolest summer of the rest of our lives.
To be clear, we are totally fine at our house at the moment. The temperature dropped by 20 degrees today, and our house is getting a chance to cool off again. I’m feeling lucky that we’ve been able to live through this heat wave quite comfortably. I know not everyone has had the same luck. I hope that whatever the weather is where you live, that you’ve been able to be comfortable too.
A little thing, but heatwave-related. My sister Jordan recommended a facial sunscreen to me and I love it. It’s unlike any that I’ve tried before. It’s called La Roche-Posay Anthelios Invisible Fluid. It’s very liquid (like water liquid), and very thin, and it goes on really easily, with no trace of white.
It comes in a small bottle, but you don’t need much at all — maybe a dime’s worth. Again, I’ve only used it on my face and neck (I don’t know if there’s a similar version for bodies), but it’s 50+ protection, it works very well, and it’s the most comfortable sunscreen option I’ve tried.
Where to get it:
-It’s French so it’s easiest to find over here. It’s widely available at local pharmacies and costs about 10-15 euros depending on the shop. (It’s seems to be a bit more expensive online. Do a search for “La Roche-Posay Anthelios Invisible Fluid” to find other online options in Europe.)
-From what I can tell this is the American version (though sadly twice as much as it costs in France). The bottle of the U.S. version looks like a different shape than mine, but the description sounds the same.
-Or here’s a bargain on a 5-pack of the same version I use, but with a long shipping time.
Just passing along the recommendation. : )
That’s all for now. Feel free to comment on anything I mentioned above, or whatever’s on your mind. I hope you’re having a good week.
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