Conquering the Heat–Fans or AC?

June 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

With the summer in full swing, people everywhere are trying to beat the heat. This being my first summer in a formal work environment (I’m interning instead of the typical babysitting gig), I’ve certainly come to miss wearing my summer dresses. No longer can I seek relief from the weather by wearing breezy clothes. Instead I’m trapped in pants and a top. For these reasons, I find myself thankful for the office air-conditioner and even the train’s cooling system (this seems a luxury to me–most of my train experience comes from the crowded Parisian metro where AC is nonexistent).

The game changes once I get home, however, and I’m left alone to battle the warmth. A lack of air conditioning combined with a third-floor bedroom do not make for the most comfortable summer conditions. Whenever I come home, I blast the fans that I’ve got in my room–a ceiling fan, a window fan, and a free-standing one that I orient towards my bed. However as an environmentalist, I always wonder how eco-friendly it actually is to use multiple fans for such a long period of time. Would it be simpler and more efficient to run an air coniditioner for an hour or two and then keep the trapped, cool air in the room? After researching a little on the topic, I found with some surprise and with a great amount of certainty, that there is absolutely no reason to replace the fans with the AC.

I will start off by admitting that fans don’t have the same cooling effect as air conditioners. While they may provide you with a refreshing breeze, they can’t actually lower the temperature of the room. The way they “cool you down” is simply by pushing away the warm air surrounding you (as living beings, we emit heat which wraps around us) and allowing cooler air to fill the space. So fans will only relieve you of the heat without eliminating it. For this reason, I understand why many people and businesses turn to AC systems to keep their rooms at a tolerable temperature.

And yet is it really necessary? After all, fans do the trick–don’t tell me it isn’t nice to be sitting in front of a fan in the dead heat of summer. We don’t need the air conditioner to filter in cold air. As long as we have the semblance of a breeze, in my opinion, you’re not going to suffer too much (although I have to make more of a concession for the work office, where it is certainly less feasible to keep all the employees cool with small personal fans. Plus imagine the disorganization that would ensue from papers blown in every direction).

If you absolutely need the AC in your home, at least be aware of what temperature you set it at–no one will be able to convince me that having the house at 65 degrees in mid-August is reasonable. If you find yourself putting a sweater on in the middle of a 90 degree day, think about how nonsensical that is.

Air conditioners are well-known for consuming enormous amounts of electricity. If you want actual numbers, know that a free-standing AC unit takes up about 600-3,000 watts of energy per hour, while a central AC system consumes from 2,000 to 5,000. Outrageous! Particularly when you compare it to a fan, which consumes a maximum of 100 watts of electricty and often less (the average ceiling fan takes 75 watts, while a table fan can be as low as 25 per hour).

But the question still remains–is it better to run an AC for a couple hours just to cool the room down before bed, or is it better to leave 2 fans on all night while sleeping? If I did my math correctly, then according to my equation is it still more energy efficient to run 2 fans for 8 hours than to run a single AC unit for one or two hours (because let’s say 8 hours with two fans is around 800 watts, but an AC unit can be even more than that within one hour)! Talk about saving energy! Plus, you’ll save yoursef a bundle on your utility bill–running AC costs about 10 times more than running a fan.

In general, if you can avoid using an air-conditioner, try it. You’d be surprised how simple cooling tricks can really make a difference and how a non-air-conditioned home can be made comfortable. One useful trick is to keep your windows open at night and to shut them in the morning. Keeping the blinds down during the day will do even more to help keep the room cool. The cold air from the night will be trapped in the room, and with the shades down, the sun can’t warm the temperature up as much!

Also, keep the lights off during the day! I never understood why people have lights on in the middle of the afternoon while the sun beams down on them. First, it creates an unpleasant atmosphere–wouldn’t you rather enjoy the natural light than feel like you’re living in a cave (note–putting the blinds down doesn’t mean the room will be pitch dark. Or if you have blinds that block out all the daylight, then maybe only lower them halfway)? Even more importantly than the atmosphere of the room is the effect it has on our own atmosphere–if you don’t need to be consuming electricity, then STOP! We shouldn’t be wasting more than we already are.

The biggest change you can make, if you can bear it, would be to drop the AC and replace it with a fan system. Install some ceiling fans (they’re cheap–often less than 50$!) and set up a few free-standing ones if you like. A fan will save a lot of energy and a lot of money, and unless you enjoy simulating an arctic habitat, blowing an AC system all day is a collossal waste. Comfort is a relative thing, and if you learn to live without an air conditioner, you really won’t find yourself missing it that much.

P.S. I am from Massachusetts. In comparison to mid-western states, it’s much cooler in the summer. So if you’re living out in the desert with temperatures of over 100, I won’t find fault in your using an air conditioner. But for all those of you who aren’t suffering from extreme heat and still find it necessary to add a chill-factor to your house, think again!


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