After every hurricane, Florida newspapers run stories of people who are suffering through life without air conditioning. It’s not just about comfort—air conditioning can be a life-or-death matter, as witnessed by the eight elderly Hollywood residents who died from sweltering heat after Hurricane Irma knocked out power at their nursing home last September.
For most people, life in Florida would be unthinkable without air conditioning. In a 2009 survey, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that 86 percent of Florida homes had central air conditioning and about 11 percent had window or wall units. Only about 4 percent of homes had no air conditioning at all. Chip Berry, an EIA survey manager, points out another statistic from that 2009 survey: Some 200,000 Florida households (out of a total of 7 million) had air conditioning but chose not to use it. Many may not have been able to afford the cost, but for some, it’s a lifestyle choice.
Take Lindo Molto, an artist who for 34 years has lived in a 1920s-era Cortez cottage without air conditioning or heat. (To protect her art, Molto does have a unit in her studio, which is in a separate building on the property.) “I just can’t stand to be closed up,” she says. She likes having doors and windows open, bringing in the sounds of nature and keeping her in touch with what’s going on outside. And unlike many people, Molto says, “I like to be warm.”
Molto says her lifestyle is possible because her cottage, built before the days of air conditioning, is designed to keep air circulating and cool. It has a wide central hallway, high ceilings (hot air rises), lots of windows and big wraparound porches. Just steps from the waterfront, it also enjoys cooling sea breezes. In the summer, she keeps a big standing fan and a small desk fan running. She admits her boyfriend was skeptical about living without AC when he moved in, but she says he adapted right away. “We do fine,” she says. “It’s wonderful.”