Feeling the Heat

Some day in June, I walked into my bank, sweat trailing in my wake, only to encounter Heather, a teller, in her winter coat. Her work station is right under the opening for the air conditioning, and it blasts down on her all day, so she freezes while the rest of us swelter.

The bank must have fixed that, because the last few times I’ve been in the bank Heather is dressed in short sleeves like the rest of us, but now I want the bank to expand its reach and fix the hot all over town.

In the Gunnison of yore, no one owned any sort of air conditioner. It wasn’t needed and was viewed as a waste of money and energy. If it came as an option for your car you opted out; for the few days in the summer where it got unpleasantly toasty you set up a fan near a window and called it good.

Now that we’re in heat wave after heat wave, broken up by not nearly enough rain to end a drought but enough to make it muggy, some places have turned to air conditioning. But not most houses, and not businesses run by people who are still getting ready to take on summer, any ol’ day now.

It’s an unfortunate fact of screen printing in Gunnison that you are going to be at your heat-producing busiest just as the weather is in the same mode. The ink we use needs to cure at 330 degrees, and to do this we use a giant oven open to the room at both ends. Often the ink needs a little “mini-cure” before going into the oven, and for this we use two separate units that blast heat down toward the floor near the printers’ feet.

On the “cool” side of the building we have one and sometimes two of what are essentially industrial irons, both of them percolating along at 330 to 375 degrees. In the front of the building, facing west, we pretty much have floor-to-ceiling glass that doesn’t open, letting in sunlight and amping up the heat.

Because the city long ago saw fit to allow a building to wrap around ours, we have no back door and thus no good way to provide for a flow-through of air. When we open the side door near Kara’s desk, which isn’t going to help our production area out anyway, the non-existent Gunnison wind barrels in, blowing job sheets into hidden corners and twisting Vann’s daughter’s artwork on the walls.

And so the “cool” side of the shop is a relatively airless 85 degrees, while the corner where James toils hit 97 the other day without any hint of an air current.

Since moving into this building, which I don’t own, in 2003, I have spent my winters trying to figure out how to heat it more efficiently and my summers trying to figure how to cool it. I invested in a solar attic fan early in the process, to suck air out the ceiling in lieu of a back door, but it never lived up to its promised air flow and this year finally took a header.

We have bought every kind of fan the hardware store has sold, and this year I scored when a friend gave me two industrial fans she no longer had need of. I have evaporative coolers stationed near the printers, although the evaporative part after a few years smells like old gym socks no matter how much vinegar I dump into the reservoirs.

We brace the few windows that do open with wooden bars and leave them open as far as we dare overnight, and I lament that the man who installed a giant glass window after we broke the original moving in did not take my landlord up on his request to get a bid to instead install a new facing on the storefront with a knee wall, a smaller pane, and small windows up top that we could open.

I’ve looked into awnings both permanent ($50,000 was the estimate I got from one customer) and retractable, and I try to encourage the tree outside our building, the runtiest one on the block, to grow big and strong and throw shade on all it sees.

And James is still working in a 97-degree corner. Let’s not forget Gilly, toiling away in the front where the windows dump all their sunshine and radiant heat.

So then I try to get scientific about airflow, although I have to confess this works just about as well as the arguments Lynn and I are having at home regarding the best way to keep the house cool — or comparatively cool as it reaches 77 degrees by mid-afternoon regardless of whose cooling method we’re using.

Lynn thinks closing the windows early in the morning is the answer; I find the air stultifying by lunchtime. I like the airflow concept, which I think feels better, but it really doesn’t lessen the temperature. And so we open windows, close windows, open, close, arguing about whose method works best — and the air temperature holds steady at 77.

I only tried that once at work, wondering if maybe leaving the door wide open was letting in more heat. That experiment lasted perhaps half an hour, never to be repeated, and so I stick to my “airflow is better” premise.

But then I try to generate an artificial air flow at work, aiming for a circular pattern that inevitably bumps up against the need to get air back into the corner occupied almost exclusively this summer by James, who managed to go until two days ago before asking in a wan voice if he could go to lunch early because the heat was getting to him.

And now the solar fan isn’t working, despite one repair attempt by professionals (I watched them put everything where it belongs; I think the fan has had a long full life and is just flat-out done for), and while it never moved anywhere near the amount of air advertised, I think it did pull some of the heat out of the building. When summer comes maybe I’ll have a new one installed.

And when summer finally gets here I’ll find a flat surface — ha! — on which to set the ice maker, and I’ll go to the store to stock up on popsicles. I’ll get more serious about looking for the cooling wraps I buy every year for people to not wear, and once again offer everyone the ice-pack vests that must be dorky beyond belief because no one will put them on, even as we approach triple digits with heat pouring out of every machine we’re surrounded by.

Yep, this may be the summer I conquer the overheating issue, whenever I get around to summer — or maybe the bank will send Heather over in her winter coat to at least let us think it’s cooler than it seems.

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