Cooling Off: Alternatives to A/C

May 26, 2010

DSC03542 Lemonade stands and trips to the beach!  With the onslaught of these sweltering hot days, it’s that time of year again. The time when I face off with my entire family who wants to put the air conditioners in the windows the first hot day. If I had my say, we wouldn’t have air conditioning and would just live with it. I have to admit though, that on hot days like today, it does feel good going to the grocery store, or to the library, or sitting in the one conditioned room in our house. I feel the meanness peel off me, but am not sure if it is worth it. Re-entering the real heat of the day is always worse after.

What are your air conditioning stories?

I will always remember a wise and venerable architect friend musing that television and air conditioning were the death of community. He talked about the ‘old days’ when everyone was forced after dinner to go for walks on warm evenings or to sit outside on their porches, activities that led to neighborly conversations and sharing.

Another memory is of another friend and my boss years ago, who has a wonderful old farm house, with shading trees on the south side and lots of windows. I house-sat for her one year and learned how her house worked best – on hot summer days, she showed me how to close the windows and pull down the shades during the day, in the early evening run the whole house fan for 10 minutes to pull the hot air out of the house, and in the evening open up the windows and use fans to move around the cooler night air. Her lesson helped me understand the value of our being aware of and part of our environment instead of being constantly separated from it.

The Cons

Air conditioners are expensive to operate: in a hot month, consuming $500 worth of electricity is common. They are also climate-unfriendly: according to the U.S. Department of Energy, a typical home air conditioning system yields around 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide and 31 pounds of sulfur dioxide per year. Our and other rapidly expanding economies’ consumptions continue to increase annually.

In addition to energy and environmental concerns, closing windows and continually re-circulating air in a central air system can lead to indoor air quality problems. These issues give us more and more reason to look for alternatives to air conditioning.

whole house fan

How a whole house fan works – image by Whole House Fan Company

Alternative Cooling Options (from simple to major):

Simple :

  • Pull down your shades on the sunny side of the house during the day.
  • Close the windows for the hottest part of the day and open them at the coolest.
  • Use window fans in the evening to draw in the cool air.
  • Try wearing a damp wrist band or try making your bed with a just -washed (not dried) sheet. (Let me know if you try this one!).

Limited Expense with Big Payoff :

  • Add deciduous trees or climbing foliage on the south side of your home to shade in the summer and allow the sun to stream through in the winter.
  • Install ceiling fans – moving air cools without dropping the temperature.
  • Install an energy efficient whole house fan, a high-volume fan mounted in the attic. It will flush hot air out of the house and replace it with cooler outdoor air that comes through open windows.

Major: As part of a renovation or when planning new construction:

  • Place the building on the site and select and place windows to maximize air flow and the best orientation for the sun.
  • Design roof overhangs to shade the home’s interior from the summer sun.
  • Add sun shades and awnings – electronic controls are available that open and close shades on a schedule or when temperatures rise above a pre-set limit.
  • Install adequate insulation.

Resource Links:  Alternatives to air conditioners:

Happy summer to you and your family!  Let me know if you have any questions or want to share your A/C stories.

Juli MacDonald    GreenBridge Architects     978.518.2811


2 Responses to “Cooling Off: Alternatives to A/C”

  1. Kate Says:

    As a Realtor, I’ve been in homes that have whole house fans and they do an amazing job of keeping a house cool. It’s a wonder they aren’t standard in every home.

  2. Lisa Says:

    I love the idea of a whole house fan! I’m going to look into having one installed in our 110+ year old house. Great blog post Juli.

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