by Jenny Knodell, IQS Editor
Air conditioners are probably the most necessary of all luxury and comfort items, especially if you inhabit a warm climate. I live in Michigan, which yes, in the winter months is unbelievably cold, but in July and August, 90 degrees and humid isn’t that uncommon. I’ve also never lived in a house with central air conditioning; so I know—a hot, sunny, humid day without AC is almost torture…until you get your energy bill, that is. Standard air conditioning systems have been the established method of cooling residential and commercial buildings since they first appeared in the 60s because they are so effective. Put on full blast, walking into your house is like walking into the Arctic Circle. However, they suck up energy and are probably the most un-green system in your house. During peak summer months, AC is responsible for about 100 million tons of carbon emission in the US.
For most, passive air conditioning, that is, alternative cooling methods, are pretty ineffective. Ceiling fans, opening the windows at night and small, portable fans may be inexpensive and green, but they just don’t do it like an air conditioning system. My personal favorite, covering open windows with a cold water-soaked sheet or towel, is my Grandmother’s old standby. It actually works pretty well, but not for very long. This old fashioned cooling method is actually common in industrial settings. Evaporative cooling towers use my Grandmother’s method of evaporating cold water into the air. It works the best in hot, dry climates, and is becoming a popular means of residential cooling. This system takes much less energy and no ozone-harmful refrigerants. They contain a fan that blows air through a wet pad, creating a cold breeze. These cooling systems save 90% compared to standard AC, so if you live in Texas or Arizona, look into evaporative cooling.
Industrial and residential evaporative coolers. Photo courtesy of Cooling Technology, Inc.
For those of us that deal with humidity, we must turn to other cooling methods. Hydronic cooling systems also require less energy and no refrigerants. They are quieter, take up less space and are used in every climate. This cooling system circulates cold water through piping systems underneath flooring or along the ceiling. They are easy to hide behind a valance and can be pretty effective. Hydronic systems are slowly catching on in new home construction, but may not be cost effective to install in an old house.
Hydronic cooling system.
If you don’t live in Arizona, you aren’t building a new house and ceiling fans just won’t cut it, what can you do? A new air conditioning system has recently hit the market, and it runs on solar panels, a wall socket or batteries. These air conditioners use the same refrigerant method, but 500 watts is all they need to run; that’s half of regular air conditioners. Solar power is a great energy source, but can be as spotty and unreliable as the sun. When it comes to powering air conditioners though, it just makes sense: when you need to cool your house, it’s hot and sunny outside! Although it takes a couple grand to purchase and install, solar powered air conditioners are half as expensive to run, and are therefore an investment that will pay off in a couple years.
Solar panel for air conditioning system.