As ecological and economical changes abound, advancements in air conditioning have appeared to remain stagnant. As cooling costs and temperatures rise, it is important to reevaluate conventional ways of staying cool.
Let’s discuss the confounding variables attributing to the rising cooling costs and ways to combat these changes.
The Problem with Air Conditioning
Air conditioning accounts for at least 5% of all electricity costs accrued annually in the United States.
According to Energy.gov, homeowners are paying out a total of $11 Billion every single year to keep their homes at a temperature they deem comfortable for their family. The United States, reportedly, uses more air conditioning each year than the entire world combined — the amount nearly doubling between 1993 and 2005.
Temperatures on the Rise
According to the Annual Energy Review (PDF) released September 2012 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Cooling-Degree Day (CDD) in July in the United States increased steadily to a record-breaking 411 in 2011. This is nearly double the CDD in July in 2009 and about 100 points above what the EIA regarded as a normal CDD for July based on calculations of data from 1971 through 2000 (see Figure 1). Due to global warming trends, this number will only continue to rise.
Increased compensation with air conditioning is as much a part of the problem as it is the perceived solution. Air conditioners release an estimated 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air on a yearly basis. It is clear that as energy usage and costs rise to meet the increased Cooling-Degree Day, it will not be long before a crisis is upon us.
Home size increases
Another confounding variable to add to the air conditioning equation is the growing trend of larger homes. From the 1970s to the 2000s, the average home square footage has risen significantly in every single region in the United States. The average home built between 1970 and 1980 was less than 1,800 square feet, while the average home built in the 2000s is 2,465 square feet (see Figure 2).
As home sizes increase, the amount of air conditioning needed to keep homes cool will undoubtedly increase. Add this to the increasing CDD, and it is clear that energy consumption caused by air conditioning, already critically high, will continue to rise at an even higher rate. Given our current rates of increase, air conditioning energy consumption is expected to be ten times its current amount by 2050. This begs the question: Is there a way to address this growing energy consumption problem without having to sacrifice the comfort provided by air conditioning? Studies show that if Americans were to take alternative actions to stay cool, air conditioning energy usage could be reduced by as much as 50%.
July Cooling-Degree Day (CDD) in the United States from 2009 to 2011
Average home square footage from the 1970s to the 2000s
How to Stay Cool for Less
The point of air conditioning is to provide a comfortable and livable space for you and your home occupants, despite climate changes. Although rarely considered, there are ways to achieve this goal without relying solely on central air conditioning. Using alternative cooling solutions in conjunction with central AC can lower energy costs, consumption and decrease ozone depletion.
Cooling an entire home, especially in light of previously discussed home construction trends, can be wasteful and unnecessary. In July of 2012, The Washington Post suggested that making air conditioning more energy-efficient will involve more than just altering existing units.
Reporter Brad Plumer describes the effective practices of homeowners in Japan and South Korea who are only focusing on rooms where individuals are sitting, not wasting efforts on cooling an entire empty house. There are typically one or two rooms in a home where occupants spend the majority of their time. If cooling efforts were able to be focused on these spaces, while overall cooling is given less air conditioning effort, energy consumption will be greatly reduced and energy usage will be done more effectively.
The answer is room cooling, also known as spot cooling. Using a smaller cooling option to spot cool necessary areas will give you the freedom to use your central system less aggressively, if at all.
Portable Air Conditioners
Portable air conditioners are not only a viable spot cooling option, but they are specifically designed with this application in mind. They offer the perfect solution to your one-room cooling needs, and their portability allows you to easily move them as your home occupants move from one room to another.
The ecological implications of cutting back on central A/C usage, although imperative, do not paint as pertinent a picture as the realization of the potential savings a portable air conditioner can provide.
If you take the kWh of a unit and multiply it by the cost of electricity in your area, the answer will give you a rough estimate of the average daily operating cost of the unit.
For example, if your central AC system is a 5,000 watt unit and the cost per kWh of electricity in your area is $0.10. Your average daily operating cost, if used all day long, would be $12.00 a day. Similarly, if you use a 1,200 watt portable air conditioner in the same area, the average daily operating cost would be $2.88. If you were to use a portable air conditioner to spot cool your most occupied room and turn your central system off for an entire day, you would save $9.12 in just 24 hours.
Now, imagine how much your savings would accumulate the more days you were able to do this simple practice.
Spot cooling with a portable air conditioner or other room-specific cooling unit can lower your energy consumption and costs. The bottom line is if each American homeowner were to slightly alter the way they cool their home, a significant environmental and financial difference can be made. There is a way to stay comfortable while also acting ecologically and economically responsibly.