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Find your inner cool

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The air conditioner turns a sweltering 107 this year and what better way to celebrate its birthday than to turn it off? (The first one was installed in a printing plant; home A/C units weren't developed until 1928.)

Heresy, you say. She's obviously a Yankee masochist. It's only mid-May and the temperature has tipped 90 degrees twice in the Triangle.

As for the Yankee masochist part, I plead guilty as charged. But after living in Texas for six summers, I know heat and humidity. I also know that ceiling and window fans can cool a room several degrees—think of them as producing a wind chill factor—while saving energy and money.

New air conditioners consume less energy and emit fewer greenhouse gas-producing hydrofluorocarbons than older models, but ceiling and window fans leave an even smaller carbon footprint: Ceiling fans use 200 to 500 watts; window air conditioners can consume 1,000 watts or more. Fans can cost as low as 1 cent per hour, depending on the speed, and emit no gases. And on the hottest of days, ceiling fans can lower the room temperature by 4 degrees, allowing you to set the A/C higher.

If you opt for a ceiling fan, pick one that fits the room. A 36- or 44-inch diameter fan will cool rooms up to 225 square feet, while fans that are 52 inches or more should be used in larger rooms, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. When buying window fans, look for those with an Energy Star label, as they move air 20 percent more efficiently than their non-Energy Star counterparts.

To stave off the heat, close blinds during the hottest part of the day. Use fans to suck in the cool night air, and then close your windows in the morning to keep your home cool. If you must turn on the A/C—to keep your furry pets comfortable, for example—set the thermostat at 78 degrees.

I'm not suggesting you throw the hot baby out with the steaming bath water, but save the A/C for the oppressive days: In August 2007, the thermometer peaked in the low to mid 100s. Even the most hardcore of us gave in and hit "cool"—and clicked on the ceiling fan, of course. Go to www.energystar.gov to learn about the most efficient fans and air conditioners.

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