Windows, Shutters and Ceiling Fans: Or What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Posted on: August 1st, 2008 by Barbara Campagna 1 Comment
Staying cool in Key West.

Staying cool in Key West.

So I treated myself to almost an entire month of vacationing in the less humid parts of the country than DC can be in the summer. And everywhere I went, I noticed several things: 1. Everyone wants to tell me what they are doing to be “green”. 2. People apologize for their air conditioning, gas guzzlers and driving and 3. Seems like a lot more people are thinking about how to use their windows and shutters in the way they were intended. (Note: I'm having trouble importing photos on our new and improved blog site - hopefully I'll have it resolved over the weekend, so check back for more pretty pictures!)

Heat and the City

First, that awful humidity and heat in DC. I moved to Seattle in 2003 after 20 years in Manhattan primarily to live in a more temperate area of the country (and those gorgeous mountains and the Space Needle didn’t hurt either). And now I find myself back on the East Coast, in probably one of the worst cities for weather I could ever imagine. Now, full disclosure, I grew up in Buffalo . But hey, you can always put more clothes on when it’s cold, but what to do when it’s 100 degrees and 90% humidity? Well, the answer is, leave the city!! Which I did for most of July. But now I’m back and that humidity is still here.

I have to say though that I am very fortunate in where I live because we have a massive, building-wide early “passive climate management system.” I live in a 1929 Art Deco apartment building overlooking Rock Creek Park (DC’s answer to Central Park ) in the Upper Northwest Neighborhood of the District. It’s very green and lush and I have, I think, the best apartment in the building. Top floor, windows and light everywhere, ceiling fans in every room, historic parquet floors. Our building, like many of this era in DC, has a built in “air conditioning system”. There are huge ducts that run vertically from the roof to the ground floor with vents on each floor. And each of our apartments has a louvered wood “screen” door over our regular door. So if I open my “legal” door, open all my windows and turn on the ceiling fans, I get amazing breezes through my apartment. I usually only need to turn on the a/c when it’s over 90 with high humidity. Today for example, it’s going to be 90 but the humidity is lower than usual and I’m sitting in my living room, writing this blog, very comfortable and no a/c on. Unfortunately, the building management doesn’t explain to most people the purpose of these louvered doors, so I often find myself explaining to my neighbors why it’s a really good thing to leave your door and windows open!

Heat and the Beach

I spent a few days in La Jolla in late June where they were encountering a heat wave in the 90s. Everyone was in a tizzy about it. Having just flown out from sticky DC, it felt like nirvana to me. There’s no comparison between 90 at the beach and 90 in the city. I had a glorious top floor suite in the Grande Colonial Hotel, a historic hotel of the grandest type. (Full disclosure: I am not paid THAT well by the Trust to afford to stay at places like this all the time, but one of my best friends used to be the manager there so she hooked me up at a rate 1/3 the rack rate, very sweet indeed). Anyway, back to windows, shutters and ceiling fans. So every evening I would come back to my room to enjoy the 180 degree view of the ocean and I would find that housekeeping had shut my drapes and windows and turned on the a/c full blast. I’d run around opening all the drapes, windows and turn on the ceiling fans and relish the ocean breeze and fresh air. And then I’d sleep just fine. Something about hearing the seals barking all night that I found very comforting.

Dutch Colonial Can Be Cool Too

Then it was off to Buffalo for a week to celebrate Fourth of July and my birthday with my family and friends. My sister has a beautiful early 20th century Dutch Colonial house in downtown Buffalo which I’ve talked about in earlier blogs. The top attic floor was renovated to be my suite when I’m in town (common theme here – I love perching at the top of buildings!). It was warm that week, but with windows I could open for cross ventilation, I didn’t have one uncomfortable evening. I kept complaining to my sister that she needed to open her French doors in the living room rather than blast the a/c. And this way her dog and our combined 4 cats could enjoy the fresh air and views too.

Pool or Ocean?

I came back to DC for a few days, basically to repack and head out to East Hampton for 4 days at one of my closest friend’s “compounds” there. My friend (former roommate and colleague from our “Sex and the City” days in 90s Manhattan ) has a remarkable 1895 Shingle style house 2 blocks from the ocean in East Hampton . It’s extraordinarily genteel yet contemporary. The house does have central a/c but we talked a lot about the type of system, how she works hard to keep the energy bills down and open the windows, use those historic Shingle-style shutters like they should be used. Every day our difficult choice was – stay by the pool and drink iced tea, or head to the Ocean Club and lay by the beach. Each morning I’d take a bike ride to Montauk or Sag Harbor enjoying the natural breezes that a good, vigorous bike ride will give you.

Florida in the summer?!

Finally I headed to South Florida for 8 days of playtime with another good girlfriend from Manhattan . Florida in the summer, you might be asking?! Guess what, if you’re in DC, even Florida in the summer is a treat!! We spent 5 days in a Historic Hotel of America on Ocean Drive in South Beach, followed by a day in Key Largo and 2 days in Key West . It was sunny every single day and glorious. Once again, we’d come back to our top floor room in South Beach overlooking the ocean to find that housekeeping had closed the windows and the drapes. I’d immediately open everything up, turn on the ceiling fan and enjoy the breezes. One thing I’ve learned for sure on this trip – hotels really need to encourage the use of the windows and ceiling fans they all have. I think what happens is that the housekeepers come in, turn on the a/c when they’re working (which is understandable) but then leave it on when they leave. That’s an extraordinarily wasteful use of electricity and I hate to think of the carbon impact.

Our last two days in Key West were wacky and luxurious. We both started counting how many buildings were using their shutters and taking photos of the various types. (She’s a preservation architect too.) I found that walking along the hot, humid streets of Key West was almost impossible unless I had a cold iced tea in hand. I’ve been drinking iced tea for decades and I just started to notice lately that everyone else is too. There’s something soothing, cooling and medicinal about iced tea and I’d bet drinking an iced tea could go along way from keeping the a/c off.

So, no, my entire month of vacationing was not focused exclusively on windows, ceiling fans and shutters! There was the occasional hip MiMo nightclub thrown in (ok, maybe more than occasional!), snorkeling and shopping, some mighty fine meals and lots of great fun with friends and family. Two things I know for sure – I have really great friends and family who allow me to travel in style, and there’s nothing like a cool summer breeze to help put a dent in global warming. (

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Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at


One Response

  1. Trish

    September 7, 2008

    Hi! I was googling for the shutters in the typical Key West house with shutters picture. What are those type shutters called? Thank you for you help.