We are conducting an experiment at our house: We are not turning on our air conditioning this summer.
We are conducting the experiment for these reasons: The cost of living has gone up 14 percent since last year and our income has not; we are patriotics; we have a masochistic turn of mind; we are curious about our chances of survival.
Our strongest motivation is to save money and I have calculated that we will save at least $300 by being hot. Last summer our PEPCO bills averaged $150 a month with central air conditioning running fulltime. This past June, our bill (without air conditioning, but with new costs of electricity) was $70. With the rising cost of electricity taken into account, we will save close to $100 each month - enough to rent a house on the beach for the last 10 days in August.
Living without air conditioning has altered our life style.
We eat more simply now. I try to avoid cooking just at dinner time when it is the hottest and cooking heats up the whole downstairs. I cook when no one is in the kitchen, such as in the middle of the night.
I cook roasts with a timer, or in the morning after the family goes to work or to camp. We eat little hot food, more cold roasts, chicken salads, combined with lentil or rice or potato salads and lots of raw vegetables such as carrots, sugar peas, zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes. Green salads are the mainstay.
We are cookout converts. We have also cut down on soft drinks and soda pop because they aren't as thirst-quenching as water and fruit juices.
We watch less television because the television room is hot.We spend more time outside in the cooler evenings, playing Boggle or Monopoly with the children.
We keep relatively cool by using fans. We bought one three-speed fan from Murphy's for $22.97 and resuscitated two others from the basement. We have discovered that air conditioning cools, dehumidifies and moves the air - and that fans move the air (the most important of the three acts) at a fraction of the cost. Fans, in fact, make the heat bearable.
There are esthetic benefits to going without air conditioning.
Sleeping in the summer silence brings back a flood of childhood memories of hot summer nights when our family crowded onto the sleeping porch, cooled by rare and soft Arkansas breezes and an oscillating fan that tickled my feet every seven seconds. These sounds are forever intertwined with the sound of Kate Smith's voice, singing "God Bless America" on the radio, muffled by my brother's pillow, so he could stay up undiscovered, listening to the forbidden late-night programs.
Unrelenting heat also makes us thankful for small blessings: a slight breeze, a cloudy day, sudden thunder storms, the quiet of dusk, the awareness of the long forgotten lightning bug, the coolness and freshness of early (very early) morning, the refreshing relief of a cool shower.
Having mentioned all these nice things about living "natural," i.e., without air conditioning, let is also be said: It is hot and sticky and uncomfortable. One is drained at the end of the day, cool showers are not the same as 72-degree humidity-free air. A good night's sleep is hard to find; it is boring to cook at night.
When given the choice between suffocating in the claustrophobia of air conditioning or drowning in sweat for the lack of it, one chooses air conditioning. In fact this heat has taught me to appreciate more fully the little heralded genius of Willis H. Carrier of Buffalo, N.Y., who, according to our encyclopedia, invented the air conditioner in the early 1900s.
However, our experiment has shown us it is possible, and lucrative, to live without air conditioning in this climate. Perhaps the energy shortage will force us all to abstain, and children in the distant future will read with amazement about their grandparents growing up in air-conditioned houses.
All I know is - having experienced the world without - we will survive. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption