Why Don’t College Dorms Have AC? Keeping Cool in College

When I was in college, I attended a university in the midwest where summers are scorchers and winters are freezing. I was fortunate to have AC, but I found out there are some college dorms that don’t. I wondered why, so I did some research and here’s what I found out.

Why Don’t College Dorms Have AC? Dorms that are located in cooler climates, such as the Northeast or Northwest, typically don’t have AC in their dorms. The nonexistence of AC is more prevalent in older constructed dorms, while newer dorms are built with some form of air conditioning or cooling systems.

If you’re about to head off to college or live in a dorm, there are ways that you can plan ahead to avoid or mitigate the potential toasty dorm temperatures.

Why is There a Lack of Air Conditioning in College Dorms?

You’re most likely to find a lack of air conditioned dorms in climates that are cooler, and don’t have the brutal summers that some regions endure. At one time, these regions were cool enough not to need air conditioning, so why go through the trouble of installing them? Fast forward to modern day… areas that may have once had a cool summer are a little more toasty than they used to be.

The problem lies within the dorms themselves. The majority of dorms across the nation are several decades old, being built in times where AC was not a norm, and a luxury at best. Installing a central air conditioning system in an old building is both logistically challenging and extremely expensive. For universities that decide to modernize their old dorms, they’ll often result to only cooling central areas and hallways, hoping that it provides some relief to the rooms themselves. In addition, they may only renovate a couple of dorms on campus, and not spend the amount necessary to improve all of their student housing.

Another reason is that dorms were built with the anticipation of students spending the majority of their time “home” in the evenings. Students are typically thought of being in-class, or in a library studying during the day, only coming back to their dorm at night when the outside temperature is cooler, and when opening a window is a possibility. I guess people weren’t thinking about how nice it is to sit and study in a dorm room during the day, right?

As an example, the majority of dorms in the Ivy League, being all northeastern states, do not have air conditioning. Denver University in Colorado, Purdue University in Indiana, Pepperdine University in California? All examples of universities that primarily do not offer air conditioning, with some small exceptions.

Luckily, with us living in the 21st century, nearly all dorms being built today are also being built with AC. You know what they say, “always leave the next generation better off than you found it”!

How to Get a Dorm With Air Conditioning

If air conditioned dorms are a possibility on the campus that you’re attending, here are some of the top ways to get in one:

  • Plan early (like, very early), and be very diligent on finding out which dorms do and do not have air conditioning. The last thing that you want to ruin the excitement of move-in day is finding out that you don’t have cool air.
    • Once you’ve found out which dorms do and do not have air conditioning, be sure to ask questions about the requirements of those dorms (e.g. are they gender specific, academic restricted, tenure restricted etc.). If you identify one that you’re eligible to move in to, and think you’ll like it, put your request in ASAP!
  • If you have a health condition that requires you to be in a temperature controlled environment, get a doctor’s note and submit it to student housing. Universities are likely required to abide by the health requirements of their students, therefore they will help place you in an appropriate place, if possible.
  • If you’re an upperclassman, you may be in luck. Tenured students are often given priority over newer students, allowing them to pick and choose a building or even specific rooms that have air conditioning.

How to Mitigate the Heat of Hot Dorms

Dorm Heat Mitigation Tips that Don’t Cost Money

  • If at all possible, avoid living in dorms during the summer months while taking summer classes. Thankfully, the majority of students moving in to the dorms for the fall semester will only get the heat of late August and September. Once October roles around, hopefully things are a little more bearable.
  • Avoid spending as much time in the dorm room as possible. On nearly all college campuses there’s a ton of different places you can go to stay cool. Whether it be the library, coffee shop, college union, or dining hall, you can find a place to hang out while you wait for the evening.
  • If you have a significant other or good friend that lives off-campus or in an air conditioned environment, ask if you can crash on their couch for a night. A good nights sleep on a sofa will beat waking up every 5 minutes sweating in a dorm bed.
  • Open your windows at night in order to get the air circulating. This is only if the inside of your room is warmer/more humid than outdoors. Also, be sure to put a screen on your window or something to block the outside. The last thing you want is a giant bug creeping around your dorm room!

Dorm Heat Mitigation Tips If You’re Willing to Spend Money

  • Ask if your university will allow for window units, or portable air conditioners (like this awesome one from Amazon) to be installed. Unfortunately, the majority of the time you’ll probably get a “no”, but it’s worth a shot at asking.
    • If they don’t allow the large residential ones, but you want to be sly, you can always opt for a small, discrete one such as this. To be clear, I DO NOT endorse breaking dorm rules, but I know how terrible times can get.
  • Invest in a decent fan (such as this cheap, but good one from Amazon). While a fan won’t necessarily make the room any colder, it will help circulate air and create the sense of a cooler room. This is most important at night and a HUGE life saver if you don’t already have one.
  • Depending whether your dorm will allow it, you can purchase a dehumidifier. This will help take the moister out of the air, making it less humid. This will tremendously help when sleeping at night; all you do is just run it and empty the tank when it’s full of water (don’t drink the water). I have this dehumidifier for my current apartment and it works fantastic. Pairing this with a personal fan will be as close to AC as you can get!
  • And finally, for all of our DIY readers, check out the video below on making your own dorm room cooling device. I know it looks like it was recorded in 1999, but it is still very cool, informative, and works!

Dorm Heat Mitigation Tips When All Else Fails

Unfortunately, there will likely be times when there’s not much you can do. However, at this point just remember that your WHOLE dorm is thinking the exact same thing. Also, for the majority of the country, remember this is seasonal. When December rolls around and you’re walking to class in negative 5 degree weather, you’ll be thinking more fondly of that hot summer day.

Also, the majority of the time, dorm life is only a year. You’ll most likely find yourself in a nice cool house or apartment the next year, thinking back to the good old days of dorm life.

If you’re doing dorm life for more than one year, no problem! Think about all the wisdom that you’ll learn this year, and what you can pass on to newcomers and your future self. This is only a a fraction of your entire life, so enjoy it for what it is.

The experiences in college are what make it the best and create forever memories.

Now that you know why some college dorms don’t have AC, get further prepared and check out our article on how to prepare for college move-in.

Related Questions

Will not having AC in my dorm hurt my academic performance? A student not having AC in their dorm will only hurt their academic performance when dorm room temperature interrupts the amount of sleep or concentration. A room that is warmer than average will often cause a student to become distracted or make them focus more on staying cool versus studying.

Should I live in an air conditioned or non air conditioned dorm? A student should opt for air conditioning if they believe no air conditioning will interrupt the amount of sleep or focus they will have on an average day. Sleep is one of the most important factors of performing in college, therefore if you cannot sleep, it will be more difficult to perform.

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