Learning from Historic Arizona Houses: Territorial Technology Tips for Home Comfort

Difficulty Rating: Easy

The 1917 Ellis-Shackelford House - Phoenix and its low technology methods for home comfort

A century ago in 1912, Phoenix homeowners were served by utility systems that supplied electricity, telephone, water, sewer, and natural gas.   Homeowners could also buy coal, firewood, and block ice.  But, evaporative coolers would not be widely available until about 1933.  Affordable home air conditioners would arrive in about 1960.  How did anyone in territorial-era Phoenix survive without air conditioning?  Remember how, during a summer storm, you lost power and air conditioning for a few hours or more.  What if suddenly your home had no working air conditioner for a full summer? 

First, take the RYDEN ARCHITECTS’ TERRITORIAL TECHNOLOGY CHALLENGE: Facing the environmental conditions of Phoenix without air conditioning, consider modifying your existing house using technology available one hundred years ago.

Next, learn Territorial Technology Tips for home comfort for living in the desert Southwest* from the 1917 Ellis-Shackelford House, a progressive estate home blending Prairie and Craftsman styles with built-in environmental technology, as designed by local architect R. A. Gray for prominent physician William C. Ellis.

*This new wording emphasizes that even in 1917 informed people were modifying popular house designs that were inappropriate for desert climate.  This exemplifies the never-ending architectural struggle between style and substance in an effort to make buildings not only fashionable but also practical.  Today, production housing developers compete to meet the popular demand for affordable “products” that are both trendy and green. (Don Ryden says, "I would recommend striving for regionally-inspired homes that are  timeless and sustainable as demonstrated by Wright’s Organic Architecture philosophy.")

Then, use those low-tech ideas to make your home more energy efficient.

T = Temperature; H = Humidity; A = Airflow; X = eXposure  

Tip 1

  • Raised porch wraps around east and south facades to shade first floor walls

Tip 2 & 3

  • Deep roof overhangs all around house shade second floor walls
  • Insulated, ventilated attic protects rooms from heat

Tip 4 & 5

  • Vine-covered pergola at west facade shades the first floor kitchen and laundry
  • Sleeping porches at second floor on west facade catches breezes

Tip 6 & 7

  • Rain gutters and leaders harvest water into underground cistern
  • Raised basement with windows all around provides cool refuge in earth-protected rooms

Tip 8

  • Double-hung, wooden windows with screen allow circulation

Tip 9

  • Corner rooms with windows on adjacent walls allow cross-draft of breezes

Tip 10

  • Central fireplaces and chimneys radiate heat to surrounding rooms

Tip 11

  • Porte cochere (carport) shades the south side of the house

Tip 12

  • Massive brick walls slow the transfer of heat to rooms

Tip 13

  • Solar water heater provides heating of water
Click here for the Technology Tips Matrix
Rosie and Romey Romero, Every Arizona Homeowners Best Friend
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