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It’s uncool to stay cool?
June 2, 2010 1:04 PM   Subscribe

As summer arrives, a scientist writes (mostly negatively) about air conditioning
posted by LeLiLo (125 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
From my cool dead hands.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:14 PM on June 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


They can have my air conditioner when they pry it from my unseasonably cool, dead hands.
posted by joelhunt at 1:15 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Nuts to you, furiousxgeorge!
posted by joelhunt at 1:15 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I loathe ac. I live in Canada. For crying out loud, why does anyone in Canada need ac?
posted by No Robots at 1:16 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I live in Canada. In Manitoba even. It routinely hangs around above 30C in the summer. AC is a source of great relief after trudging home through the heat and humidity.

Are you the guy who tells everyone else all Canadians live in igloos?
posted by joelhunt at 1:19 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


TBH I think if the button to turn on my A/C also functioned as the titular object in the Twilight Zone episode "Button, Button", my usage would not be affected in any way.

You will note I make no reference to the execrable recent film based on this episode. o wait.
posted by elizardbits at 1:19 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, most modern buildings are designed without the possibility of natural ventilation or cooling. Lest we forget, pre-HVAC buildings were designed with clerestories, open arcades, high ceilings, large windows, and other concessions to climate. Even basic residential architecture has changed: we no longer build deep eaves, porches, or ventilation-oriented central hallways. The first action many homeowners take upon purchasing a house is to remove the trees from the property. The trees may fall on the house, after all.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:20 PM on June 2, 2010 [23 favorites]


*came in to make the cold dead hands joke, slinks away*
posted by Bookhouse at 1:23 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]




No. I live in Edmonton, so I don't have humidity problems. Living one summer in Toronto, I just couldn't get out of bed. So, my dad forced me to go jogging and play tennis. That cured me.

I'm just saying that I freeze my ass off at least 6 months a year. We had a whiteout snow storm last week. I relish my few days of roasting.

posted by No Robots at 1:24 PM on June 2, 2010


The trees may fall on the house, after all.

Or on the a/c unit.

I live in Texas and a/c in the summer is at least as important from a public health point of view as heating is in the winter for our friends up north.
posted by item at 1:26 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does natural ventilation do anything significant about humidity? Because I'd be perfectly happy having a warm apartment, but the idea of humidity everywhere makes me never want to leave air conditioning in the summer.
posted by Schismatic at 1:28 PM on June 2, 2010



The AC in my house serves another important function, particularly in early summer - air filtration.

As a seasonal allergy sufferer, and I do suffer (asthma, itchy eyes, runny nose, the whole nine yards) , I find AC to be absolutely indispensable. Don't get me wrong, I lurve the heat, and humidity of summer, I really and truly do.

It's just that I like breathing so much more.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:31 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Research in human physiology suggests that artificial cooling of the indoor environment undermines our natural heat-adaptation mechanisms. I asked Michal Horowitz, professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, about her pioneering research on the biology of heat stress and acclimatization and its implications for how we live. She responded that "those who live exclusively in an air-conditioned environment endanger their ability to cope with severe heat load."

I can believe this. Since moving to an un-air conditioned apartment in SoCal, I've become used to a pretty large variation of temperatures than I did in Texas.

The only thing I disagree with is this:

Low-energy cooling projects — for example, wind towers in India and solar absorption air-conditioning in Arizona — provide real-life examples of how a home or office can be kept comfortable without burning fossil fuels. Traditional hot-climate features such as heavy eaves, high ceilings, cross-ventilated designs, awnings, shade trees, screen porches, fans, whole-house exhaust fans, evaporative coolers, reflective or planted roofs, and even the creative use of basements can improve summer comfort without heating the great outdoors.

Buulllll. Maybe in Arizona, but anywhere in the humidity prone South this can be a problem.
posted by zabuni at 1:32 PM on June 2, 2010


Where I live, I want an A/C unit for about a week[1].
The rest of the time, a whole-house fan (which is damn well being installed when I need to fix the roof) will suffice just fine.

In most places in the U.S., with a little forethought in house design, the same would be true.

Alternately, folks with A/C could realize the house doesn't really need to be 68. Mid-80s would feel perfectly fine when the temp outside is 100+.

[1] Mainly because it's fairly temperate most of the time, so when we have that hot week, you tend to suffer disproportionately.
posted by madajb at 1:35 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks partly to air-conditioning, we just aren't getting outdoors as much.

I wonder why I never hear these self-righteous anti-air-conditioning types who derive so much apparent pleasure from telling me what temperatures I should find comfortable arguing against indoor heating in the winter, since it too keeps people from getting outdoors as much.

Oh, that's right, it's because they're narcissistic assholes who've mistaken their personal heat tolerance for some kind of moral imperative.

a pleasant 80° summer evening

My ass.
posted by enn at 1:35 PM on June 2, 2010 [19 favorites]


No Robots: "For crying out loud, why does anyone in Canada need ac?"

This does not address the overwhelming use -- or abuse, if you like -- of air conditioning. However, Willis Carrier designed the first AC unit not for temperature control, but to moderate the humidity of a publisher's presses to speed up printing time and to paper stock didn't swell and warp from humidity. As I recall, the refrigerant was poisonous (nitrous? ammonia? I can't remember exactly) and was "too dangerous" for use outside of industry.

The same technology would be refined to provide storage for medicines that would similarly be affected by humidity and temperature; to provide relief for sick and dying (as Stan Cox indirectly notes). Remember, the old adage fully is "it's not the heat, it's the humidity that'll kill you." Indeed, without AC and refrigeration, one of the true modern wonders, the hospital, wouldn't exist as we'd expect. Air conditioning and filtration are also directly responsible for the clean room, from which myriads of modern wonders spring.
posted by boo_radley at 1:37 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


The fabulous thing about air conditioning is that it makes you cooler by making everyone else hotter. It's the epitome of blind selfishness.

I used to run a shuttle van (a seven minute drive from parking lot to office building) and when people asked why I didn't have the AC on, I explained it that way. Most people got it, there were just a few who couldn't bear being a little bit warm for those seven minutes. (I would break down and run it when I had a full load.)
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:37 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Air conditioning has gotten a free ride in our discussions of how to lower energy use and reduce carbon emissions. So have the other related energy gobblers: refrigerators, ice cubes and cold drinks. People who would not be caught dead driving a Hummer think nothing of working in an air conditioned office, sucking on a cupful of ice cubes, or keeping one bottle of beer in a giant, constantly running refrigerator. This article lays out how the effort to keep ourselves cool is actually making us hotter, much as the effort of fanning yourself with the program at a concert or funeral actually raises your body temperature and makes you hotter than if you'd only stayed still. Drinking ice cold liquids causes your body to increase circulation in an effort to achieve a temperature balance, keeping you just as hot as you were before. The use of ice cubes and the drinking of cold drinks should be greeted by the same social opprobrium we give smoking and littering. If you are at a party, say, and someone steps up to you with an iced drink, you should wrinkle your nose and go "ewww," just as you would if someone blew cigar smoke in your face. If you visit someone's home and see a refrigerator in their kitchen, you should react with shock, as you'd seen a lawn jockey out front, or a shotgun laying across the counter. Why does every public structure in America have one or more giant, brightly lit, refrigerated vending machines humming away at three o'clock in the morning?
posted by Faze at 1:40 PM on June 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


When I lived in really hot places it only took me about a week to acclimate. The problem was that everyplace else was air conditioned to temperatures they'd never have accepted as warm enough were it the dead of winter.

Going from my warm house to refrigerated class rooms, grocery stores, and theaters is what clobbered me.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:40 PM on June 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


If you are at a party, say, and someone steps up to you with an iced drink, you should wrinkle your nose and go "ewww," just as you would if someone blew cigar smoke in your face.

Do you get invited to many places more than once?
posted by small_ruminant at 1:41 PM on June 2, 2010 [19 favorites]


If you are at a party, say, and someone steps up to you with an iced drink, you should wrinkle your nose and go "ewww," just as you would if someone blew cigar smoke in your face.

I will do that immediately upon witnessing the breaking news story that secondhand exposure to ice cubes causes cancer.
posted by elizardbits at 1:43 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


zabuni: "[in] the humidity prone South this can be a problem."

This is true for a lot of cooling systems that are pitched to replace air conditioning. Ground/ air exchangers -- those big boreholes under new houses used to sink heat into the earth -- are supposedly pretty wretched in southern climes because condensation builds up inside the coils and brings mold into the loop.

Maybe you could sink a closed loop system similar to a heat exchanger to minimize these effects, but they weren't around when I was looking for cooling solutions.
posted by boo_radley at 1:43 PM on June 2, 2010


Recent studies suggest that time spent in outdoor green spaces pumps up children's creativity and their ability to focus attention

I'd confidently bet that my 2 year old has spent far more time in Houston's outdoor green spaces than he would have in Salina, KS, where the average temperature is in the 30's for a third of the year.
posted by IanMorr at 1:43 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder why I never hear these self-righteous anti-air-conditioning types who derive so much apparent pleasure from telling me what temperatures I should find comfortable arguing against indoor heating in the winter, since it too keeps people from getting outdoors as much.

"Put on a sweater. Whaddya own stock in the oil company?!"
"You want to be warmer? Go chop some wood!"

-- My Dad. circa my whole childhood.
posted by madajb at 1:43 PM on June 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


"The AC in my house serves another important function, particularly in early summer - air filtration."

You can run the circulating fan without engaging the A/C compressor.

"However, Willis Carrier designed the first AC unit not for temperature control, but to moderate the humidity of a publisher's presses to speed up printing time and to paper stock didn't swell and warp from humidity. As I recall, the refrigerant was poisonous (nitrous? ammonia? I can't remember exactly) and was 'too dangerous' for use outside of industry."

The first A/C systems used air as the heat transfer medium. It was compressed, the heat ejected outside and then the air was expanded inside cooling the building. Efficiency was crazy low though because there wasn't any phase change.
posted by Mitheral at 1:51 PM on June 2, 2010


Bah. No, I dont need the house at 68. But I do need it at less than 90 during they day, and less than 85 at night. The last place I lived our bedroom got to be 90+ AT NIGHT because of lack of air flow. I like to sleep. So until someone comes through and builds me a house with proper ventilation and air circulation, I'll use my AC.
posted by strixus at 1:55 PM on June 2, 2010


I used to live in Sarasota, Florida in a cottage with NO air conditioning. I was fine with a fan and two showers a day. However I was forced to bring a sweater with me whenever I went anywhere-to work, to church, etc- because they had the ac on so low I FROZE.

Now I live in NC where my otherwise wonderful husband thinks the AC has to be on when the outdoor temp is 72 degrees. I wish I were joking. (He was born in Colorado and I don't think he has ever acclimated to the south altho he has lived over 30 years in it.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:55 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Before AC, everyone lived with open windows in the summer, and mosquito-borne diseases like Yellow Fever spread through cities like wildfire. That's why summer vacation was invented, so the rich could go out to the countryside, away from plague-infested cities.
And this is still true to some extent. I'll keep my AC on and my windows shut to avoid exposure to mosquitos bearing West Nile and encephalitis. AC is a positive benefit to public health.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:01 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mitheral: "The first A/C systems used air as the heat transfer medium."

I had thought that even the forebearers of modern AC used liquid compression and phase change, going back to Enlightenment Age madmen with brains full of methylated mercury. Although it's probable that there were commercial systems that functioned as you describe right up to the 1900s. It's odd for that to be the case when phase change and cooling was already well known.
posted by boo_radley at 2:02 PM on June 2, 2010


The author has a point.

Years ago, back when I had a tiny car with no air-conditioning, I had a student who had a very hard time getting into The Great Gatsby, particularly because of the disparity in time period. She had no way to relate to the characters. She had complained that everyone seemed so heated up and erratic and didn't quite get the obsession with sweating and temperature. Mere explanation of the conditions of the time period did not suffice.

The next time we met, I sneakiily asked her mom for permission, then turned off the air to the "sunroom" before we went in for our session. First, the math, then on to the English language arts. By the end of the hour, she was squirmy and seemed pissed at the world, having not consciously noticed the increase in temperature. So I told her something to the effect of: "That's what it's like. They had no air-conditioning. All summer, they felt like this. That's why they're so crazy all the time." And then she got it. She'd never lived anywhere without central air and pool access and had never been in cars without A/C. After a long discussion of what life was like, even for the wealthy then, the novel was easier to get through.

Most people in the United States take air-conditioning for granted to such a degree that they simply cannot imagine life without it. Not in other countries, other times, or even other income classes. I'm not against it, but it would be nice if we were reminded of our situation more often. The electrical system where I am is so fragile that most inclement weather will do the reminding for me — two days without power is not uncommon. I'd feel better about A/C if I had several square meters of solar panels providing power.

I don't think "more efficiency" in the air-conditioning unit itself is the answer. At some point, you'll asymptotically approach maximum efficiency and that's when the payout for that strategy ends. Better to build homes with thermal mass and phase change materials, to adapt new structures to the clime. I don't think we'll pry folks away from central air any time soon.
posted by adipocere at 2:02 PM on June 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


After having spent a summer in Savannah without AC, I find my tolerance for heat and humidity still remains high. But I sleep with the AC on now, thank you very much.

But yeah, there's using AC does take up a lot of power. I don't see people in the States being willing to give that up in the name of, well, anything.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:06 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fuck you, Stan Cox. Just fuck you.
posted by John of Michigan at 2:11 PM on June 2, 2010


You can run the circulating fan without engaging the A/C compressor.

That's true. But will only get you so far. De-humidification works to further reduce pollen load, making the AC, as I said, indispensable.

But I understand that running the AC is a moral choice and by choosing to use it I am Very Bad Person.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:11 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does running AC to cool a house down 20 degrees from 95 (outside) to something like 75 (inside) during the summer really waste that much energy compared to *heating* your house in other parts of the country where the delta can be more like 40-80 degrees as the outside temperature drops below freezing?
posted by xorry at 2:18 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll tell you what's puzzling to me, and that is the increased prevalence of central AC units here in Utah over swamp coolers which are much more effective in this dry climate (not to mention less expensive to run). Someone at the central AC advertising office must be doing one hell of a job.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 2:18 PM on June 2, 2010


According to this article, Air Conditioning actually emits less CO2 than heating

In the Northeast, a typical house heated by fuel oil emits 13,000 pounds of CO2 annually. Cooling a similar dwelling in Phoenix produces only 900 pounds of CO2 a year. Air-conditioning wins on a national scale as well. Salving the summer swelter in the US produces 110 million metric tons of CO2 annually. Heating the country releases nearly eight times more carbon over the same period.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:19 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]



After May 1 down here (south Florida) we make sure there is a couple of light jackets/sweaters in the car. When we go into a restaurant we always take them along. Outside temp will be above 93 during the day and above 85 early evening. Inside the eatery? Probably 67/68 degrees.
It's like entering a walk in cooler.
posted by notreally at 2:22 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


one bottle of beer in a giant, constantly running refrigerator
I prefer keeping Prince Albert in a can.

Yellow Fever spread through cities like wildfire
They can have my yellow fever when they pry it from my hemorrhagic jaundiced hands.

The coming decades will test our ability to adapt and create, and we can't leave it to technology to bail us out this time.
This guy sounds like he's part of the solution. But apart from maybe looking at alternative energy sources and reduction of consumption rather than just shutting the AC off - I'm not so sure we've been creatures of our biology over our technology.

Without, say, spears, teamwork and land use, we'd pretty much be at the mercy of predators and disease bearing insects like any other grounded primate prone to sunburn. And indeed, he does allude to the way we use land (and build shelter) as pretty short sighted.

Build housing and other buildings properly with more green space and natural thermal stabilizers and we could get away with using less energy on heating and cooling. Of course, stuff might be further apart so we'd have to drive more. We could build more clean running public transportation as well. But that's just crazy talk. I love sitting trapped in my metal cage pressing pedals like a monkey subject to schizophrenic patterns of aggression and dominance rather than an organized meshing systematic mode of transportation and a little light exercise. Pfft. Walking's for suckers.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:30 PM on June 2, 2010


My parents' house with deep eaves and thick brick walls remained reasonably cool in the sweltering, humid summers of Omaha. Better designs and building practices could make a big difference.
posted by Cranberry at 2:30 PM on June 2, 2010


This Salon article of a couple years back attacks AC from the economic and political angles, blaming it for the rusting of the Rust Belt, the fall of the labor movement, and the rise of the G.O.P.
posted by Iridic at 2:31 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


For crying out loud, why does anyone in Canada need ac?

I had far more need of an AC unit in Toronto than I do in California.

But yeah, feel bad for doing anything people. FEEL BAD.
posted by GuyZero at 2:32 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here is a good guideline for temperature control:
A general recommendation is that the temperature be held constant in the range of 21-23°C (69-73°F). In summertime when outdoor temperatures are higher it is advisable to keep air-conditioned offices slightly warmer to minimize the temperature discrepancy between indoors and outdoors.
posted by No Robots at 2:32 PM on June 2, 2010


I'm always cold, so overcooled buildings are horrible for me. Even more so in the summer when it's really hot outside and then REALLY cold inside. Why should I have to carry a jacket to the movie theater in mid-July in southern NM? Really, it makes no sense to me.

That said, a half-buried structure (or even entirely underground) will do more to help regulate internal temps and save on electricity than nearly anything else. That and knowing how to make a proper mint julep.
posted by hippybear at 2:33 PM on June 2, 2010


The fabulous thing about air conditioning is that it makes you cooler by making everyone else hotter.

Oh puh-LEASE. Yeah, it's a heat exchanger, but its contribution to heat in the area around the evaporator is negligible and by basic conservation of energy you eventually equalize again the other way by opening the doors or basic entropy.

For this nonsense to hold water you'd also have to be against using drapes to prevent light from warming your home because reflecting it back out inflicts it on folks outside the house. Painting your house white makes the neighbors hotter! Horror!
posted by phearlez at 2:33 PM on June 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'll keep my AC on and my windows shut to avoid exposure to mosquitos bearing West Nile and encephalitis.

They don't have screens in your country?
posted by pracowity at 2:34 PM on June 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Outside temperature when I left work: 74 degrees F. Temperature on the city bus on my ride home: a whole hell of a lot cooler than 74 degrees, that's for damn sure. I'd wager 65, max.

Americans turn their heat up if it's 65 in January. But don't touch that dial if it's 65 in June or it might be the last thing you do. Get indignant about people moralizing AC all you want, but realize that your "comfort zone" is just as manufactured as any other consumer preference. That's not a condemnation; it's a description.
posted by mister-o at 2:35 PM on June 2, 2010


How about the heat-transfer and co2 emissions involved in all this knowledge I get from leaving my computer on and learning stuff form the internet? I mean, I could go to the local library and use books (emissions free, and usually cool to touch), but I actually like the convenience of being at home and comfortably getting instant answers.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:37 PM on June 2, 2010


Americans turn their heat up if it's 65 in January.

Speak for yourself. I had my windows open all through the last Chicago winter — I can turn off the radiators in my apartment but the heat leakage from the other units in the building was getting it up into the mid- to high 70s, which is just as uncomfortable for me in January as it is in June.
posted by enn at 2:37 PM on June 2, 2010


me: Americans turn their heat up if it's 65 in January.

enn: Speak for yourself.

If it somehow wasn't obvious from context, I meant "many Americans," not all of them/us.
posted by mister-o at 2:39 PM on June 2, 2010


I live in North Florida. During late spring and summer, temperatures can become brutally hot. I was without the use of my heat pump for over four weeks. Coming home to a house that was 90+ degrees Fahrenheit with humidity over 90% placed me in a state of physical and emotional distress.

I lost weight. I was very irritable. I could barely sleep.

My house was built in 1940. There is a non-functional and rather rusty house fan in the attic. My grandparents have been living in Jacksonville since 1962 and the same house, which was built in 1937, since 1964. They can attest to the fact that even then a house fan and open windows were all that was required to live in relative comfort.

I keep my thermostat at either 78 or 80, depending on relative indoor humidity. I keep my house warm or cold depending on the season(s)*

I would keep it warmer, however, I do have all my computers to think of. I have to take their operational environment into concern to minimize early component failure.

Without climate control systems Florida, as it stands in the year 2010, would be uninhabitable. Growing zones have shifted... I've looked back at agricultural data since the mid 1940's on... Our world is a warming one.

* - Florida has two seasons. Ten months of Summer, and maybe a handful of weeks that are somewhat temperate. It does freeze occasionally.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 2:41 PM on June 2, 2010


Homes can be designed and built to need almost no artificial heating or cooling. You just have to be willing to pay for it up front in construction costs instead of spending even more on utility bills for the life of the building.
posted by pracowity at 2:43 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Florida has two seasons.

From my understanding, so does Canada: Winter, and Road Construction.
posted by hippybear at 2:45 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you are naked you can turn the AC up to 82-83 no problem.
posted by bukvich at 2:47 PM on June 2, 2010


traditional hot-climate features such as heavy eaves, high ceilings, cross-ventilated designs, awnings, shade trees, screen porches, fans,

...and clay tile floors-- all features of my previous home in SoCal. I never lived in a house with air conditioning until I moved here to NC. In fact, my mom's house (the home of my childhood) is built right in front of the San Gabriel River and at 4:00 at the hottest part of the day she can open her front and back doors and the whole house is cooled by ocean breezes.

On the other hand, I am so grateful to the person who owned this home (in NC) 50 years ago because they planted a sycamore tree in the front and a sweet gum tree in the back-- both provide us with a completely shaded roof all summer. The sycamore is the best tree because it leafs out late in the season and is the first tree to lose its leaves in the autumn so that we get plenty of sunlight through the windows during the milder months.

Research in human physiology suggests that artificial cooling of the indoor environment undermines our natural heat-adaptation mechanisms

I am a big proponent of acclimation; when summer arrives I make sure I still get outside and spend at least a couple of hours gardening in the heat. Plus Mr. Gravy and I sit on the porch as much as possible. We have window units throughout the house and they are used only as a last resort-- mostly for sleeping, but also for cooling down after cooking in a hot kitchen. We made a big decision this spring to put a unit in the office so we won't have to turn the computer off during the day as in years past.

Doing without ice in my Gin & T or my ice tea, however, that's just crazy talk!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 2:57 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't stand heat; it makes me nauseous and lightheaded. Montana's climate is the best I've ever experienced.

That said, I don't understand why every office building I've ever worked in has to maintain a temperature of 60 year-round. I don't work in IT so it's not for server racks. This is a serious question - why do I (and everyone I know who works in an office) have to wear long sleeves to work in the summer? Wouldn't it save the company a lot of money to turn it up a few degrees?
posted by desjardins at 2:58 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh puh-LEASE. Yeah, it's a heat exchanger, but its contribution to heat in the area around the evaporator is negligible and .

Yeah, I get it. Your own contribution to the air temperature is SO SMALL that you shouldn't even worry about it. Just like your own contribution to CO2 is SO SMALL that you shouldn't even worry about it.

by basic conservation of energy you eventually equalize again the other way by opening the doors or basic entropy

Wow! Your AC unit is 100% efficient! That's impressive! Have you patented it yet?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:23 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder why I never hear these self-righteous anti-air-conditioning types who derive so much apparent pleasure from telling me what temperatures I should find comfortable arguing against indoor heating in the winter

That's not a very rational comparison.

Without heating in much of North America, you would die. Even your building would die (pipes freeze and burst). Or to avoid dying, you could try wearing outdoor clothing indoors. Hats. Parkas. Gloves. Have you ever tried typing with gloves on. And still your pipes would freeze.

Without air conditioning in much of North America, you just whine about it not being the heat but the humidity. Yes, a few ancient or sickly people kick the bucket during extreme heat waves, but not by the thousands like people would die if they had no heat in a New England winter.

People used to live in warm places, even Florida and Arizona, before air conditioning was invented. Weren't no one living up north without a fireplace. You just couldn't do it.
posted by pracowity at 3:24 PM on June 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


I live in south Louisiana, and have been hit by my fair share of hurricanes. These usually involve losing electricity (and thereby air conditioning) for 1-3 weeks at a time. I seriously don't understand how anyone lived down here prior to the invention of a/c. Within the first 2 days of losing power, everything in my house becomes wet. Not damp, wet. Like, the floors become a safety hazard because they are so slippery. Every spice/seasoning/powdered item in the pantry becomes a giant damp gooey clump at the bottom of it's bottle that will never un-solidify. Furniture will begin to smell like mildew. Really, it's all pretty gross.

I'm a very cold-natured person and I certainly don't need to live in a freezing cold house, but I'll be damned if I'll go without the de-humidifying aspect of a/c.
posted by tryniti at 3:25 PM on June 2, 2010


Go to a movie here in Texas -- and in Arizona, also, from my experience there -- and you HAVE TO carry a coat or sweater with you into the movie theater. It's nuts. You could store meat in those places. It's really uncomfortable. It's sortof like kids with hot rods, looking for bragging power or whatever, except in this case it's whoever has the coldest A/C units.

My condo, built in the 1970s when electric was cheap and no-one even began to consider power usage as a moral issue, this condo is horrific for six months if you (I) try living in it without A/C. I have tried, used fans. Forget it. Gruesome. And that's after I've packed the attic with over two foot of insulation and have solar screens on the windows. With the A/C it's bearable, but it runs a lot of the time, regardless it's a highly efficient unit. Texas is hot, and humid, no way around it.

If homes were built with climate in mind, as many are now, and as many were in days before cheap power, they could be heated and cooled very easily. Just requires forethought, and a few bucks extra in the building of the home -- face it the correct direction, thick walls, good windows and doors, good insulation, high ceilings. My place has none of these.

I run a fan all day in whatever room I am in. Just looked -- thermostat is set at 84 F.

Texas summer starts soon -- pray for us if you believe in it ....
posted by dancestoblue at 3:25 PM on June 2, 2010


The building I live in is 100 plus years old, I have 5 by 10 foot windows. At one time I could open a crack at the top and the bottom of each 10 foot window, and convection would draw the heat out. When the windows were replaced, ironically with double paned "energy efficient" casement windows, the top three feet couldn't be opened anymore. So we have a five foot layer of hot air at the top of every room. And now I need air conditioners, before, I didn't.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:25 PM on June 2, 2010


People should be able to be comfortable in their own homes.

How about this instead? Everyone who doesn't do physical labor gets to telecommute. No more huge office buildings blasting A/C (Sure, some of them would use A/C at home instead, but it'd be a drop in the bucket compared to big office buildings). No more traffic problems in big cities. No more me, sitting in my cube, writing this.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:25 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Acclimation is great. When you absolutely need cooling, would you please try harder: home AC systems are not technological marvels that other countries lack, but relics of poor urban planning.

District cooling / district heating:

"The Helsinki district cooling system uses otherwise wasted heat from summer time CHP power generation units to run absorption refrigerators for cooling during summer time, greatly reducing electricity usage. In winter time, cooling is achieved more directly using sea water. The adoption of district cooling is estimated to reduce the consumption of electricity for cooling purposes by as much as 90 per cent"
posted by Free word order! at 3:27 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


For the first time in nearly half a decade, I've got a car with working AC, and I never think to turn it on; I've gotten so used to sweating with the windows down, that I always forget it's even an option. Invariably, I'll be surprised on a day that I have my wife in the car with me, and she'll mutter about the heat, turn it on, and leave me shocked as there is cool air coming from somewhere.

I'll enjoy it for a minute or two, and then surreptitiously turn it off when she's not paying attention, because, while I like being cool, I hate what it does to the performance in my car.

Plus, I kinda like the feeling of having all the windows down on a hot night with good music playing, cruising down the interstate at 70.

why do I (and everyone I know who works in an office) have to wear long sleeves to work in the summer?

Fucking hell! this is one of my biggest complaints, it can be 90 degrees out, and I'm walking into work with a sweatshirt over my arm, because if I don't have it, I'm going to spend the whole day shivering. It's ridiculous.
posted by quin at 3:30 PM on June 2, 2010


Yeah, I've had to go a little berserk at a couple of workplaces to get the ac at a reasonable level (~75 F). You have to look for allies on this, and be prepared to push a little.
posted by No Robots at 3:34 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I also live in North Florida. I paid more than my car is worth to get its A/C fixed.

One reason public buildings are so cold is that the only real way to get the humidity down is to cool the air to some surprisingly cool temperature. They then have to re-heat the air to get it back to a reasonable temperature. At least, that's what I've been told.
posted by dirigibleman at 3:37 PM on June 2, 2010


When it gets too hot for comfot
And you can't get an ice cream cone
T'ain't no sin to take off your skin
And dance around your bones
posted by HumuloneRanger at 3:42 PM on June 2, 2010


The most ridiculous crap about AC in cars that I've heard lately is that it produces a negligible effect on gas mileage. For one thing, I can feel the difference in acceleration in my car when the AC was turned on (it no longer works).

I once rented a Pontiac Sunfire that had an MPG meter, and took the opportunity to do some experiments. At a slow cruise, about 40, it got roughly 35 MPG...turn the AC on, and it plummeted to 27-28 MPG. Hardly negligible.

I notice that the "tests" that demonstrate the effect always use V8s that get lousy gas mileage to start with. If you're only getting 15-20 MPG, losing a couple more is pretty meaningless.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:46 PM on June 2, 2010


People used to live in warm places, even Florida and Arizona, before air conditioning was invented. Weren't no one living up north without a fireplace. You just couldn't do it.

That may be true, but before you talk Southerners into giving up their A/C altogether we'll want to have regulated assurances that you Northerners are using juuuuuuuuuuust enough heat to survive and no more. Because this isn't about survivalism, is it? It's about how comfortable we can reasonably expect to be before the negatives start to outweigh the positives.
posted by squeakyfromme at 3:49 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm firmly in No Robot's camp when it comes to AC in Canada. We don't need it. If you think you need it, you're spending too much time in poorly designed buildings.

Also, AC is responsible for dry skin, obesity, overpopulation and election of George W. Bush, according this article on the same book.
posted by Kurichina at 3:49 PM on June 2, 2010


Yeah, I get it. Your own contribution to the air temperature is SO SMALL that you shouldn't even worry about it.

Did your school never teach the Law of Conservation of Energy? ACs are heat pumps, they move heat (energy) outside the house. No energy is created or destroyed, the energy is merely moved outside the house. Net global heat change = zero.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:50 PM on June 2, 2010


One reason public buildings are so cold is that the only real way to get the humidity down is to cool the air to some surprisingly cool temperature. They then have to re-heat the air to get it back to a reasonable temperature.

Wiki says:
Air conditioning equipment usually reduces the humidity of the air processed by the system. The relatively cold (below the dew point) evaporator coil condenses water vapor from the processed air, much as a cold drink will condense water on the outside of a glass. The water is drained, removing water vapor from the cooled space and thereby lowering its relative humidity. [...]

Some air conditioning units dry the air without cooling it. These work like a normal air conditioner, except that a heat exchanger is placed between the intake and exhaust. In combination with convection fans, they achieve a similar level of comfort as an air cooler in humid tropical climates, but only consume about one-third the energy. They are also preferred by those who find the draft created by air coolers uncomfortable.
posted by pracowity at 3:51 PM on June 2, 2010


the only real way to get the humidity down is to cool the air to some surprisingly cool temperature. They then have to re-heat the air to get it back to a reasonable temperature. At least, that's what I've been told.

That's just poor design. Use the incoming air to heat the dehumidified air, with the added benefit of slightly dehumidifying the incoming air before it hits the primary heat exchanger.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:57 PM on June 2, 2010


Unfortunately, insanely cold A/C isn't only an American phenomenon: in tropical Singapore and Malaysia they also like to blast arctic air at shoppers and office workers. Admittedly, it feels nice for the first minute or so after walking in from the sweltering heat, but it soon gets ridiculous. One day I was walking past a swanky office building in Penang when a woman popped out to give some papers to a guy in a car. The woman was wearing a stylish short dress, strappy sandals, and a huge down-filled ski jacket.

Too bad they don't set up temperature zones in a building - a chilly cool-down area near the doors, and the rest of the building at a more reasonable temperature. How hard would it be to do this? It might be pretty cost-effective, since shoppers might actually hang out longer in the mall if they weren't freezing their butts off.
posted by Quietgal at 4:02 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


ACs are heat pumps, they move heat (energy) outside the house. No energy is created or destroyed, the energy is merely moved outside the house.

I guess you dropped out of physics before they got to the second law of thermodynamics.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 4:02 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I get it. Your own contribution to the air temperature is SO SMALL that you shouldn't even worry about it.

Did your school never teach the Law of Conservation of Energy? ACs are heat pumps, they move heat (energy) outside the house. No energy is created or destroyed, the energy is merely moved outside the house. Net global heat change = zero.


Apparently your school did not teach the Second Law of Thermodynamics (second paragraph in that section. No energy is created or destroyed, but some of the energy is converted from electricity (or rather whatever fuel we're using to produce it) into waste heat.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:05 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I live in Canada, in the Okanagan. Summer temps will be >40C. My upstairs floor will be in excess of 50C on some days.

It sounds to me like some of you Canucks are *clueless*.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:07 PM on June 2, 2010


ACs are heat pumps, they move heat (energy) outside the house. No energy is created or destroyed, the energy is merely moved outside the house.

Well, that's the heat of the air you're talking about. Surely using electric motors generates heat? As does the generation of electricity by nearly all methods I can think of. Using AC definitely is not a zero sum game.
posted by hippybear at 4:09 PM on June 2, 2010


If you're only getting V8s that get lousy gas mileage to start with. If you're only getting 15-20 MPG, losing a couple more is pretty meaningless.

Oddly enough, this is totally backwards. MPGs are bigger the closer they are to 0. On a 120-mile drive, a 40 MPG car uses 3 gallons, a 30 MPG car uses 4 gallons, and a 20 MPG car uses 6 gallons. This is why eggheads like me say we should concentrate on getting 1 or 2 extra MPGs out of SUVs rather than 5 or 10 out of small sedans. It's also why civilized countries measure fuel economy in distance per volume, not volume per distance.

As for AC in cars...in a sense car AC is more efficient than home AC, since car AC uses gas->mechanical energy->heat energy while home AC uses fuel->mechanical energy->electricity->mechanical energy->heat energy. It also has the major advantage that a car is much smaller than a house, and is turned off when not in use. So I'm not sure car AC is worth demonizing.
posted by miyabo at 4:13 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm all for building smarter and living in homes that ventilate better. When I get a house, it is going to be the baddest-ass efficiency monster I can manage.

But until that happens, I'm running the goddamned AC. How can anyone who has ever tried to sleep in the summer, sitting on top of the sheets, wondering whether the moisture covering their entire body is sweat or dew, claim that we should just acclimate to the heat?

I didn't have air conditioning for the first half of my life. I've worked out in the sun, I've worked in hot kitchens. And I still can't fucking sleep when it's hot out.

We only live once. If you don't like it, don't turn it on. But shut the hell up about what I like.

Thank you and good night.
posted by gjc at 4:29 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I need the A/C because I'm already wearing a long sleeve hair shirt to punish myself for all my other sins.
posted by squeakyfromme at 4:36 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a serious question - why do I (and everyone I know who works in an office) have to wear long sleeves to work in the summer? Wouldn't it save the company a lot of money to turn it up a few degrees?

In my law office it's because the standard uniform for the guys is three layers (undershirt, long-sleeved shirt, suit jacket). I'd be warm if I had to wear that much too. Unfortunately I'm stuck with women's summer officewear, which means I usually put on my cardigan within 30-60 minutes of sitting down at my desk.
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:51 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


How many typical solar panels would it take in the SW to run an A/C unit? I mean, could they be tied together so it really was close to a zero-sum energy game to run the A/C?
posted by maxwelton at 5:05 PM on June 2, 2010


Slate's Green Lantern on car A/C. Although the question is between ac & windows down, it's still pretty relevant.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:12 PM on June 2, 2010


I live in incest-filled, banjo-driven Appalachia. Most years, we only really need the AC in August.

So we moved into a house with no AC. The pollution from the coal burning TVA plants that supply the power for everyone else's AC just about killed us last summer. That and the paper mill.

Now we have AC again. We sit happily in the cool and filtered air while the poor are choking to death on our pollution.

There is something wrong here.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:17 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


How many typical solar panels would it take in the SW to run an A/C unit?

This isn't a terrible idea. You could use a DC motor for the air conditioner, and avoid converting the solar panel's DC power to household AC which is expensive and involves significant losses. But solar panels still cost $3-4 a watt, so powering even a window unit would cost around $5000 in solar panels. It may be practical when panels are just a little bit cheaper.
posted by miyabo at 5:25 PM on June 2, 2010


How many typical solar panels would it take in the SW to run an A/C unit?

Googling around: if you have a pretty hoss A/C unit that draws 20KW, you'd need about 2000 square feet of photovoltaics to run it (at maximum sun).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:39 PM on June 2, 2010


So now I'm cool? Because my landlady won't get the AC fixed? I've finally made it!
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 5:44 PM on June 2, 2010


Yeah, I get it. Your own contribution to the air temperature is SO SMALL that you shouldn't even worry about it. Just like your own contribution to CO2 is SO SMALL that you shouldn't even worry about it.

Why do you think it's not small? Have you done the math?

I live in Austin. If every single person in the city carried around their own personal 1kW air conditioner and ran it full-blast, 24 hours a day, the average temperature of the surrounding environment would increase by less than 0.2°C. In reality, A/C units have thermostats and the power consumption per person is probably lower (since centralized HVAC systems are probably more efficient) so the actual temperature increase is likely to be even smaller.
posted by teraflop at 5:59 PM on June 2, 2010


We run the AC as little as possible through summer. But, sweet jeebus, August in Indiana is a hot, mucky ordeal without some AC.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:03 PM on June 2, 2010


My antique (and now expired) AC draws 18A. Its replacement will draw 6A.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:06 PM on June 2, 2010


3.5T unit, fwiw.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:07 PM on June 2, 2010


We lived for a number of years in an older (built 1929) house in the Heights in Houston. Pier and beam construction, original shotgun shape only slightly messed up by the remodeling, high ceilings, fans, etc. The AC died over the 4th of July weekend one year while we had houseguests. It was unpleasant without AC until we could get it fixed, but tolerable, and a lot of the unpleasantness was the humidity.

Now we're in Austin and right now we have the patio door open (screen closed) and a fan to circulate the cool air inside during this evening's thunderstorm. The construction in this condo is better than a lot of places in terms of energy efficiency, but it's just not the same as living in a house built for the climate and conditions. The idea of living without AC for a few days here makes me shudder.

Building to local conditions, the way they did before widespread AC, might not mean we never ran AC in Texas, but it would reduce consumption. We need to remember that architectural styles weren't just consumer choices and choose ones that actually work where we live.
posted by immlass at 7:20 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I do have all my computers to think of. I have to take their operational environment into concern to minimize early component failure.

The idea that computing equipment can't tolerate anything but brutal AC is a myth. It's pervasive in IT circles, to the point where many datacenters are actually way overcooled, but there's very little in the way of empirical analysis behind it.

There have been several big studies done by companies like Intel and Google in the last few years which are breaking down the idea that a proper datacenter (or other IT environment) should be heavily air conditioned.
Intel recently conducted a 10-month test to evaluate the impact of using only outside air (also known as air-side economization) to cool a high-density data center in New Mexico, where the temperature ranged from 64 degrees to as high as 92 degrees. Intel said it found “no consistent increase” in failure rates due to the greater variation in temperature and humidity. “This suggests that existing assumptions about the need to closely regulate these factors bear further scrutiny,” Intel concluded.
There does come a point where increased power consumption from the servers (due to higher fan speeds, etc.) begins to outweigh the gains made by turning the thermostat up, but a guy from Intel is quoted saying that the proper setpoint is probably around 80-85 and not the typical "room temperature" 65-75 that many people think it is. And that's in a datacenter with a lot of servers, and includes a certain safety margin — in a DC you might need to keep the normal setpoint 10-15 degrees low in order to buy yourself even a few minutes for the backup cooling system to come online before your servers switch off — a typical office environment doesn't need it.

I've never heard a good explanation as to where the idea that the proper setpoint ought to be so cold developed, although I've been in old mainframe "computer rooms" (built before the word 'datacenter' existed) that could have doubled as meat lockers, so it's not a new thing. I think it's partly psychological — when computers were really expensive, people figured "what the hell, AC is cheap, we might as well have the safety margin." Of course, now that's backwards: today, computers are cheap, energy is expensive.

I'm as guilty as anyone of using the "it's for the computers" excuse to blast the AC at times: I'm from northern New England and anything over 75 makes me uncomfortable as hell. (Twenty below? No problem, they make clothing for that. But there's a limit to how much clothing they let you take off...) But it's not really a good excuse if you run the numbers. Modern computing equipment will be obsolete before it dies, even in what (to a human) would be pretty uncomfortable conditions — most rackmount stuff I've seen lately has specified ambient limits of 95F or higher while still keeping the MTBF. The tiny increase in failure rates as a result of decreasing the ambient temperature are not justified given the very inexpensive nature of current equipment.

I don't fault anyone for using air conditioning for comfort, at least not any more than I fault people for using heat in the winter. The people who think it's some sort of divine right to walk around indoors in T-shirts in the winter are causing a lot more carbon emissions, because most forms of heating (except heat pumps) are far less efficient than cooling — they just use cheaper sources of energy. But there's no reason to run the AC for the sake of equipment if there aren't any humans around to enjoy it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:49 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I live in Southern Ontario and I don't have AC; have never had AC. Some nights I can't sleep because of the heat/humidity. I do okay, though, most of the time, with fans and a dehumidifier. They generate heat but get the air moving and the humitidy out of the air (and bonus, I can use the water on my plants). I really only long for AC once or twice in a summer. But I don't begrudge anyone who has it. Well, maybe malls and movie theatres that keep it so low I swear I can see my breath condensing...but not private homes. Do what you can to be comfortable and sleep!
posted by sandraregina at 7:52 PM on June 2, 2010


The idea that computing equipment can't tolerate anything but brutal AC is a myth. It's pervasive in IT circles, to the point where many datacenters are actually way overcooled, but there's very little in the way of empirical analysis behind it.

Sometimes it's not the equipment that needs cooling, it's the operator. I work in a small office at home and my Mac Quad G5 kicks out a TON of heat. It's the last liquid-cooled PPC Mac. It's like running a space heater. Once last winter I was encoding files for a DVD in Compressor, that runs all 4 CPUs at 100%. I did a little (slow & laggy) web surfing for about 30 minutes while ripping in the background, then I started to feel sick. I thought I was coming down with a fever. Then I realized it wasn't me that was overheating, it was the room. I checked the temp sensor on the incoming air vent, 115 degrees F.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:26 PM on June 2, 2010


Yeah, I get it. Your own contribution to the air temperature is SO SMALL that you shouldn't even worry about it. Just like your own contribution to CO2 is SO SMALL that you shouldn't even worry about it.

The pertinent phrase here, in application to your concerns about the AC in the large gas burning vehicle that you were using to convey people between a building and their own gas burning vehicles, is "penny wise and pound foolish." More contemporary variations could involve three double cheeseburgers and a diet coke, or perhaps the old classic about barn doors and cows.
posted by phearlez at 8:46 PM on June 2, 2010


t sounds to me like some of you Canucks are *clueless*.

And why is it, do you suppose, that we all spend our summers in the Okanagan and/or move there as soon as we can afford it?

One of my earliest memories is of crossing the beach at the Okanagan when the sand was so hot it was almost impossible. Bliss.
posted by No Robots at 9:20 PM on June 2, 2010


If every single person in the city carried around their own personal 1kW air conditioner and ran it full-blast, 24 hours a day, the average temperature of the surrounding environment would increase by less than 0.2°C.

I'm curious as to how you arrived at that number. My quick calculation shows that the solar flux on Austin is around 5.3 x 10^8 KW, whereas 800,000 people burning a KW each is 8 x 10^8. Does that come out to .0.2°C?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 9:40 PM on June 2, 2010


he pertinent phrase here, in application to your concerns about the AC in the large gas burning vehicle that you were using to convey people between a building and their own gas burning vehicles, is "penny wise and pound foolish."

The parking lot was almost three miles from the building, due to factors beyond our control. I didn't like it, but there was really no choice in the matter. I don't think people would have been up for walking there.

Perhaps in a couple of years the company can get a hybrid or an electric van.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 9:47 PM on June 2, 2010


The idea that computing equipment can't tolerate anything but brutal AC is a myth.

And even supposing you did need to accommodate the computers by lowering room temperatures for them, packing machines and people into the same rooms and then making those rooms more comfortable for the tools than for the workers is the wrong way to go about things.

Instead of each person having at least one hot and noisy computer running on the desk all day, switch to thin clients on the desks and leave the hot and noisy stuff in the data center. Now you're back to a pleasantly quiet room centered on people who can decide the temperature of the room for themselves and even (if they don't work in an aquarium) whether to turn off the air conditioning and open the windows.
posted by pracowity at 10:06 PM on June 2, 2010


The overuse of AC makes me so very GRAR. It's such a ridiculous waste of energy to cool buildings down to 68; it's even more ridiculous to blast cold air onto the sidewalk through open doors. Plus, the shock of going from 90 to 68 triggers my Reynaud's, so it's physically aggravating to me as well.

People walk into my house in the summer and think we have air on when we don't -- the houses in my neighborhood generally don't have AC. We have a ceiling fan in every room and a big tree out front. It's amazing how cool a brick rowhouse with a stone foundation house can stay. We have a window unit for the bedroom, but don't wind up using it for more than a couple of weeks in the very hottest part of the summer.

I notice that all this "green" construction has central air, though. God forbid, it just costs too much to make houses built to last.
posted by desuetude at 10:13 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


My quick calculation shows that the solar flux on Austin is around 5.3 x 10^8 KW, whereas 800,000 people burning a KW each is 8 x 10^8. Does that come out to .0.2°C?

You're mixing up watts and kilowatts, so the latter estimate is a factor of a thousand too high.

Near room temperature, the Stefan-Boltzmann radiation law says that (to a first-order approximation) each additional W/m^2 of radiated power raises the temperature by about 0.16 K.
posted by teraflop at 11:33 PM on June 2, 2010


I'll never forget visiting a park in Yokohama that had moving walkways with roofs overhead and airconditioning. Why even bother going outside?

I grew up in Perth, Australia (summer temperatures of over 104 degrees for weeks on end) and Port Moresby (humidity of 80% to 100%) all without airconditiong. I didn't die.
posted by Wantok at 11:54 PM on June 2, 2010


You're mixing up watts and kilowatts

Mmm, thought I dropped those zeroes...

each additional W/m^2 of radiated power raises the temperature by about 0.16 K.

7.6 x 10^8 w /7.6 x 10^8 m^2 = 1.0 W/m^2 * 0.16K = 0.16 K

Crosschecks with population density of ~1,000/Km^2.

Sadly, though, the AC energy budget per capita is about 12 Kw, calculated from 11% of energy use for home and business. That still leaves out industrial AC use.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:06 AM on June 3, 2010


Another Perth resident here - hi Wantok! - and I grew up without aircon, in the weeks and months of 104+ temperatures, and never really had a problem. On very hot nights we'd sleep out in the backyard.

Now, I can barely cope without aircon. I really believe I've lost my tolerance for heat. Next summer I'm going to see if I can build it up again. It's not like I really *enjoy* paying huge electricity bills.
posted by harriet vane at 3:43 AM on June 3, 2010


Our house in southwestern Ontario was built in 1928. It has high ceilings (9'), a half-sunken basement, two residence levels and a finished attic. It is 25' x 25' by about 30' tall. Double-layer brick construction. Plaster and lath interior walls. Large, vertically oriented, double-hung windows. Heat is hydronic (radiator); there is no ductwork and we do not have air conditioning. This house is brilliantly designed -- for its time, for its climate.

The attic has two small openable windows at either end of the room. The house is laid out such that opening one or both of the attic windows and cracking open windows in each room in lower levels results in a nice breeze coming in each room and swirling up both flights of stairs. I converted a box fan into an exhaust fan (by shrouding the blades so there was no blow-back), and when necessary I can slot that into one of the attic windows. Turn it on high and you'll be dealing with Beaufort 2 coming up the stairwell.

On summer days (27C or higher), this is the procedure we follow:

Morning -- shut all lower windows, draw blinds on sunny side of house.
Afternoon -- shut attic window, raise blinds on morning side, draw blinds on afternoon side
Evening -- when outside temp drops below inside, open dining room and/or kitchen windows (farthest from fan, draft wise), and turn the attic fan on high.
Bedtime -- reduce fan to low and adjust windows for expectations of rain

In general, this keeps the house very comfortable in the morning and quite tolerable in the afternoon. On very hot days I bail out to the library to work, because -- and as noted in the literature -- I find it hard to think when room temps are over 30c

We have a small, high SEER window air conditioner that can be slotted into the other attic window with a custom bezel. The cool air rolls down the stairs reasonably well. It is only used on the rare night that is extremely hot and humid such that a cool shower before bed just wouldn't be enough. Haven't needed it the past couple of years.

To contrast --- I used to live in Florida, and most of houses I lived in there were of a much more recent vintage. And so stupidly designed for the climate. A single level 4" stud wall ranch with 8' ceilings and no accessible attic is just fucking stupid in the South. It's like the fucking HUMMER of buildings: simply screams "I have air conditioning!" Most of the CBS houses are even worse, because so few people bothered to insulate them and the heat just storms in through the walls.

But older Florida houses -- cracker houses we called them -- were so much smarter. Built for ventilation, good crossflow, attics with fans and huge vents, and lots and lots of trees to keep the sun off. Yes, it would get hot in the afternoon, but that's when you drink your iced tea and relax and doze, because you'd got up at the crack of stupid to get your work done before 2, then take your siesta, and have some BBQ and beer on the porch as the sun faded.

All of that said, most people aren't going to tear their shit down to build another house that doesn't need AC. They'll crank the AC, not necessarily because they are heat wimps, but because their houses are stupid.

What are ya gonna do? It's like surface roads are today: everyone agrees that cars are mostly bad for downtowns and neighbourhoods, but everything is predicated on roads and cars and has been for like 50 years.

We can't just tear this shit down overnight... but at least we can stop doing stupid things and maybe our kids will live more sensibly. Oh, wait, peak energy, oil in the gulf, greenhouse warming, mid-east brinksmanship, memetic diseases, internet viruses, quadcopter grenades, laser satellite death machines, amoral science and the innate douchebaggery of our species.

Nope, pretty sure these are the good ol' days.
YOU BASTARDS! YOU BLEW IT UP!
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:29 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


All of that said, most people aren't going to tear their shit down to build another house that doesn't need AC.

Fortunately (depending on how you look at it), those houses weren't built to last, so someone will tear them all down not too long from now. We just need to hope all new construction is regulated to prevent climate-inappropriate designs from going up.
posted by pracowity at 8:33 AM on June 3, 2010


The high today in Minneapolis is going to be 76 F. Right now I'm sitting in my office drinking a mug of hot tea with a pashmina shawl wrapped around my shoulders and arms to keep from shivering. In June. The air conditioning just clicked on again above my head.

Pretty sure this is not how things are supposed to work.
posted by castlebravo at 8:43 AM on June 3, 2010


Offices require extra cooling because the HVAC zones are usually set up so poorly that one corner can be freezing while the other is burning. I had to work at 80 degrees for a while and I got pissy, or I had to look like a bum in a wifebeater T-shirt. (Ironic because we were a smart grid company)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:37 AM on June 3, 2010


During the crest of theChicago Heat Wave (of Death) of 1995 I just up and moved to the Air-Conditioned City. I will never leave. And I will never buy an air-conditioner.
posted by RedEmma at 9:41 AM on June 3, 2010


Right now I'm sitting in my office drinking a mug of hot tea with a pashmina shawl wrapped around my shoulders and arms to keep from shivering. In June.

They are as stupid about air conditioning in our office building, BUT I made sure my desk is right next to one of the few windows that open. Fire regulation? I don't know. In any case, when it gets too cold in the office and I am sitting there shivering in the heat of the summer, I swing a nice big window open and let some warm air in while the air conditioning (which we cannot adjust) remains running. It's fucked up, but the fucker who fucked it up was the fucking designer. Yeah, I hate air conditioning.
posted by pracowity at 11:17 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The problem with our house is that it's BACKWARDS. I mean literally backwards. The front used to face the lake, but when the land it was on was made into a park, the house was moved up the street. It had to be turned around or the front would have faced an alley. So on the cool (lake) side of the house, we have exactly one window. Off to one side, in a room, so even when opened it doesn't provide much airflow.

We moved in over the winter, so we haven't bought an AC yet. We'll see how it goes; last Sunday it was 84 in the middle room.
posted by desjardins at 2:13 PM on June 3, 2010


"The problem with our house is that it's BACKWARDS."

This is a problem in most tract development. Houses are designed and constructed for "curb appeal" rather than site considerations. Nothing new of course, it's been this way for at least a 100 years (not many houses around here older than that). One of the things I'm slowly changing on my house is to replace the huge street and north facing windows for units of a more modest size and increasing the size of the south facing windows. I'm also adding overhang and shading to prevent solar gain in the summer while still heating the house in the winter.

"Fortunately (depending on how you look at it), those houses weren't built to last, so someone will tear them all down not too long from now. We just need to hope all new construction is regulated to prevent climate-inappropriate designs from going up."

I'm not sure regulating this aspect of building design is possible without falling to every house looking the same esthetic like we were living in a quasi-state-communist country. Canadian code sure hasn't done a good job of regulating even simple things like natural lighting. At least part of the reason for failure is so many houses are "built to code" which is code for building the poorest house the law will allow. Regulating site specific design features is a task I wouldn't want to be responsible for.
posted by Mitheral at 3:50 PM on June 3, 2010


For some reason the basement of my house is always, always at a comfortable temperature in the summer, even when it goes up to 38C outside. Are your basements broken, AC people?
posted by tehloki at 9:36 PM on June 3, 2010


tehloki: You live somewhere where the water table is deep enough to have a basement.
posted by zabuni at 10:43 PM on June 3, 2010


Just heard a story on the radio about an energy audit done in one of our rural counties. They found that the AC was so cold in some buildings that the workers were bringing in space heaters.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:44 AM on June 4, 2010


Are your basements broken, AC people?

I grew up in Houston, which is built in a coastal swamp. Nobody has basements because of the soil and the flooding; the old local style is pier-and-beam, which raises your house 18 inches off the ground. There is some underground parking and a tunnel system downtown. People use those, but we all found out during TS Allison that they can flood spectacularly. Had we not been a foot and a half off the ground during Allison, our house would have flooded.
posted by immlass at 6:30 AM on June 4, 2010


In order to use my basement we'd have to have a whole other set of furniture down there, since the thought of moving things up and down two floors is not especially enticing. Then there are other considerations, like the lack of a bathroom, the fact that we share the basement with the downstairs tenant, moving the pets, and the centipedes... OH GOD THE CENTIPEDES... NOOOOOOO
posted by desjardins at 9:12 AM on June 4, 2010


What is this "basement" of which you speak?
posted by small_ruminant at 5:33 PM on June 4, 2010


The most ridiculous crap about AC in cars that I've heard lately is that it produces a negligible effect on gas mileage.

I think that was at highway speed, 55 mph, with windows open vs. closed. The drag of open windows at that speed is significant.

Plenty of taxi drivers try to keep their headlights off at night, to save gas.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:00 PM on June 4, 2010


Your own contribution to the air temperature is SO SMALL that you shouldn't even worry about it.

Your personal heat contribution is approximately that of a one hundred watt light bulb. Put twenty together, and you'll feel the room heat up.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:05 PM on June 4, 2010


The issue with air conditioning isn't heating up the environment due to the heat they blow out of the condenser. That's silly. The net thermal output of an air conditioner — the energy it is actually consuming from a power source and not just moving from one place to another — is tiny compared to the solar radiation falling on just about any area where you'd consider using air conditioning. The urban "heat island" effect is a real issue, but black pavement and shingles / rooftops are a much bigger contributor.

WP sites the AMS which estimates total anthropogenic heat sources in urban areas (this includes all energy uses, incl. transportation, industry, etc.) as 15-50 W/m^2. Average solar flux is 1360 W/m^2. They're not even in the same ballpark. If you're concerned about the local temperature, you'd probably do better to be down at Home Depot giving the evil eye to anyone buying black shingles.

The problem with AC isn't the heat, it's the energy usage and resultant carbon emissions. CO2 as a greenhouse gas is potentially much more of a threat than the actual energy released by the chemical oxidation of the fuel that released the CO2 in the first place, because while the chemical-energy release is a one-time event, the CO2 once released in the atmosphere can trap heat as long as it remains in the high atmosphere.

I have heard people talk hypothetically about the problem of climate change due to direct thermal pollution, but only if we ever manage to invent some sort of cheap, carbon-emission-free energy source. If everyone had a magic box in their basement that just churned out electricity in violation of the known laws of physics, it's conceivable — if energy consumption went up tremendously (like, orders of magnitude; which I guess could be possible if energy were free since the demand curve probably goes up ascymptotically as the price approaches zero/kW) — that we could have a nontrivial impact on the climate. But it's pretty science-fictiony.

If you're turning off the AC because of the heat blowing out of the condenser affecting the climate, you're doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. The problem is coming out of the smokestacks down at the power plant. There's nothing particularly bad about air conditioning that isn't true (well, CFCs, but that aside) of any other electrical appliance of the same load, using the same energy source. If you don't need it, don't use it — but that goes for basically anything that plugs into the wall or otherwise runs on fossil fuels.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:45 PM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


The problem is coming out of the smokestacks down at the power plant.

Exactly. But you're still trading your own short-term comfort for everyone's long-term discomfort, and that's the situation I was trying to point out.

We could get guilt-free cold air if we used heat pumps for things like clothes dryers and hot water heaters.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:51 PM on June 4, 2010


Hi. I'm in Seattle. When does summer arrive again?
posted by Artw at 5:28 PM on June 17, 2010


New Air Conditioner Process Cuts Energy Use 50-90%
posted by kliuless at 4:44 AM on June 21, 2010


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