Enjoying My A/C

I’ve been thinking a lot about air conditioning the past couple of days. I spent this weekend at an outdoor wedding (not even the bathrooms had a/c!) and an outdoor birthday party during one of the most debilitating, heat-filled weeks on record for Pennsylvania (and most of the United States). To attest to how hot and humid it was, I took my son outside to play at 8:15am on Thursday morning. My son loves to be outside, begs to be outside, cries to be outside. After 20 minutes of playing, he collected his toys to be put away and waited at the back door for me to let him in the cool, air-conditioned house.

While the heat was uncomfortable and the main topic of conversation at the wedding, it didn’t diminish the good time that we had. After several hours of profusely sweating, the heat eventually eased, and we enjoyed just being outdoors on a summer night. Even at the birthday party, we stayed in the shade, drank a lot of water and went about our afternoon enjoying the party. That doesn’t mean that driving home in an air-conditioned car wasn’t a relief. By Sunday evening, I was actually chilled enough just sitting in my air-conditioned house that I needed a blanket. I guess my body had already started to adjust to the heat from my weekend activities.

Since then, I have been thinking about what the impact of air-conditioning is on our environment. The first story is good news. The Montreal Protocol was established in 1987 to phase out the use of chloroflourocarbons (CFCs). CFCs are actually deplete the ozone. All UN recognized nations have ratified the treaty. In 1992, the Montreal Protocol was amended to include hydrochloroflourocarbons (HCFCs). While HCFCs do not cause as much damage to the ozone as CFCs, they are still harmful. Why is all this important? The refrigerant used in air-conditioners is an HCFC. If you have an air-conditioner older than 1992, it most likely operates by cooling the air using this ozone damaging refrigerant. Consequently, the Montreal Protocol outlines how this refrigerant must be handled during a/c unit servicing and decommissioning to make sure that it can’t negatively affect the environment.

All that is great news in protecting our ozone, but the negative aspect of air-conditioner use that we can’t eliminate is its dependence on energy sources to run. A/C units operate using electricity, which is provided by power companies. Power companies can use a variety of fuel sources to operate, but the most commonly used source is coal. We all know that burning coal produces a dirty exhaust that makes clean air unclean. I’m sure that you can think of a host of other reasons why excessive a/c use can put a strain on our environment because of our dependency on the power company to provide us with electricity.

What can you do to lessen the environmental impact of your air-conditioner:

1.  Produce renewable energy. As a solar panel owner, in the last 12 months, our energy production has completely covered our electric bill except for July and Aug (because of our a/c use!) and January (because we had a lot of snow).
2.  Make sure your windows and doors don’t have any leaks.
3.  Set your thermostat a couple of degrees higher when you’re away or even when you’re home. You can easily adjust from a temperature setting of 74 to 75 degrees. Just think – 75 degree temps outside = gorgeous weather!
4.  If possible, have your house outfitted with multiple zones so that you can adjust your temp settings based on where you spend most of your time. For example, if you spend all of your daytime downstairs, your zone for the upstairs can be cranked up to 80 degrees during the day and vice versa for nighttime.
5.  On those unexpected cooler summer days, turn off your a/c and open up your windows.

A/C use isn’t going anywhere for any of us. If you understand the broad picture of the impacts of a/c use on the environment, you can still enjoy you’re a/c while taking some steps to lessen that environmental impact.


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