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5 Historic Houses Built to Withstand the Heat Dome

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It’s getting hot in here

Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between rounding up historic homes on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.

A few weeks ago, when we were just starting to become familiar with what a "heat dome" actually is, we looked into how buildings were cooled before modern air conditioning.

Before we could flip a switch and almost instantly cool a room down, buildings relied on architectural tricks to keep things cool in the summertime. In the south, narrow shotgun houses—just one room wide—allowed for windows to be aligned for maximum air circulation. Dogtrot houses, with their open air hallways running through the center of the structure, achieved a similar effect.

Covered wraparound porches, also commonly found in the south, not only shaded rooms from the sunlight, but also allowed windows to be open (thus air to remain circulating) even during a rainstorm. Meanwhile, sleeping porches—particular to late-19th century houses by bodies of water—provided a comfortable place for people to sleep if the evening air was especially cool and pleasant.

Today, we’re looking at a few houses currently available that sport these features. We’re also including an apartment with transom windows—an architectural device not covered in our piece a few weeks back, but one that many readers said they were sad to see left out—as well as a house with an attic fan, another device brought to our attention by commenters. Thank you to everyone who wrote in!

P.S. We searched high and low for a dogtrot house and couldn’t find one on the market. If you know of one that’s currently available, let us know below

New Orleans, Louisiana (6 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, $2.74 million)

We’re kicking things off with a house built around 1780 in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Two the most apparent characteristics of the 4,800-square-foot house are the high ceilings and the deep porch that many of the rooms open straight onto. Also noticeable are how often windows are replaced with floor-to-ceiling doors that open onto the balcony.

These three characteristics all help to promote air flow through the house. The tall ceilings let hot air rise above the level of activity in the room, while the doors let ample amounts of air into the living spaces even when it rains, thanks to the deep porch. Looking at pictures of the dining room, you can almost feel the breeze coming through the space.

As we’ve said before, the porch also provides shade to the living areas of the house, keeping them cooler. That’s not even mentioning the fact that the porch acts as an open-air living area in and of itself.

Evanston, Illinois (5 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, $1.650 million)

Further north, along the shores of Lake Michigan, a shingle-style house built in the 1880’s showcases a clear example of a sleeping porch. Sleeping porches are usually found on houses that are close to bodies of water (although there are many exceptions). The concept was that the sleeping porch would act as a warm-weather bedroom. Often, you’ll find them connected directly to bedrooms. Many today have been converted into three-season porches.

Such is the case at this five-bedroom house, which has a screened-in sleeping porch on its second floor to take advantage of the cooling breezes coming off of the lake. While the house has been well maintained and is in great shape (look at that kitchen!), it would be an interesting project to restore the porch to its original function and see what lurks below that blue carpet. And when the mercury dips too low to sleep en plein air, there’s an abundance of beautifully tiled fireplaces to keep you warm.

New York City (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, $699,000)

One of the ways that city apartments promoted air flow as through the use of transom windows. The transom window, a hinged glass panel above a doorway, allows for air to flow between rooms even when doors are closed. They are often found painted over—and shut—having been rendered obsolete by central air conditioning.

This apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, though, has fully functioning transom windows outlined in richly colored wood. You can even see one in action in the bathroom shot—say goodbye to fogged-up mirrors after taking a shower! We especially love that there are also transoms over the door leading out to a small balcony, so air doesn’t only flow from room to room of the 1910-build condo—it also flows from inside to out.

Denver, Colorado (4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, $1.65 million)

One device that we didn’t come across in our initial research but was brought to our attention by our readers was the attic, or whole-house fan. The attic fan is installed in the roof and, by keeping the attic cool though expelling hot air, helps to cool the rooms below.

Built in 1923, this 4,200-square-foot Spanish Revival home in Colorado cleverly hides its attic fan in a cupola atop its terra cotta roof. The interior of the house has all of the hallmarks of the Spanish Revival style—particularly arched windows, tile floor, and an abundant use of stucco. The divided-light windows in the dining room and bedrooms are especially lovely. Lest we get too distracted by the architecture of the space, on the second-floor landing, a decorative metal grate in the ceiling allows for hot air to flow from the living spaces up into the attic—and theoretically out through the attic fan.

New Orleans, Louisiana (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, $335,000)

We’re ending today where we began: in The Big Easy, this time looking at a colorful shotgun house. The shotgun, in many ways, showcases many of the architectural devices we’ve covered today. There’s a front porch, which helps to keep the main living area cool by providing shade. There’s also a working transom window in the kitchen, complete with the metal pull, which will save you a trip up a step ladder should you want to open the window for added ventilation.

But the real magic of the shotgun house is found in its narrow width. The two-bedroom house one room wide, meaning that windows and doors can be aligned to promote cross drafts. This is especially evident in the living room. And while yes, the house has been extensively renovated, certain details—like the stained glass around the doorway—remain. And you can’t deny: It has a boatload of curb appeal.

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Gallery courtesy of Sotheby's Realty International.