Hot, steamy weather can derail the best intentions of reducing energy consumption. As temperatures soar, few can resist the temptation to crank the air conditioning unit and relax in some frosty comfort. However, relying too heavily on air conditioning can compromise the efforts of men and women hoping to reduce their carbon footprints.
It is estimated that up to 50 percent of electricity used during the warm weather season is for air conditioning. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says energy consumption for home air-conditioning accounts for more than 8 percent of all the electricity produced in the United States, costing homeowners more than $15 billion annually.
This translates to roughly 195 million tons of carbon dioxide, an average of almost two tons per year, for homes with air conditioning. Air conditioning costs and energy usage vary widely depending on the type and age of a unit, the size of a home, how well air conditioners are maintained and many other factors.
Air conditioners work similarly to refrigerators. Evaporator and condenser coils either distribute cool air into the home or release hot air outdoors. When an air conditioner is running, a great deal of heat can be expelled outdoors. Air conditioners use pumps known as compressors to transfer heat between these components. Refrigerant fluid is pumped through the tubing and fins surrounding the evaporator and condenser coils.
When the fluid reaches the indoor coil, it evaporates, taking heat with it and cooling the air that will be pumped inside. The pump then moves the gaseous refrigerant over to the outdoor coil where it condenses, transferring that heat to the air that will be expelled from the building. Compressors, fans and additional components of air conditioning systems require a lot of energy and power.
Reducing reliance on air conditioning can lower energy bills and benefit the environment. Before turning on your air conditioning unit this summer, consider these cooling tips.
• Keep the blinds and shades drawn. Sunlight entering a home can quickly create a hot-house environment. To prevent such a situation from materializing, draw the curtains or blinds, particularly on windows that are south- or west-facing. This will cut down on the amount of heat that enters the home.
• Use cool water. Run your hands, head and feet under cold water. This will cool down the blood in key pressure points of the body and keep you feeling cool for an hour or more.
• Switch to LED or CFL bulbs. Incandescent bulbs produce more heat than light, contributing to warmer ambient air. Light-emitting diode or compact fluorescent lights not only use less energy but also run much cooler.
• Run fans in a counter-clockwise position. Ceiling fans come equipped with a switch that enables you to change the blades’ spinning direction. Counter-clockwise will draw the cooler air up from the floor and distribute it throughout the room.
• Dress sparingly. While in the comfort of home, wear minimal clothing to remain cooler. Sleep in less clothing and remove covers if you’re finding it difficult to get a good night’s rest.
• Change your home’s color scheme. A light-colored roof and siding will help reflect the sun’s rays rather than absorb them. This can make a home considerably cooler.
• Plant shade trees. Trees can stop sunlight from baking a home or backyard. Trees also absorb and sequester carbon dioxide emissions, which makes them beneficial to the environment for a variety of reasons.
• Open windows and doors at night. Open windows to allow cool nighttime air to enter. Open interior doors (including closets) to allow trapped, hot air to be released. This may help cool the home down a few degrees.
• Avoid steam and heat-producing appliances. Dishwashers, ovens and hot showers can add extra heat to an already warm home. Wait until the evening before running appliances. Stick to cool showers and cook outdoors if possible.
• Insulate your home. A home that has a well-insulated attic and walls will keep the heat out of the house during the hotter months of the year.
Air conditioning systems use a great deal of energy, but eco-conscious homeowners can explore other methods of keeping cool to help lessen their reliance on air conditioners this year.