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Chilling Facts About Air Conditioners

The heat is on. But before you crank up the A/C, some cold hard facts about the impact of air conditioning on the environment.

A Washington state man wheels his air conditioner out of storage during 100 degree temperatures in 2008. (AP)

It’s automatic now. Summertime moves in, and the A/C goes on in millions of American homes and workplaces. 

We don’t live in the heat. We chill. 

Meanwhile, outside, the planet’s getting hotter. We may not want to hear it, but my guest today says we’re deep into a collision course between air conditioning and the environment. 

We now spend far more energy on cooling than heating. And the rest of the world – India, China – has just begun to crank up the A/C. 

This Hour, On Point: as summer moves in, global A/C on high, and a call to look back to the open window, the porch, and the fan.


Stan Cox,  a writer, scientist, and plant biologist who lives in Salina, Kansas. His book “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about Our Air-Conditioned World,” will be published in June.

Alicia Silva, interior designer and architect at Synergy Design Studio in Seattle, Washington. She writes for the blog “Building Seattle Green” for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • gemli

    Before we question the environmental impact of air conditioning, we should also consider the impact of my B.O. on the ozone layer.

    It can’t be good.

  • Nick

    Before AC, down here in the hot south, we all sat on our porches to cool off and take walks that brought us in touch with our neighbors. It was a very friendly and hospitable life.

    Today, everyone retreats behind their closed doors and windows and the neighborhood has lost its sense of community. Most of the new generation coming up does not even know its neighbors.

    A sad loss for humanity.


  • Bill Anderson

    It seems that installing AC is often done on an individual basis. But when you look at all these independent choices, it turns out that our collective use of single AC units is rather disturbing. Is there a more efficient, less energy intensive way of delivering the same level of comfort on a wider scale?

  • Gary

    Bring back the sleeping porch. I wish I had one, because New England is getting hotter every year.

  • Ellen Dibble

    For one thing, I think we can accept more moderate air conditioning, I think. Stores and restaurants don’t have to walk-in refrigerators.
    Where I live, on a third floor, I have found that a new A/C for a 10 by 10 room will keep three times that area comfortable in many cases. To me comfortable is up to and including about 84 degrees.
    I had previously figured out that the way to deal with humidity is a system of fans, one little one blowing on each computer to keep it functional, one on me, and several to move the air around and dry it.
    I learned this by pitting fans against a dehumidifier. I learned quickly that the dehumidifier I had bought actually heated the air — and I had thought the humidity was the problem, not the heat.
    However, I am not giving up on dehumidifying. I am looking at a little frisbee-shaped disk that uses 130 watts and basically cooks moist air till it is dry, and I am thinking I can pair this with my little 10×10 AC to boost its impact. This depends on the fact a room I don’t cool has its own fuse, whereas the other rooms quickly blow the fuse for my whole business if for example, I boil some water while the AC is on. Was on. The 10×10 AC doesn’t do that.
    For one thing, I think I can use a long extension cord to connect the frisbee-shaped dehumidifer from the room with the second fuse to sit it in front of the 10×10 AC. How would this help? Oh, it’s like an aide-de-camp for the AC. The frisbee-thing can dehumidify, and the AC can do extra cooling because of the extra heat created by the dehumidifier. The extra 130 watts is tolerable.
    And it allows most of the windows in my apartment to be wide open, sunny and airy, without being blocked by air conditioners.
    Oh, I’ve tried the in-room air conditioners. They used to be like mastodons, heavy, energy hogs, massive, still claiming the window to the extent you have to keep it closed.
    There is a new style in-room AC that exhales the heated air to a location (inside-home, of your choice). Maybe you can vent it to a closet, and cook your clothes. And of course keep emptying the water pulled from the air.

  • michael ruddy

    something as simple as changing the color of roof shingles to lighter colors, reflecting the radiation back up into the sky instead of absorbing it. Better insulation standards. In these ways building codes can alleviate alot of heat build up. Also improving attic ventilation.

  • Robin

    I live in an old house in western Mass. Four years ago I was able to almost entirely forgo air conditioning (window units) by doing the following: 1. I installed ceiling fans in our bedrooms (they cool us while we sleep, my main complaint), and 2. I developed a simple system to capture the cool night air, then keep it inside for the day. I put one large box fan in the upper half of one window, and turned it facing OUT. I use this fan to create a strong draft at night to pull the cool air inside the house, opening at least one window in every room. (One OUT facing fan is much better than IN facing fans, which just blow the air around but do little to EXCHANGE the air in the house.) Overnight the cool evening air is pulled into the house. In the morning, I close ALL the windows, and put down all the shades. I DO NOT OPEN THE WINDOWS until the temp outside dips below the temp inside, usually sometime around 7 p.m. We almost eliminated the use of our air conditioner, and keeping it stored in our basement keeps us from installing it until absolutely necessary. I also have three western facing windows which generate a lot of heat. I purchased sheets of white cling vinyl (like the kind in Colorforms, found it on the web), cut them to fit over the glass, and place them on the outside of those western windows during the hottest months. The vinyl easily peels off at then end of the season, and I reuse it the following year. Reflecting this heat out saves a bundle.

  • Elizabeth

    I grew up in a house with parents that had absolutely no clue (or no drive, I’m not sure which) how to keep a house cool withOUT AC. They would keep blinds open to the hot sun and just run the AC harder…run it at night, run it AND open a window. It seems there are probably a lot of people out there like that. Luckily for the environment, and my electric bill, I didn’t learn much from my parents on this issue.

  • George Heis

    As usual lots of wealthy lefty people who can afford to stay cool by other means are ploting to take away the only means working people have for staying cool.

    If ordinary folk enjoy something some lefty rich guy will tell us that it’s wrong. They are the new comstackery police.

    • Noyb

      I liked this comment purely out of charity. 

  • TED


  • Ellen Dibble

    I too used vinyl transparent sheeting cut to size and pressed over my windows, and that seemed to decrease my AC usage a lot. Right now I’m using large posters from various museums “framed” with Plexiglas held on with strong office clips, and this works fabulously well, actually both winter and summer. I have a huge window facing southeast which right now might as well be a 4×5 heater. As soon as I put the posters there (Gauguin and Munch), I have immediate and significant relief (and back-lit views of Sweden and Tahiti).
    (Note, digital photography has made a dent in availability of posters in some way I don’t understand.) You can also use poster art covered with Plexiglas to direct air flow around corners and from one room to another, given the right fan configuration.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Hopefully some upstart in a garage is figuring out how to collect all that solar energy right there at the window and converts into the energy needed to cool the space it otherwise would be heating.

  • Lauren Roberts

    Before air conditioning kids played outside most of the summer, coming in to eat lunch and dinner then finally called in as it got dark. That was my childhood, full of being out in nature and playing (now nearly forgotten) children’s games.

  • Todd

    From (the AIR-CONDITIONED broadcast studios of) WBUR in Boston, welcome to On Point with Tom Ashbrook!

    In our second hour this morning: “Chilling Facts About Air Conditioners.”

    Any questions? ;)

  • Ellen Dibble

    Todd, how is it your computer is working and no AC? Or are you on a ground floor with your equipment (I believe WBUR is upstairs; heat rises). I know the exact point at which my computers go unresponsive, and it’s frightening.

  • Tom from Boston

    In the office where I work, the AC is nice and cool. But unfortunately, it’s too cool for many people, so they have portable heaters running under their desks. Just think about the inanity of this, let alone the waste of electricity.

  • Ellen Dibble

    AC — is it more efficient on a building-wide basis? Or unit by unit, one window unit at a time.
    I see new green technologies tending toward whole-building HCAC, and I’m against it, at least for now.
    I do note that the loss of any window, ability to open it, see through it, etc., is significant. So I only buy air conditioners that I can personally lift (in and out of the window). I have spent many hours researching such units, reading the comments of buyers from all over. Light-weight, energy-efficient window units are tough to find, and then getting them to cool the necessary space is tough. As I say, I let fans do as much of the dehumidifying as possible. Moving air evaporates water.

  • gemli

    One size does not fit all. In Boston, we haven’t turned on the AC yet this year (although it’s coming). Growing up in New Orleans, the AC went on in March and stayed on through November.

    The older, pre-AC houses in New Orleans had 14-foot ceilings to give the heat a place to rise, and transoms above the doors which gave the hot air a way to escape. Whole-house attic fans were also used. I had one in my house, which was built in 1952. Ceiling fans were also very common. We didn’t have AC at home until I was 9 years old. Somehow we survived, but it was not pleasant.

    So in some areas of the country, air conditioning is not a luxury. I guess it’s not impossible to live without it, but we could also live without a number of other modern conveniences, such as computers, automobiles, antibiotics, and indoor toilets.

    That said, the northern climate I now inhabit requires what I consider an ungodly amount of gas and/or oil for heating. That can’t be good for the environment, either. Perhaps we should consider alternatives, like igloos in the living room.

  • jemimah

    Finally!!! I’ve been saying this FOR YEARS. Not only is all this cooling an unconscionable waste of energy, but it’s not necessary and not healthy. Where to begin?? First, kids who are kept in air-conditioned environs not only have more allergies, but grow up thinking that heat is a bad thing they can’t tolerate. That’s so silly! I grew up in the midwest where it got hot, hot, hot and we played outside all day every day…without toting a water bottle with us, by the way. We wore appropriate clothing. Nowadays, the weather people on the news make it seems–as they do everything–like the end of the world is coming when it hits 90. It’s fine. As for grownups, we’re not fresh meat needing refrigeration. Stores, restaurants, workplaces are so super-cooled that we have to dress more warmly in summer than we do in winter. It’s preposterous! All we need is a good fan to get the air moving and, again, the proper clothing. When it’s hot out, a suit and all the accompanying underpinnings is just silly. You ought to be miserable if you don’t know any better. And then there’s the whole fear and loathing surrounding the dreaded sweat. Sweating’s good for you and unless it’s been sitting around for days, it doesn’t smell bad. Just another silliness of modern, American “culture.” My secret? Stop fighting it. Go out, take a deep breath and relax. It’s a lovely sensation!

  • Cynthia Badger

    It’s funny how we are so in love with a/c here in the U.S., and now England has become somewhat enamored. When I lived in France in the 90s, air-conditioned spaces were few and far between, and it got really hot.

    I marvel that it’s only in recent years that we are so reliant on it. As a child, it would never occur to me to wish for airconditioning – if it was hot – it was hot and you just dealt with it.

    Don’t get me wrong – I love the feeling of a cool room – but I also believe that we have become sissies and removed from nature in many ways!

  • Jessie

    I live in swampy Williamsburg, Virginia in an old house. In the heat of the summer, I open the windows and run fans. I love it. Living with open windows lets me feel connected to the outdoors and keeps me from having to worry about insulation. On 95* days it can be tough, but I just grab a cold drink and wear as few clothes as possible. :)

    I’m not a fan of air conditioning for a host of reasons. The energy required for a/c is a big one. On a more personal level, I hate having to dress in layers in the summer. I should not have to cart a sweater around on 90* days just to stay warm inside air conditioned buildings.

  • Catherine Ono

    Hey Tom I’m writing from Somerville. We don’t have air conditioning and never have. Sweating is really good for you and a good fan faciitates sleeping even on the hottest of nights! We also are a one car family, a Prius. My husband takes the T every day to work.

  • Julie

    How do you deal with humidity if you have wood floors? I worry about not running the a/c due to humidity problems here in Florida with wood floors.

  • Ellen Dibble

    If we go with enjoying the heat, I believe we’ll be going with the siesta as well, as southern cultures have discovered. I am remembering stores in the 1950s, in hot New England summers, and how the big floor fans blew a pretty strong wind across the stores.

  • Anne

    We have lived all over the world, with and without air conditioning. On Okinawa we noticed that air conditioning was used lightly, just taking things down a couple of degrees. It was very effective.

    On a different note, for those of us who do have asthma, sometimes air conditioning gives us relief in acute attacks. Our family has one room in the house we can air condition.

  • Morticia

    Who would want to work in an office building that did not have A/C in summer?

  • Jean

    The CNN Tower would be a vastly different experience.

  • Jemimah

    Just a short addendum: I don’t think we need to get rid of AC altogether. It has its place, but for goodness sake, keep it turned down! It doesn’t take much to cool people off, but instead half of the people–especially women–in my office are always cold and sit with coats and sweaters on. That’s when you know it’s gone too far. Still a fan of the fan!

  • Major Cynic

    Imagine plays or films like Streetcar Named Desire, The Long Hot Summer, or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or even certain episode of the Twilight Zone if a/c had been available. Sweltering heat becomes a character in its own right! For the sake of ART, we need to cut back.

  • Tim Marugg

    As an allergy sufferer, I strongly object to your guest’s assertion that foregoing air conditioning leads to better health.

    Vehicle air conditioning and whole house A/C with filtering, has enabled me to live a nearly ‘normal’ life during pollen season.

    Without air condioning, my sleep would be impaired, and between the allergy drugs and the sneezing fits, my work productivity and driving would be impaired.

    It’s important to design building insulation differently when air conditioning is used, and to take advantage of cool morning air to pre-cool.

    To allergy sufferers, giving up air conditioning during pollen season, would be as horrible as giving up anesthetic during a root canal.

  • Sam Kopper

    1. When I briefly lived in FLorida I noticed that Floridians seem to heat their hourse to 75 in the winter when it’s 65 outside; and then in the summer COOL them to 65, when it’s 90 outside!!! There should be governors on AC units. When it’s 90 outside, and inside temp of 75 feels cool, and is perfectly liveable.
    2. Simple FANS are a good solution in most situation…MOVING air feels cool and indeed DOES cool the skin.
    3. In my grwoing-up years in Northern Virginia in the late 40s and early 50s, NO ONE had AC in their homes. We had fans, lemonaide and ice tea.
    4. For those of us who wish we had LESS Federal government – a simple solution: ban air condidtioning incise the Beltway so the city will empty in June, July, and August’ as it used to. 25% LESS time time for the Feds to mess stuff up :-)

  • Tom in DC

    Tom, can you ask your guest if there are any studies showing any connection between the increase in A/C and the rates of allergies and asthma, since people are spending so much time indoors?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Reading about Okinawa and how a couple degrees makes a big difference — that is what I do too. I read that the first thing air conditioners do is dehumidify, and I am wondering what part of the energy consumed is the dehumidifying function.
    I set my AC at the lowest cool possible, letting it dehumidify and not really cool at all, and that works for me.

  • Nick

    Love Tom from Boston’s comment re. his work colleagues using heaters in the air conditioned office!

    Never had AC @ home here in Boston, just 2 fans during the summer to move the air.

    Keep hydrated + sweat!!

  • cindy

    I used to work in an office where, to my extreme dismay, I had to use a space heater in July to be able to get any work done. It is one thing to use a/c to remove excess humidity and heat, but why do stores and offices cool down to winter temps, forcing many to wear sweaters etc ?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Keep hydrated and sweat.
    And by the way, hot tea or coffee makes you sweat more than iced coffee or tea. Try it.

  • Desirée Foard

    Hey Tom,

    I live in SW Florida and it’s quite hot. We turn off our AC every morning and open the house till about 1pm. The breeze is sweet, we can hear the birds and smell the jasmine and gardenias. It’s really quite lovely.

    we do sleep with the AC however!

  • bruce

    I live in France where AC is rare. Now it is coming in slowly. The interesting thing is that when a store introduces it, it is very light. So you notice it when you enter the store on a hot day, but barely. It makes it pleasant but there is no climate shock when you go back outside. In the states it is almost always too cold.

  • tom

    In Texas, from April through October, you absolutely need air conditioning. Especially if you work in an office building.

  • http://wbur.org Angela

    I live on the fourth floor of a sunny apt. with NO AC
    Iam surving with the windows open, I hardly use my ceiling fans!!!! Iam surving just fine!

  • Liz

    Tom, here’s an idea for apartment buildings:

    Remove the elevator and convert the shaft to a natural ventilation system which pulls 50-degree air from the basement.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Supermarkets surely have excuses for extreme cool. Especially near the fruits and vegetables. But I notice the market I frequent seems to guide you through the store quickly by making it uncomfortably cool. They also sell hot coffee right there.

  • Beth

    Gemli’s right on (about the older housing architecture, not the BO – if everybody smells, then nobody smells). Older, pre-AC housing styles emphasized high ceilings, well-placed windows, ceiling fans, and screened-in sleeping porches. I live in an old building in Atlanta, and we never turn our AC on because of these design features.

    If the country could move away from these hideous, poorly designed, one-size-fits all McMansions, most of us could turn our AC off most, if not all, of the time. Those who need it (elderly, sick, etc.) would be part of a much smaller overall usage pattern.

  • bill ropp


    just an FYI – I live in Southern Ohio….in a 50+ year old house…since we are on the mason dixon line – it gets hot here (not like when i lived in Atlanta or nashville – but still hot)

    a few years ago I had R40 insulation installed plus more ceiling fans..

    when my neighbors (without the above fans and insulation) run their air conditioners – I am fine at any outside temp 85 degrees or below without AC

    insulation and ceiling fans make a huge difference and the cost is relatively low

  • j.d. smith

    Not living with a woman has radically reduced my energy consupmtion. I have observed that women tend to prefer it warmer in the winter than I prefer and cooler in the summer than I prefer. There were always thermostat wars when ever I lived with a woman.

  • http://web.mac.com/famouspotatoes2 Jack

    We lived on our sailboat full-time for three years in the Carribbean and Central America without AC. We acclimated to the weather and really it was fine. (Of course we could jump in for a swim if it got unbearable). Most places we went had no AC and fans were sufficient to stay comfortable.

    We came home to Florida and froze every time we went out to eat or to the grocery!

  • Susie

    I live outside Boston and don’t have air in my house or car. I believe in windows and breezes. Of course, I can not escape AC at work.
    My sister lives outside of Atlanta, GA. She keeps her AC set at about 80 – as she says “you don’t need to be cold, just dry”. Your body is at 98.6, so anything less is cold to your skin, and reducing humidity is really the key to comfort.

  • tom

    insulation in apartment buildings is often very poor. If the landlord doesn’t pay the electric and heating bills, there’s no incentive to put in storm windows and better insulation in attics and around windows.

  • Christopher Liberatos

    We live without AC in sub-tropical Charleston, SC. The ONLY problem with it is having to listen to our neighbors’ AC units running continuously. When you open your windows, you hear the machinery noise from those who refuse to go without it.

  • jennifer myka

    It would be helpful, I think, if individuals were given benchmarks for limiting energy use, similar to “energy credits”, so that we can determine if we are over-utilizing energy generally. It would also allow people perhaps to choose how they’re going to spend their own personal “energy credits”, so people can choose AC if they want, but could reduce in other ways.

    Has anyone considered cap and trade for individual usage of energy? (this could apply also to gas and oil use).

  • BHA

    I sure agree with all the comments about over cooled buildings. You have to bring a sweater to a restaurant. STUPID! Make the drinks cold, set the interior temp to 5 degrees below the outside temp.

    Echoing other comments – housing is built for A/C not natural cooling. No roof lines blocking the sun in the summer yet letting in light and heat in the winter. Shade trees? Cut down all the trees in an area then build tract housing. Not designed to get air moving through the building.

    People who set their thermostats to 75 in the winter set them to 65 in the summer. Frankly, if the interior is even a few degrees cooler than the exterior, it will feel nice.

    We used a window A/C unit that came with the house (22 years ago) when needed for a couple of months when my daughters were infants, ie 3 months one year and 3 months 2 years later. We have ceiling fans, floor fans, window fans. There are very few days when it doesn’t cool down at night such that the hot daytime air can be sent packing overnight.

  • Nick

    Finally, discussion turns to Solar Energy!!

    The US is so oil + gas dependent; we need to really invest in WIND + SOLAR energy.

    And plant millions of new, diverse tree species for shade.

    Millions of unemployed waiting to participate in a comprehensive US public works project.

  • http://www.buddhaspillow.blogspot.com Paul Creeden

    I’m all for raising public consciousness about the choices which need to be made for the planet’s survival. However, I have had two life-threatening medical conditions which have been significantly helped by air conditioning. I may not be alive right now without it. The urban air quality for me in summer is unbreathable.

    I drive a very efficient, subcompact car. I have no children. I conserve heat energy and electricity to the best of my ability. I live in a small space.

    In my case, you are preaching to the converted. This is an issue which will only be addressed with the government’s refusal to support the current materialism and greed in American society and on Wall Street.

    Increasing taxes on the polluters is a good start. Gasoline taxes, for example. Luxury taxes on big SUVs and minivans. Luxury property taxes on homes over 1500 square feet. Higher water and waste-disposal rates. Greater incentives for green builders. There’s a realistic start.

  • Evans Travis

    What about reflective roof coatings? I notice they can have a major impact on cooling a home.

  • Rebecca (in MA)

    It’s close to 90 degrees here and I’m wearing shorts and a tank top. Windows open and I feel cool in my home office. We sleep with our windows open and I can hear my new next door neighbor’s central air pumping – even when there is a lovely breeze! They are from the south and I guess that’s what they are used to. I’m not a shy person, but I don’t know how to approach my neighbor and suggest she open her windows!

  • Ellen Dibble

    j.d., there is a scientific basis for this male/female differential. I read it. Estrogen makes women more sensitive to cold. Look for an older woman. Once past menopause a woman like me has a different adaptation to heat and cold.
    Another scientific bit I read: men are designed to cope with heat — and paradoxically they are miserable in the heat; they sweat better or some such. Women are designed to cope better with cold (to protect the fetus and so on; keep the heat where it counts, not the hands or feet), so they paradoxically are more sensitive to the cold. They survive it better because their hearts will keep beating longer, but they don’t exactly appreciate that.

  • Judy

    The inside of my house is about 10 degrees cooler than outside right now….I open the windows and turn on the fans at night, and close the windows and shades in the morning. My house and roof are a light color, and we have added insulation to the walls and roof.
    The weather is hotter in New England than it used to be, but I find the few uncomfortable nights we get are not worth the expense, and impact of air conditioning.

  • Danka Baudis

    Greece vs New York
    I lived in Greece for 11 years and it was after the hottest summer (113F+) that I came to NY for the first time where the temperature was ‘only’ 80F and I could hardly survive. I realised then that the annoying difference was in humidity: low in Greece at 113F and very high probably 90% in NY – it is the humidity we can’t stand not so much the heat.

  • Philip

    What about evaporative cooling? I read somewhere that a swamp cooler can drop the air temperature by as much as 15 degrees F, but can be up to 80% more efficient than an AC unit with a compressor.

    They’re much simpler to build and service, too. All you need is a fan, a water pump, and some kind of porous material to blow the air through.

  • Lana

    Consider the folks with medical conditions such as, multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease that is worsened by heat. I pulse my air conditioner and use a room fan with the a/c to better distribute the air and lessen the time it takes to cool the room. I also drink plenty of water and wear clothing to keep the cost of it all down. Still with South facing windows – it is tough to cool without a price.

    If I did not have any neurological malady, I would be sitting here with a bowl of ice cubes and lemonade!

    Stay cool!

  • Wendy Andersen

    I lived and worked in Florida for several years and learned that the overuse of air-conditioning there results fom the new building construction. The old Florida vernacular homes had central hallways that caught the breezes from both directions, and windows on all sides of the house. The modern homes and condos are build without regard to climate.
    Of course, much of the South would never have attracted people to live there without AC.
    The same is true in the north, where homes were once built to catch the sun’s warmth. They now are sited without consideration of this, resulting in higher heating bills.
    Until our electric bills become higher, construction companies will continue to disregard building homes that relate to the region’s climate.

  • http://onanov.com Donald Baxter, Iowa City, IA

    So is it really more efficient to warm a house from 0 degrees here in Iowa to 68 than lower a house temperature from 95 degrees to 75? I’ve heard the argument made that airconditioning Phoenix is more ecologically responsible than heating Iowa City. Is that true?

  • David

    It sounds good and I would give it a try but I’m an allergy sufferer and keeping windows open makes it worse for the whole family! What solutions are there for allergy sufferers that want to reduce their impact?

  • Greg Camp

    He may be right, but he’s unrealistic. Talk about alternative energy and better construction methods–those are possible solutions–but most people aren’t going to return to the days before air conditioning.

  • Jean

    Solar AC is driven by an endothermic chemical reaction and reflected sunshine rather than electricity. Perhaps we should be making a switch.

    We don’t live in those turn of the century Sears and Roebuck homes with the high ceilings, lathe and plaster construction, wraparound porches, large eaves, and slate roofs.

  • http://www.architecturejoyceowens.com Architect Joyce Owens

    GREAT program!

    I am an architect practicing in SW Florida. Hot and humid here!

    I am also the architectural columnist for the local paper, the Ft Myers News-Press. I often write and speak about the importance of good design in reducing dependency air conditioning.


    In my articles can read about the history of how early settlers created shelter that allowed them to survive in a hot and humid climate. To how mid-century buildings provided contemporary solutions to the same problem. And how today, opportunities exist for new buildings- refer to Tropical Modern solutions often seen in Asia.

    This topic is IMPORTANT! And designing buildings appropriately is valuable tool in returning to life with LESS air conditioning.

    It’s not about living without a/c its’ about using it respectfully.

    Joyce Owens AIA RIBA

  • Sarita Khan

    In Jamaica houses used to be built with guttering and a sistern under the house. This body of water used to keep the houses cool and of course all of the windows were louvered and never fully closed.

  • Nancy

    I grew up in an house without a/c in New England. There were really only about two weeks a year when the heat was unbearable, when it didn’t cool off at night. We have limited a/c in our current house but I seldom resort to it. Instead, I monitor the heat differences between the inside and outside. As soon as it starts getting cooler outside, I open the windows and start running a window fan to suck that cooler air in. In the morning, when it starts getting hotter outside than in, I close the windows and lower the shades. It works pretty well most of the summer. One gets used to warmer temps. Bring back awnings, shade trees, ceiling fans, etc.

  • David

    I’m 58 and “suffer” from COPD — granted, most likely brought on by my own actions (smoking). But air conditioning, even in southern NH, is an absolute necessity for me to be able to breathe when the temp goes above 75. I hope some of your listeners can relate to someone who has made bad decisions in the past, but has certain (cool) needs in the present. Thanks, Dave Morris

  • http://john-s-allen.com John S. Allen

    It is usual to air condition a house but the refrigerator inside is air conditioning it in reverse, pumping cool to its insides and heat into the living area. All our other appliances heat the inside of the house too. When do we get around to placing the refrigerator’s heat-dissipating coils, and the oven’s air intake and discharge, outside the living area –switchable to inside in the winter? We don’t have to go as far as an outdoor kitchen (as was once common) to avoid overheating the living area.

    It’s 90 degrees outside but my house is well-insulted, and I am entirely comfortable today with a window fan running on low to pull cool air up from the basement, where the temperature is about 10 degrees cooler. The air comes in through the basement door, circulates a bit and comes up the basement stairs.

  • Richard

    Could your guest comment on dehumidifying vs lowering air temperature, perceptions of comfort, and possible energy savings. 85 degrees ‘feels’ very differently relative to humidity levels. Thanks

  • Harry

    I think AC keeps you from acclimating to the heat – your resting metabolism decreases so you don’t generate as much body heat. We live here in Madison, WI (cold winters but hot humid summers) without AC and use shades and window fans; we’ll probably install a whole house fan this summer. At a minimum, I think people should consider setting the thermostat on their AC higher.

  • http://carriemcgee.com Carrie

    I live in Nashville and hold out until the heat and humidiity unbearable. Once the ac goes on we don’t hear the birds or feel the breeze. The cats sink into a low grade depression and so do I…

  • Barbara S

    In Southwest Florida it is as much about the oppressive humidity as the heat. Many people have dogs and cats at home that can’t be left in a closed house without A/C. Many of our senior citizens and children have respiratory problems exacerbate by heat. We work all day in an A/C environment which makes it much harder to go home to heat and humidity.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I had an evaporative cooler, and indeed I was miserable because the humidity had been more of a problem than the heat, and the humidity did not go down.
    So I got a dehumidifier, and it was designed for cool basements, apparently, and actually boosted the heat, and did not seem to help.

  • Bruce

    I live in southern New England, which, granted, is not the hottest part of the country by a long shot, however it can get pretty warm here in the summer, it just does not stay warm for as long. I used to hate the hot weather but since I did not and do not have AC I endured it.

    Since I started working at home and stopped spending my days in air conditioned spaces I have found that the heat does not bother me nearly as much and I actually enjoy summer more than I did when I spent my days in an air conditioned office.

    In my home I also reduce my clothing to what we might politely call “a minimum” when it is hot and find that 90 degree days do not really bother me that much.

  • Elise Bon-Rudin

    Writing my Ph. D. disseration on the top floor of a Cambridge walk-up in the early 1980′s, I used a cooling technique learned from fisherman on the Yugoslav Adriatic: wear wet clothes. I wore briefs and a tank top – ran them both under the faucet, wrung them out, put them on. Instant cool. Your basic: wet-wear-repeat. Worked beautifully. I kept my cool & got the Ph. D. Still use the technique today in an UN-airconditioned antique farmhouse in n. Mass.


  • michael

    Open the house at night, shut it down in the day. This is what we did growing up in upstate NY. Hose stays plenty cool all day. There is no need for AC here.

  • D.K. Rubin

    What about all of the wasted energy during ALL MONTHS by folks sitting in their cars at drive-up windows? For some, this might be a necessity. But most of these folks would do better for themselves and for the environment if they parked, turned of the heat (or a/c) and took little walk to get their coffee….

    Perhaps each establishment could start with one day every week — no drive-up Wednesdays, for example…, in all seasons.

    D.K. Rubin.

  • Wayne F. Rocheleau, DVM

    Excellent topic for a late spring day here in Holden, MA with temperatures exceeding 90F. I’ve never had air conditioning, we keep our house cool by closing all the doors and windows, drawing shades on those windows receiving direct sun and use a large fan in the attic to prevent super heating the air in that space, which reduces radiant heat from penetrating the ceilings. It is now just 74F inside. It will probably not exceed 78 today. When the cooler evening air arrives, we will use the same fan that keeps the attic cool, to pull the cooler outside air into all the windows and out the attic. A very simple system that uses very little electricity.

    Great show.

  • Suzanne

    It’s 80 + degrees here in Buffalo, expected all week…I open my windows, work in the back yard when the sun swings to the front of my house. No AC. do not and will not have AC.
    My basement is so cold I need a sweater while working. It’s great for my wine storage area.
    When the cost of energy goes up high enough, we will conserve, cut back, change and search for better ways.
    Architecture has a lot to do with keeping cooler etc.

  • BHA

    Perhaps Utah should adopt the California air quality standards.

    How much of the SLC pollution comes from vehicles? Are there any power plants under that inversion area? If so, they are heating the air so you can use their electricity to cool it.

    Clean air is one important part of lowering A/C usage.

  • Pete

    Whether we like it or not we are going to have to learn to live with less – whether we are talking about oil, gasoline, electricity, or air-conditioning. Resources are peaking and climate change is accelerating.

    We can either choose to transition to a low energy lifestyle and endure some hardship gradually or we can continue to live as we do now with complete disregard to the environment and the laws of physics and then endure a collapse coupled with immense hardship and worse.

    While I sympathize with those with allergies and medical conditions there are low energy/no energy alternatives to AC including well water based cooling systems and developing homes and buildings that are partial or totally underground. These are easier to heat in the winter and cool in the summer as the earth is a constant temperature.

    I guess what it comes down to is that it is not really negotiable about whether or not we will be able to use conventional AC and build buildings that don’t take local climate into account – you can’t negotiate with nature or the laws of physics.

  • Julian Kiryluk

    I travel a lot and find that more and more hotels have windows that do not open. As someone who like to have a window open at night, no matter how cold it is, I often find myself having to turn the AC on in the hotel room to cool it down when the temperature outside is 40F, when all I really need to do is open the window.

    Build hotels with windows that can open!

  • Ellen Dibble

    An air control unit that would dehumidify plus “wash” the air would be ideal. My air washer that I use in cool seasons consumes a lot of water every day, a few gallons, and of course it puts that into the air.
    There should be some genius who can make a dehumidifying air washer. I think I missed the guest saying something about this.

  • Kait

    I live in southern Vermont, and accept that it’s different here than other places. We’ve designed our house to capture sunlight in the winter, and not get direct sunlight in the summer. We have trees, and skylights that can be opened to suck the cool air up from the basement.

    There are plenty who will disagree with me, but I think our over-use of AC is a monsterous waste. It’s a waste of energy (we needn’t be completely comfortable 100% of the time — it’s OK to be a bit warm in the summer and cool in the winter); waste of beautiful weather, as you can’t open the windows and ENJOY the seasons; and a waste of opportunity to revel in the change of seasons — get a cold drink, sit and relax in the shade, take a quick, cool shower, go for a twilight walk — there are many wonderful ways to cool off.

  • Sylvia Lanza

    I am 70 years old and I never had air conditioning until the 1960′s. My mother told me stories of the Great Heat Wave in St. Louis in 1936, where they moved to the basement. I still remember the Heat Wave of 1954 in St. Louis, where we had a record peak–120. We had a whole house fan, and I slept nearly naked by the window to catch a breeze. Our local theater had an outdoors screen, so that after dark, we all went outside to view the movie.

    Even now, in the Boston area, we are careful with our use of air conditioners. We only put them in with the first sustained heat wave, and remove them after the 15th of August, when the weather tends to moderate.
    We use a lot of window fans.

  • Stephanie

    Maybe the increased use of air is partially related to the increased size of the average American. In my experience obese people are much more bothered by the heat.

  • Lisa

    When we put a big addition on our previously very small house here in Mass, we made a conscious decision to forego installing venting for a’c. Instead, we purchased a whole-house fan which works amazingly well–so well, that even on the warmest days, someone usually turns it off around 2am b’c the house is too cold!(it only goes on in the evening.) every bedroom has a ceiling fan as well…and I installed insulated shades in the sunniest windows which stay down for most of the summer. A big oak tree shades the front of the house…there are lots of ways to stay pretty cool for most of the summer without resorting to a’c.

    I love a summer spent with all the windows wide open–how else can you enjoy this precious time of year??? besides, I’m always cold…don’t thaw out until Aug, usually, so the last thing I want is to spend summer in a refrigerator!

  • tom

    if you’re from the northern parts of the country and you someday migrate to the southern half, trust me, you’ll be demanding AC wherever you go. The sun is just so much stronger in places like Texas, Arizona and Florida. It’s a different world. And often the hottest part of the day when you get home from work and up until 10 p.m., even too hot to go swimming in a pool. The water is too warm!

  • http://www.fafcosolar.com Dominick Zito

    Great topic. I am from SW Florida and we have a Hybrid Solar Air Conditioner unit that significantly reduces electricity consumption. Please contact me for more information: 239-574-1500


  • Dee Kieft

    I grew up in the South and we only used small fans and it was just fine. I also lived in the UK for 7 years and our new house did not have A/C and my breating problems and asthma went away. Now I’m back in SW Florida (Fort Myers) and I do not run our A/C unless necessary-it kills me. We put up shutters and sliders and run energy effecient fans. I have planted trees close to my house for shade. Americans just can’t stand any discomfort at all. Plus, Americans are much bigger now than 25 years ago and unhealthy and need/require A/C much more.

  • tammy

    i lived in Israel for a couple of years where many fewer pple have a/c and it’s much hotter than here. pple there are very concerned about air-flow when they look at a potential apartment. They examine the location of the windows and porches to determine how the air-flow will cool the apartment. Also,the buildings are made of stone so they stay much cooler. However, during the really hot weather (what they call “chamsin” over there), it still gets really, really hot inside.

  • kairn

    I succeed in keeping my home cool by opening the window at night and closing during the day, but I can’t believe you’ve gotten through 48 min of this show without addressing computer use!

  • Shawn

    I live in Virginia Beach. Last year my A/C broke in the very beginning of the summer. I don’t have the money to fix it and at first I was very distressed about it. Now, I have gotten quite use to it. With the windows open I now can hear the birds and the nice sound of trees in the wind. I do have a small A/C unit in the window of the bedroom when the humidity is very high and I can’t sleep, but so far it has been off this year. Well I can honestly say that fixing the A/C is not that high on my priority list now.

  • Raven Weinberg

    Several years ago, before my 91 year old mother died, I asked her what one new technology had most improved her quality of life. She thought for a few minutes, and then replied – “air conditioning” !!!

  • Philip

    I guess I should note that I live in Southern Idaho. Sage brush desert, more or less. It stays above 90 pretty much constantly from July through September, frequently cracking 100, but it’s pretty dry. I use an evaporative cooler mounted in one of my windows for that part of the year and it works just beautifully.

    Before I got that, I kept the windows open at night, and used fans during the day to circulate cool air up out of my basement, where it never deviates much from about 65 degrees all year round.

  • todd mulligan

    one of the recent callers just said – “just to bring in some reality, people die during heat waves”

    just to bring in my reality, some people die all the time. we live in a secular age where darwin keeps us out af church, but a christian ideal makes us believe we should live forever. the way that we as a species are going to live forever is for US as a few generations not to sacrifice mother earth for our comfort and productivity.

    i have worked as a roofer in the summer, and i will admit that i slept in an air conditioned bedroom those few hottest weeks; as a way of recovering from the progressive heatstroke through the week. gatorade saved my life. the weekends were LOW ENERGY.

    so to hear office workers and housewives whining about the heat just makes me sick.

    when it comes down to brass tacks and these systems fail, as they inevitably will; i will live, survive and thrive, come what may. i only hope that the people who can’t live without A/C and clean towels every day have an unspoiled unselfish moment for once in their lives and take themselves out rather than cause trouble for the people who have a little bit of human charachter and animal strength.

    and i say this not to be mean or callous, but because it is an unavoidable step if humanity is to survive long term, and as such is a foundation of my faith, my understanding of everlasting life.

  • Mike

    Here in the American Southwest, evaporative cooling (swamp coolers) work beautifully. Anywhere the humidity is typically low, they’ll lower the temperature about 15 degrees and allow you to keep your house open during the summer months. We prefer the “swamper” to A/C. Our house has both and we RARELY use the A/C.
    A disturbing trend here in Salt Lake City is that people are replacing their swamp coolers with A/C in droves. We’re going in the WRONG DIRECTION!

  • Sonja

    We own a vacation home in Fort Myers – we have to leave the air conditioning on for insurance purposes – we have someone go into the house every two weeks to check the temperature – they tell us that if the house is not air-conditioned while we’re not there, mold will grow. What to do?

    Think of all the non-residents who have air-conditioning when they’re not even there!

  • Stephen

    1. Shade trees. Plant a variety of them throughout the city. They also soak up carbon and filter contaminants from the air.

    2. No central air needed at home. Use cross-ventilation and window or ceiling fans during the day. Use a window a/c unit to keep bedroom cool at night on the hottest nights, but let the rest of the house heat up.

    3. Walk or bike to do errands; if you must use the car, do errands in the morning or evening and turn off the a/c.

    4. Plenty of iced tea in the fridge.

    5. Hot tea and spicy food can also cool you off.

    6. When you’re in a building that’s kept too cold with overuse of a/c, complain!

  • BHA

    “the refrigerator inside is air conditioning it in reverse, pumping cool to its insides and heat into the living area.”

    EXACTLY! – WHY does the refrigerator NOT use outside air for coil cooling when it is cooler outside than inside? WHY does it exhaust inside the house when you want the house to stay cooler?? WHEN will the appliance manufacturers figure this out??

  • http://richmondgardnerbuilder.com Richmond Gardner

    I am listening to your program inside my ICF (insulated concrete form) house, where the temperature on the first floor is 59.5 degrees and 66 upstairs. Outside, the temperature is in the 80′s. There is no AC and I am heated solely with a water heater; no furnace. Large overhangs shield me from summer sun etc… this is a passive house that consumes very little energy. This concept is ages old, employed by abooriginals since the beginnig of time but the ICF envelope brings it to a worldwide market. What we need to do is have a mandate for sustainable, energy efficient building.
    Richmond Gardner

  • http://www.alanmesser.com Alan

    Window air conditioners need to be quieter!
    I live next to a house with an a/c that is so loud that it hurts my ears, prevents me sitting on my porch or using several rooms in my home. It can be heard across the street and two houses away.

    Some other apartment central a/c units can be heard several hundred feet away!

    I live in the South and I prefer not to use air conditioning and to open my windows.
    Nashville, Tennessee

  • Ellen Dibble

    The caller who teacher architecture/HCAC just people are comfortable up to 80 degrees. Where I am in MA a third floor, I am at 87 degrees, and am comfortable, with a little AC running in the next room. My gizmo shows humidity at 38%, and I credit that to the AC running here. It’s also keeping the airborne molds down, which give me skin sores. I’m learning to put makeup over my exposed skin to avoid “heat sores” which I think are due to keeping my work area too warm.

  • Jenny Crum

    I work for a university in Connecticut. It is currently 90 degrees outside, yet I am finding the need to wear a sweater while at my desk, and on some days we even will turn on space heaters to combat the AC. For an institution that is telling us it is financially strapped, keeping the AC set to incredibly low temperatures and paying for space heaters seems like a really poor choice (not to mention incredibly environmentally unsound). I do not use my AC at home unless it is unbearably humid, and then only at night. Why can schools, offices, and businesses at least moderate their use as well? It is an inconvenience to have change clothes 2 or 3 times per day depending on whether I am going to be at home/outside or at work.

  • http://www.wbur.org Kristen

    I lived in hot, steamy southern China for three years, at a time when air-conditioning was virtually non-existent. People had many tricks to deal with the heat. One of my favorites was eating a bowl of spicy cold noodles to help you sweat. Opening windows at cooler times of the day to get a cross-breeze. And many other things. Now when I visit friends in Shanghai, even on the upper levels of multi-story buildings, people still do not use AC as much as we in the US do and then nowhere near the super-cold temps that we do. The point is not that we should get rid of AC altogether, but use it wisely and sparingly. Don’t train your body to require 65 degrees in summer. Let your body acclimate somewhat to the heat, rather than getting used to shockingly cold and sealed off inside, and steaming hot outside.

  • mehmet

    I do turn my car A/C off or set it to the lowest during listening to on point to be able to hear it better. so you do help lowering my A/C usage

  • Kayla

    i am 27 years old, and live in the north, frankly there is a need for heating twice as often as there is a “need” for a/c. however, the first hot week, you see all the windows fill up with a/c units almost instantly. i do not have a/c, and i don’t plan to get one, i open the windows in the evening and close them in the morning. if i grow uncomfortable, i go outside for a spell, then when i come back in it feels cool, just from a change in perspective. it’s 28C here now, and going up. my plan to keep cool today is simple, i’m going to go down to a lake where it is naturally cooler and breezier. both of my parent have a/c, mom runs it pretty responsibly, only when it WAY hot, but dad, well, it’s like a fridge in his house and i lecture him regularly about it, it’s not necessary. the same goes for department stores and restaurants, this has gotten way out of hand, but i feel there may be no turning back. this woman talking about the trees has a point, keep the trees!!

  • http://crawfordconservationinc.com Craig A Crawford

    We live and have our buisness, Crawford Conservation Inc, in a live work space in the country outside of Columbia SC, the building has tall cielings, concreate floors, shot gun style air movement and cieling fans. We have a painting conservation studio that we have to keep climate controlled by a separate heat pump, But the living part of the building we keep cool by the previoously mentioned means. We still have not turned on the AC in the living space a most likely will not most of the summer.

  • Nicholas Bodley

    I do what Robin (early comment) does — Pull in cool night air with a window fan, and close up tight in the day. Fortunately, I live in a building that’s quite well insulated, and recently had modern double-pane windows installed.

    In past years, we’d read of people (mostly poor, probably mostly in cities) who died from the heat. Basic physics teaches that evaporation cools; air conditioners use that principle.

    If these people put a damp hand towel on their shoulders and aim a fan at that towel, it would cool them and perhaps save a few lives. The towel has to be kept damp, though.

    I have lived only for short periods with air conditioning, and am going to try to continue that way — I’m 74, but not yet stupid :). I have found its cooling/dehumidification welcome, but more subtle effects occasionally notably disagreeable.

    Speaking of stupidity, there seem to be people who set the thermostat on an air conditioner to its coldest temperature, suffer from the cold, and idiotically refuse to set it more conservatively — warmer.

    A century ago, many houses had functional shutters for the windows. Little doubt that they blocked radiant heat.

    I’m reminded of the centuries-old air scoops in Hyderabad that took advantage of the apparent fact that wind generally came from one direction.
    (See “Architecture Without Architects”, by Bernard Rudofsky, where ther’s a memorable photo.)

    I can say from experience that bicycling, as long as you’re moving, will keep you nicely cool regardless of temp. and humidity. You do become quite sticky, though!

    Speaking of power consumption, electric clothes dryers consume a *lot* of power; check the nameplate rating! Three kilowatts wouldn’t surprise me at all. Outdoor drying lines can help a lot, and local rules against drying clothes outdoors are socially very backward.

  • moe smith

    if there is such an awareness of the need for energy efficiency and saving, why, when you drive thru any American city, do you see most high rise buildings and skyscrapers lit up ground to roof, including all government buildings? Surely this is as great a waste as residential usage.

  • Fred

    It’s called climate control. Optimum in HVAC design in 75Deg F 50% RH for work productivity. When energy was cheap and US was manufacturing and producing goods and services all was good.

    We have become spoiled and addicted to our air conditioners much like our addiction to oil (autos with their ACs) and we shuttle ourselves from AC environments to AC environments.

    Air Conditioners are JUST HEAT PUMPS, taking heat within a structure and mechanically moving it to the exterior of the structure and that just means that the outside of and area surrounding the house just gets hotter….

    Couple that with staying inside with the AC on and consuming the same food calories (heat energy), we’ve got an obesity problem brewing.

    The US is basically an energy glutton and somehow we’ve got to address this on ALL fronts and NOT just AC.

    Cooling, feeling cool is relative so not keeping AC on like an icebox greatly lowers energy usage.

  • Kurt

    In the united states we have building codes and most places that are likely to have a/c have at least some form of insulation. In India and China they have few if any standardized building codes so they will use much more energy cooling escentually outdoor spaces.
    I have lived in central Texas and was quite happy w/o a/c.
    You almost cannot buy a new car w/o a/c.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Todd, I will have an unselfish moment and “take myself out” one day because of the various air quality needs this weak animal does have, but not until what I earn per day is less than what it costs to maintain the kind of air quality required to allow me to earn that money. I “earn my keep” meanwhile.

  • Craig Cloutier

    One interesting fact with many homes that are using airconditioning is that an enormous amount of heat builds up all day long in the attic.

    This heat adds considerably to the energy needed to combat the heat in the house. We then blast the AC which is essentially fighting this stored heat all night long.

    We need to either harness this heat in the attic as useful energy or get rid of it by proper ventilation. When we do this the cooling is more effieciently done consuming much less energy.

    • John of Medford

      I’m curious on whether people should keep attic windows open during the summer, especially if they have central ac and there is ac machinery in the attic.

  • Terry

    I did not hear any mention about security. There are a lot of areas where one would not dare to leave the windows unlocked at night.

    • John of Medford

      Good point.  Several years ago, eastern Massachusetts experienced in early April, a string of very warm unseasonable days.  It was warm enough that people kept their windows open during the overnight.  In the affluent town that I grew up in, a couple of dozen homes were broken into while their occupants were asleep upstairs.  The burglers simply cut the screens of downstairs windows to gain access.  According to the police, the burglers were knowledgeable of people’s habits, and most likely were in and out in less than 5 to 7 minutes with usually handbags and wallets that were left in kitchen areas taken.  Ever since then, I now never leave a downstairs window open or unlocked when I am not home and during the overnight hours. 

  • Anna Marie

    Thanks for this program.

    My family and I lived for three years in military housing in Hawaii. When we moved in the available homes were older (I was told they were built in the 1930′s), post and beam construction, with luvered windows. The only AC available was window units we installed but rarely used. They just weren’t needed. The house was fully shaded by wonderful trees. That area of the neighborhood was alive with people spending their time outside, sharing a drink in the evening while the kids played.

    1.5 years later they moved us down the street to a new section of homes, complete with central AC. Walking from the old homes to the new homes offered at least a 10 degree temperature difference because of the lack of the old trees. The old section had been alive with the sounds of birds and children playing. The new area…filled with the same neighbors became quiet aside from the sound of AC units humming. Fewer birds, and people closed inside their chilled homes always left me wanting.

    Now that we’ve left the islands, I truely miss life with a lanai (a covered outdoor patio area) and windows flung open.

    • John of Medford

      When I moved into my house 15 years ago, there was a very large (65′ +) and half dead Maple tree next door that put my north facing house in dappled shade by 2:00 pm.  A couple of years later, the tree was rightfully taken down and in the following summer, our house was significantly warmer and now experienced full western sun until around 7:00 pm.  New street trees were later planted, but sadly, they are not considered shade trees and only will get to be about 25′ tall.  We still miss that shade.

  • http://WHRO.org Dianne Bell

    Five years ago we needed to move and build a new house. We built passive solar. WIndows facing south, sun shines in during the winter, overhang to keep shaded in summer. Thermal mass inside so it holds the in the winter, keeps cool in summer. WE have a thermal chimney, which means an opening in the ceiling that opens to let out heat during the early morning hours and cooler air moves in from the lower windows, pushing the hot air out , following natural laws. WE have ceiling fans in each room for those days that the nighttime air still stays hot.. During the hottest days of summer we don’t open the windows at all but the thick walls, thick insulation, thermal mass it rarely gets above 80. At which point we sometimes do turn the air on 79 degrees to relieve the humidity which makes it very comfortable. WE very rarely need to turn on the air or heat due to our building to take advantage of natural laws like the ancient Greeks.

    I have thought it ludicrous for years to see buildings being built that didn’t even have windows that opened. That should be against the LAW !!

  • Ellen Dibble

    I read in Solzhenitsyn (sp?), in Cancer Ward, decades back, that in the USSR, in heat waves, those with cancer would basically all succumb. Heat accelerates the cancer process, it seems. I haven’t seen that this is common knowledge in the USA, but apparently it was pretty well known in the USSR.
    It is definitely true that mold in buildings can be controlled by controlling humidity (A/C will control that along the way). Of course if there were well-designed cross-ventilation, it wouldn’t be necessary. If a building is being cooled because no one is inhabiting it and therefore the windows are all closed, and no ventilation is controlling for mold, well, what can I say.

  • http://onpointradio.org Rod

    Computer shuting off due to heat! – I have had computers since the 80s. Temperatures sometimes into the 100s. Never had a shut down!
    Wood floor problems in the Summer because of humidity! – Wood floors have problems in the winter when it is dryer. Floors may shrink a little and crack a little. During the summer the floors will have more humidity and floors return to normal size.
    Allergies! — Study show that must people have allergies due to not living in nature. Instead living inside with the AC.
    Staying inside with AC due to pollution! – AC causes more pollution!
    People die because of heat! – People die of heat because they are not used to it! Before AC did people die of heat? Yes, in the desert! Hot and no water!
    Ever been overseas? Ever been to SE Asia? Do they have AC? Do they die of heat? No and No!
    Beijing, China – 20 years ago, no one had AC. However, they want to be like the USA. Pollution up. Electricity up. Allergies up. Weight up (thats another story)
    A few weeks ago a woman was worried! Her AC wasn’t working! Paid extra to have it fixed right away! The temperture was in the 60s?!!!!!!
    Its not just a young people problem!
    Now we have AC! Give up AC??? Hmmm.
    We have cars! Lots of problems! Lets go back to bicycle. Hmmm.
    Many are riding bikes. Each year the number grows. Its possible? I don’t know.
    Whats the benefit? – Pollution goes down. Health goes up. Weight goes down. Better health. Better environment. Better us. Better everything.
    You don’t think so! Try it first!
    Ok OK I will stop
    No! One more thought. For example: Shanghai, Beijing, etc., China. Bicycle (was the main means of transportation) now more and more people have cars. Weight up. Allergies up. Pollution up. Health problems up. (Yes, they now have McDonalds). They even had a person die of heat. He had been living with AC for the last 8 years, drove a car, ate at McDonalds, stop riding a bike, starting developing health problems, etc. He was 56. His sisters (all older) and parents no problem. (no ac)
    Have a nice day without ac

  • Wanda

    From a big fan of FANS & smart design! Let’s start thinking outside the AC box!
    The pre-AC era influenced better building design, innovative cooling systems & sensible landscaping, With today’s advanced building materials & technology we should be equally innovate in building on a mass scale, not just celebrity projects.
    Yes, AC makes life easier (and healthier for many), but we have become overly reliant on it & now it rules us — how many of us have to bring sweaters & even winter hats to work in the summer? This is not smart design. Speak to your facilities management about implementing a energy audit & making changes.
    A few easy tips: Don’t discount the old attic window fan to move air throughout the whole house (mine is an old heavy duty GE I picked-up at a yard sale for $10); keeping in cooler night air & shutting out the hot sun by closing windows & drawing drapes early in the day; unplugging/turning off appliances/gadgets (this can reduce heat & your electric bill year round); planting shade plants & vertical gardens; adding porches or awnings to structures, or even a shade umbrella; improving your building’s insulation; & wearing light weight & light colored breathable fabrics in layers to create air pockets & even :) using a low-tech accordion-fold hand-fan.

  • Julia de Peyster

    No a/c at our house in Eastern MASS except for 5-6 nights in deep summer when we pull out a window a/c and cool 1 bedroom down – I have arranged the kids’ sleeping so they all move in together for a few weeks in August to minimize A/C use…we need more creative thinking on this topic…

    BTW, I bet obesity issue would get tackled much sooner if we all had reduced a/c – I know I eat a lot less in the summer as I just feel so lousy when I am full and hot.

  • Rick Evans

    I live in a centrally heated and cooled condo apartment in a building that was designed for efficiency 40 years ago. The apartment has a second set of inner sliding windows that makes it possible for me to get through New England winters with zero heating. I enjoy passive solar that gets me up to 68 to 72F.

    HOWEVER. All this heat retaining efficiency along with living on the top floor necessitates the use of A/C during heat waves (3days > 90F). And yes I do use a fan but absent a cross breeze a fan only has so much effect.

  • Ciarrai

    After going through one of these New England winters, I fully enjoy the warmth of summer. I like humidity, too. Like another commenter, we use the a.c. in our bedroom 5-10 times a year when it is really sweltering. I am fortunate to be cooled by very little a.c. or fan. I think that people have gotten soft and self-indulgent. What a shock!

  • Bonnie Sczuka-Dodson

    If people would eat lots of fruit, veggies, whole foods and water, they would probably find themselves, like me, enjoying fresh air and fans and the sensation of sweating light, clean sweat in the summertime.

  • Julie

    I grew up in New Mexico and we had a swamp cooler (evaporative cooler) on the house. Evaporative cooling only works well in climates with low humidity because the air must be dry enough to take up the water. My Mom is still in the same house and last year we decided that her 45-year old swamp cooler needed to be replaced. She was immediately told by various people — friends, real estate folks, and of course HVAC installers that she had to go to refrigerated air (which uses gas compression and expansion to cool, not evaporation). I was not enthused, and she was hesitant, thank goodness. The thing that won her back to a new swamp cooler was talking to a friend who works for the power company. The friend told her how many complaints she fields from customers who switch to refrigerated air and then want to know why their electricity bills have gone through the roof. She also likes her windows open in the summer.

  • Ellen Dibble

    South/north facades. If you live/sleep in a northwest-facing orientation, your space will collect the heat at the heat of the day, and during the evenings into the night, your space will not cool down. Not in New England away from the sea. However, if you have a southeast-facing space, when the sun goes down it is heating up the other side of the building, and your side facing the east gets a chance to exhale and let the cool of the evening set in.
    Of course if you’re right under an attic, that will be shedding heat towards you on the off-hours.
    Computers have more trouble with humidity than heat. Something about moisture conducting electricity.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Someone posted about the waste of energy in dryers. Where I live there is a pro-clothes-line movement, but it hasn’t hit my apartment building. We lost our line. Clothes lines are uncouth. So it goes. I always use the bathtub with a folding drying rack sitting in it. This dictates that one has fans in the bathroom and good humidity control, or you will end up with moldy clothes. Also, you will not buy thick cotton as much. Your use of towels will be quite different. “Thick and absorptive” means “Will take days to dry.” I recommend seersucker shorts.

  • ThresherK

    if you’re from the northern parts of the country and you someday migrate to the southern half, trust me, you’ll be demanding AC wherever you go.

    So is it really more efficient to warm a house from 0 degrees here in Iowa to 68 than lower a house temperature from 95 degrees to 75? I’ve heard the argument made that airconditioning Phoenix is more ecologically responsible than heating Iowa City. Is that true?

    How many hours a year is it 95 in Phoenix when people are up and about, v 0 in Iowa City?

    Speaking of Phoenix, any proof to the anecdata that its nighttime lows during A/C season are 10s of degrees higher than they were ~40 years ago? If so, that make the task more difficult. Heating, with so many of the warmest years on record having occurred in the last decade or two, get easier in places like the upper midwest.

    At what point will the South or the West be full? The West is already out of water, right? Devil’s advocately, why does everyone else have to worry about creating solutions to fight nature and make something “feasible” when it’s so much easier to heat (and maintain heat–mankind and animalkind alike has been doing that for millions of years) than to cool?

  • Laurence Hauben

    While visiting South Florida I was amazed at how cold restaurant dining rooms were. I was literally freezing, coming in from 90+ outside into dining rooms kept in the mid sixties, incredibly uncomfortable. At least turn the AC down to 80 degrees, pleasantly warm and relaxing.

  • informed American

    Global warming has been proven to be a giant hoax. Leave it to the liberals at On Point to perpetuate a lie that will greatly enrich Goldman Sachs and Al Gore (whom On Point analyst Jack Beatty has noted that Gore and Goldman have secured the rights to buy and sell carbon emissions in this country should Cap and Trade become law).

  • Bonnie Sczuka-Dodson

    I read in “Aware Parenting,” a book by Dr. Aletha Solter, that asthma correlates with the suppression of emotions, particularly deep weeping, so that lungs are stilled rather than being exercised to the full extent as the organism needs and would like. Regarding allergy problems, a lot may be accomplished by changing the diet to whole, non-inflammatory foods, just such a personal situation is described by Dr. Andrew Weil in his book “Eight Weeks to Optimum Health,” a dietary also described and recommended by writer/researchers/Drs. Nicholas Perricone, and Daniel Amen in their books (and PBS specials). Back to practicing feelings release, there is plenty of evidence that it results in many health benefits like lowered stress-chemicals in the blood, lower blood pressure, and more synchronized brainwaves. Aside from asthma and allergies, who knows how much of the irritability about weather is displaced anger about unrelieved emotional stress? Anyway, as many people have said, humans have lived with heat for a large part of our history and there are many ways to make it more comfortable, both from within and without.

  • Sam

    @ Informed American,

    Whether global warming is true or not true, I’m not much bothered, however I would definitely love any good idea that will bring my electricity cost or cost of gasoline down!

    If some lefties want to label it Green or Eco, heck, should I be bothered?

    At the end of the day its my money going down the drain bro!!

    I have seen people using ACs in the peak of the winter (sounds funny, I know) to crank down the temperature rather than opening the window for a few mins.

  • Kash Hoffa

    One thing’s for sure… there’s a lot of hot air being exchanged in the comments on this subject and that’s going to lead to a need for more A/C.


  • jeffe

    Computers don’t like hot rooms. If the room your computer is in rises above 70 – 75 degrees it will overheat and crash. You might also permanently damage the logic board.

    I don’t use AC unless it get’s above 85 and then I only use it to cool the room and shut it off. Keep the doors closed, as it’s only in two rooms. I also use fans. Fans are good. However in midday it’s a good idea to keep the windows closed.

    People who lived in cities, such a New York, use to sleep on their fire escapes in the days or on the roof before AC. Today there are huge cities in the South West, such as Phoenix and Las Vegas that have summertime temperatures reaching 120 degrees. I don’t know about most people but try sitting in a house when it’s 120 outside.

  • michael rodriguez

    Louisville, Ky. Every year I try to put off flipping on the AC as long as possible. As long as the overnight temps are below the 70′s I am able to cool the house sufficiently to keep it tolerable through most of a hot afternoon. I use an attic fan to pull the cool evening air in. The house is well shaded. I keep the blinds drawn on the morning sun catching side. It’s 85 degrees now and quite comfy in here.

  • jeffe

    Computer shutting off due to heat! – I have had computers since the 80s. Temperatures sometimes into the 100s. Never had a shut down! Well it is true and you’re just lucky. If it’s to hot I don’t use my computer as it puts off more heat anyway.

    People die because of heat! – People die of heat because they are not used to it! Yes people do die from heat stroke. Young children and the elderly are usually the ones who succumb to it.

  • Meg LeSchack

    Ack! I always get to my computer just as a segment is ending! Oh well..
    So many wise and interesting comments, and information that is new to me, like “swamp coolers”, that “frisbee” dehumidifier! and others. And thank you for the humor, too!
    I agree with EVERYTHING that’s been said, including the comments that say, “You think it’s practical to live without a/c? Put yourself in MY shoes and say that.” No one should have to live in the heat (or cold) with spirit-draining discomfort. I think all of us need to pester our local, state, and federal officials for commitment to better solutions, changes in building requirements & building codes,MUCH better local and long-distance public transportation etc.
    Consumer warning here :) — Since I’m here after the broadcast has ended, I’m saying a lot below. I am not repeating what’s already been said.
    The good energy from you all motivates me to mention solutions I’m aware of that weren’t mentioned, and to brainstorm some possible solutions for the vexing unsolved situations.
    I’m thinking that the more ideas we each have, and the more reinforcement we have in hearing from each other, the stronger we get for demanding change.
    While I’d love it if you feel like reading to the end, I know you’ll only read as much as you want to!
    Meg (near Boston MA)
    Some solutions that are available in suburbs (like trees shading your dwelling), or sufficient (like fans)don’t work in situations in cities.
    We need imaginative solutions! Roof-top gardens help cool the top floor of city buildings. Where there’s a central stairway or interior fire escape stairway, what if there could be a way to collect cool air from the basement or first floor and send it up vent pipes that could then vent into the crawl spaces of each living floor and then into the individual apartments (with the dweller having the option to open that vent or not)?
    For desert areas — I sure would support thick-walled, stone or concrete, or partly-built-into-the- earth construction for suburbs. And Mediterranean-type multi-level dwellings for cities. Do narrow streets/alleys make a difference? Do varying heights of bldgs provide better moving air? (I’m guessing that there is no landscaping that can help with cooling).
    What if, for desert areas, you could make building clusters with circular roads around the outside, and sensible one-way access to narrow roads inside? Have entrances to buildings on both sides of the building, so they’d be accessible from either direction of street. Subterranean parking.
    Hmm — I notice I automatically think in the car-model. How about credit-card-payable Zip-car stations underground, with computers at the car where you can punch in your anticipated day & length of use, as well as reserving online.
    And darned good area-based public transit that connects with the larger system! (We all need that!) What if you had frequently-running jitney-sized buses so you’re not running big vehicles that are 85% empty during off-peak hours? What if you could even make them powered by solar panels, and able to run automatically? (With all kinds of computer-based controls for speed, seeing other vehicles & bikers etc., and for riders to be able to signal them for a stop.)
    Transportation also needs to include accommodations designed for accessibility and convenience for those with mobility handicaps. This, by the way, includes people with small children and groceries to carry, or people bringing home assemble-it-yourself bookcase units, or any of us with an injured leg…etc.
    Coming back to East Coast geography…
    –Regarding too-cool business buildings, it is possible to create HVAC zones with programmed thermostats, so that when a side of the building is in the sun, the a/c is cranked up for better cooling, and when the sun moves away, the a/c backs off. Ideally, you can maintain a constant moderate temp all over the building.(Having some air brought in from outside as opposed to completely recirculated will also keep the air from becoming oxygen-depleted and thus stale and sleep-inducing).
    It’s also a good idea to have more & smaller ceiling vents that blow with less force so that you don’t have a few people sitting in Siberian winds needing heaters while those not far away are slumping in hot, no-air-moving dead spots.
    Retrofitting for zones is on the modest side as improvements go, and it ought to be worth some sort of federal/state credits. If it isn’t, get those CEOs and CFOs to bug officials for it. If your company is resistant to the idea, find someone who can calculate the installation costs & the cost savings over time, and get a group of you together to make an appointment with HR and one or more higher-ups to present it.
    – Regarding roofers — what if there were light-weight big umbrella / awning-like devices (that fold and unfold) that could be clamped to the roof to provide some shade?
    For farm field workers, what if you could have such devices on trailers that were motorized the way supermarket dolly-carts are for moving them down the rows?

    Below, I just want to mention some other heat-moderating ideas that haven’t been highlighted yet.
    – An overall, initially expensive solution:
    GEOTHERMAL ENERGY: Before I knew anything about it, I thought you had to drill a deep well through rock and install big pipes to do this. Wrong! It’s small diameter pipes only a few feet underground! The main source pipe goes into the earth to a modest depth, either straight down or at an angle. It feeds to piping less than a foot underground that surrounds the house.
    Here’s info on the most common system used for residential or other single buildings. (From the Union of Concerned Scientists, ucusa.org/clean_energy.)
    GROUND-SOURCE HEAT PUMPS. Geothermal heat pumps provide heat and cooling to buildings. They take advantage of the constant year-round temperature of about 50°F that is just a few feet below the ground’s surface. Either air or antifreeze liquid is pumped through pipes that are buried underground, and re-circulated into the building. In the summer, the liquid moves heat from the building into the ground. In the winter, it does the opposite, providing pre-warmed air and water to the heating system of the building.
    Far more efficient than electric heating and cooling, these systems can move as much as 3 to 5 times the energy they use in the process. The US Dept. of Energy found that heat pumps can save a typical home hundreds of dollars in energy costs each year. The system typically payS for itself in 8 to 12 years. Some companies (in New England) will allow you to rent-to-buy so that you can pay over time. Tax credits and other incentives can reduce the payback period to 5 years or less.
    Low-cost solutions:
    – WINDOW AWNINGS help keep heat out of windows AND off of air conditioners, so they don’t work as hard.
    – INSULATING WINDOW SHADES! Any kind of shade helps, but those intended to insulate are even better. We have the honeycomb type, and they are amazing in summer and winter.
    – CURTAINS! Even ones of lightweight close-weave fabric (not sheers) make a difference, even if you have shades.
    You can use inexpensive fabric shower curtains or inexpensive twin sheets (for these, just open the ends of the top hem and you can slip them right on the rod). I have even used a dark bath towel (dark to block the sun) on the rod in our bedroom.
    – Regarding a/c and vehicles:
    In commercial & business parking lots, PERMEABLE PAVING !! This provides a textured or even grass surface that does not absorb & then radiate heat the way macadam does. This not only reduces the heat that accumulates in parked cars, but it reduces the level of heat around the buildings.
    Additional benefit: It also provides good rain drainage, returning water to the soil AND the water table(reducing somewhat the need for landscape watering.)
    In addition, the blessed living soil, along with plants native to an area, traps and breaks down toxic materials such as gasoline, motor oil, pesticides, and fertilizers that would otherwise be sluiced off into the storm drains and ultimately into rivers,lakes and the ocean.
    – Also for commercial/business lots, TREES ! — at least around the edges, and either singly here & there in the lot, or in strategically-placed median strips.
    I am SURE you have experienced the difference between parking on a paved lot in the direct sun vs. being able to park in the shade. Pretty striking.
    – For residential driveways, permeable paving also, or, where practical, GRAVEL. The near-to-the-road part of our driveway is macadam (2 car lengths), and the part that continues next to the house is gravel. Good drainage, less heat.
    – In cars, folding windshield SUNSHADES. These are imperfect, because they don’t take care of side windows when the sun shifts around, but they do help. Yes, it takes an extra minute and some slightly awkward fussing to unfold and place it, then later to fold and stow it, but if you’re going to park for a half-hour or more, it’s worth it.
    Hey — wouldn’t it be cool (no pun intended!) if car designers could put thin, flexible, retractable shades inside the roof of a car that could be rolled down along some tracks to cover the front (and back)windows? There are now some tough thin fabrics that could be given a reflective coat…
    For side windows, pull-down screens located on the exterior of the roof?
    Thank you,

  • Ellen Dibble

    Computers can manage in warmer rooms if they have fans both above and below. You can buy fans to go underneath — they look like thick mats — from office supply stores. They cost about $30. I find it works best to also lift the computer a little for better circulation between the fan/mat and the computer.
    The fans to blow down on top can be tightly targeted, itty-bitty but strong. I especially have one by Lasko which cost about 10 bucks and lasts forever. It is very loud, about 10 inches tall, and shaped like a sunflower, with the head about 4 inches in diameter. I can point it right at the computer keyboard where it gets hottest. I know the particular computer depends on this.

  • Jim Holladay

    As I understand the way A/C works, opening the windows for long periods of time during the day, then closing them and turning on the A/C may be counterproductive. Since A/C works by a heat transfer process, which removes excess moisture from the air, filling the internal air with humidity by opening windows during the day or night (especially in those times of the summer with high heat and humidity) causes the A/C compressor to worker harder during the times it is on. Since the compressor is the most energy hungry part of the A/C system, the energy saved may be negligible. To reduce energy costs/consumption, one strategy may be to turn the thermostat up and then leave the fan in the ‘on’ position, which keeps the air circulating, while reducing the load on the compressor.

  • Pete

    “No one should have to live in the heat (or cold) with spirit-draining discomfort. I think all of us need to pester our local, state, and federal officials for commitment to better solutions, changes in building requirements & building codes,MUCH better local and long-distance public transportation etc.”

    The reality is that the household energy sector – the one that you and I control – represents nearly 70% of the energy use in the country. The household sector including our homes, the food we eat, and transportation.

    To suggest that it is up to government or large institutions to make change is only part of the equation and only represents a third of the energy and carbon emissions.

    We must learn to live a low energy lifestyle that fits within our global energy budget and carbon budget – reducing carbon emissions by 80-90% by 2050 – or 4% a year.

    It is our choices and how we live that are creating the problem. If we don’t transition willingly and soon the transition will be forced upon us by nature – Peak Oil and Climate Change.

    This means that AC for everyone will become a thing of the past.

  • http://www.flipandflysolargliders.blogspot.com Peter N Fisk

    Whether or not global warming exists, or whether it is caused by humans, I think there is a way to reduce air conditioning and heating costs considerably worldwide.

    It would involve shading the earth locally where needed, and reflecting solar heat where needed, and as the program expanded, would result in a net global cooling effect.

    I invite you to read about the idea in more detail at http://www.flipandflysolargliders.blogspot.com, and to share the idea widely.

    Sincere thanks,

    Peter N Fisk

  • http://onpointradio.org Larry

    I grew up in Missouri. August weather is some of the must humid in the country. No AC. Used a fan or set under a tree. If you are working outside, inside or under a tree is cooler. Anything but under the sun.
    I have lived in NY NY. Yep, about the same there. Now, your lawyer and wall street people with their suits need AC. Or do they? Hey! Its summer! All you office people start wearing comfortable clothes for the summer. So, that the restaurants or whatever won’t have the AC set at 60 something for you people.
    I agree. Its freezing in there. However, the office people like it while their suites.
    Now, I have also been in the south. Been to McAllen, TX., which is even further south than Corpus Christi, Tx. No, I did “demand” AC. And the good news is that some restaurants had the AC at 76 – 77. Very comfortable. Wasn’t wearing a suite!!! In Texas if you wear a suit and it hot… you are having a psychotic episode or some other crazy problem.
    You have respiratory problems and you smoke. Well, stop smoking!
    Now, my nephew has allergy. He takes medicine for it and yes, I do feel sorry for him. He grew up in an AC home. Didn’t go outside. (He lived in the NY area) so maybe his mother was over protecting him but in the long run it hurt him.
    I can go on….
    Rod, read your peice. You are hitting the nail on the head. You people just need to use some of gods/natures given common sense.
    All right! You don’t have any! Then ask your Grandparents or anybody over… say 55. Well, maybe anybody over 75. If the AC hasn’t frooze their brain. I am 57.
    Now, everytime I had moved, I briefly had allergy problems (usually around a year) usually. Missouri to NY. Different moles and pollens, etc., and I naturally had some allergic reaction. I didn’t run and hide in the AC. Moved to Texas. Not much pollen problems there. Moved back to Missouri. Yep had some allergy issues for a while. Moved to Boston. Different moles and pollens so yes I had some allergy problems for a while.
    There is a lot more I really want to say but I better stop before I say…
    The lady worries about her hard wood floors in the summer!!! Now, its a new floor and these companies don’t let the wood cure properly. Well, ok, but you will have a lot more to worry about than humidity. Probably the people that sold you the floor is probably in the AC business too. So, yes, you better buy a new AC and…
    Lady, I have some swam land in Louisianna to sell you. Let’s talk!!!

  • Kelly Klaasmeyer

    I have worked in office buildings so over-airconditioned you needed a sweater in July. But I also live in Houston where people DIE from the heat. Porches and ceiling fans can’t cut the worst of it, compounded by the fact that the tall windows, high ceilings and overhanging roofs of the pre-airconditioning era are rare in current architecture.

  • Rick

    What about solar power to power AC in summer? That Ok?

  • Engorged American

    I like my air conditoning like I like my beer – frosty cold! Air conditioning reminds us of man’s god given domination over nature.

  • Stacked

    Screw the environment or starving kids in India, I want my A/C by-God, and I’ll kill to keep it if necessary. I’m sick of “green.” It’s a crock! For everything “green” others do, I’m going to pour motor oil on a solar panel. :)

  • http://whilewestillhavetime.blogspot.com/ John Hamilton

    I have lived most of my life without air conditioning, but now have reached an age where I would not live long without it. This includes driving, which is worse for energy consumption.

    This is the dilemma we face. A human being will do what it takes to survive in this exact moment, the future be damned. As a species, we are in a situation where we are unable to reconcile long-term extinction with personal extinction. We are reaching the point where the two prospects are converging.

    The BP spill, I believe, is the no-turning back warning. Will we continue to do anything to the planet in exchange for short-term enjoyment of life? I suspect we will, based on my personal example of one.

  • Carol

    We should definitely be aware of how much we depend on A/C. Not just in residential homes. Aren’t massive office towers much greater consumers? In Toronto, downtown office towers use a lake water cooling system instead of such heavy dependence on A/C.

    In the office building I work in, we are very wasteful. The offices are so cold that we have to bundle up, and some people are turning on their small electric heaters. How sad and ridiculous.

  • http://sixdimension.com jim sawyer

    Air Conditioning,

    I studied the geodesic dome of Bucky Fuller!
    He discovered during the assembly of a large geodesic dome in Africa, a form of natural air-conditioning.
    Using a dome with a hole in the roof ,and assembled from the bottom perimeter, the air was cooling the top of the dome on the inside. The air was venting from the bottom!
    Thus creating a natural flow of hot air being pulled out of the bottom perimeter and replaced with cool air into the small hole in roof!
    God Bless,

  • Bush’s fault

    Thanks On Point and various commenters for vindicating Donald Rumsfeld’s remarks when questioned about the discomfort from the heat that detainees at Guantanimo might experience. They have survived as many of you have despite living quarters without air conditioning. Thank you Mr Rumsfeld for your years of service.

  • Brett

    My house was built in 1909. It has twelve-foot ceilings (first floor), transoms over door wells, that promote a lot of cross ventilation, and center halls,. I call it a “summer house” because it stays pretty cool in summer. I installed ceiling fans in the bedrooms, living room and kitchen. I only open the windows in summer on cooler evenings, and I keep most of the blinds, shades, shutters and curtains pulled shut in summer, except for a couple of east-facing windows that I use to bring in light after about 11am, when the sun has passed over. If the heat is too much on certain summer days, I run the AC for a couple of hours in the heat of the day only (although I’m gone usually in that part of the day), and I keep the windows closed most of the time (except for those cooler evenings). The previous owners installed central AC.

    Jim Holladay has it right when he says the AC compressor is the big energy consumer in any AC system. Also, when the AC cuts off, a lot of cool air remains trapped in duct work and is not utilized. Mr. Holladay also is right when he says a smart way to maximize use of one’s AC without using much energy is to run just the fan in the unit without the AC on throughout the day, this helps evacuate cool air out of ducts and uses very little energy (the compressor doesn’t kick on). Mr. Holladay is also right about the heat transfer and dehumidifying functions of AC, so opening the windows when the humidity is high outside in summer is counterproductive; it makes the AC work harder. Circulating air keeps humidity down; also, everyone knows hot air rises, so I stay out of my office and bedroom (on the top floor) during the day. Luckily, my music studio is on the first floor where it stays cool and dry (something to consider for wood instruments) I keep my laptop (wireless)downstairs, as well, with the router upstairs in the office.

    The downside to my “summer house” is the winter. The heating system is an inefficient gas heater. It can heat the place up in a flash, but it uses a lot of gas.
    In winter, the top floor stays pretty warm, the downstairs is about what one would expect from an old house (cold). I keep my guitars upstairs in winter, spend more time upstairs, and I only heat my studio when I have to give music lessons (using an adjunct, energy-efficient space heater rather than keep the heat cranked up throughout the house). I also reverse the ceiling fans’ direction to keep hot air from rising in the rooms. I also cook a lot of soups, stews, and baked goods in winter, letting the kitchen activity help out (salads, light sauteing and outdoor grilling in summer).

    At some point, I’d like to install an energy efficient electric heating system; I have the ductwork. But, ideally, I’d like to install radiant heat in the walls and floors that is pressurized/gravity fed (and is more comfortable than forced air with a heat pump), but that’s another dream that would take a lot of work and money to install, although there are some great systems on the market now that are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. I may put in a new floor next year in the kitchen using radiant floor heat.

    One commenter mentioned asthma, which I have, and sometimes using the AC is a necessary part of my routine to get a respite from pollen and polluted summer air.

    Also, AC window units are really inefficient, although some newer models have improved the type quite a bit. Some people have little choice, though, if they don’t have the ductwork/ central air, etc. Anyway, my routine works pretty well for me.

  • Brett

    I lived in a geodesic dome house for a few years; it was cool, both literally and figuratively…We need more Buckminster Fullers in the world!

  • Damion

    How about the adage, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity?” Is there any efficient way, other than air conditioning, to remove moisture from the air inside a home?

  • Ruth Swanson

    The answer to the following question is precisely what separates our country pretty much right down the middle:
    What do you fear most: islamic terrorists or your air conditioner?

    Admittedly this is an over simplification of two very complicated issues but I dare all NPR listeners to answer the question honestly…Come on be honest…

    If you truly feel that Man Caused Global Warming is a serious issue, then you must shut off your air-conditioner and your furnace -OR- move to Central Ohio. Am I right? I mean, it is one thing to wax lugubriously about the Polar Bears and another thing entirely to practice what you preach. Central Ohio is beautiful region. Really. This is not a slight directed towards the Buckeye State. It is simply a call to arms. If you think big oil is evil…If you think coal is dirty…If you are disappointed that practical & systemic renewable energy is decades away…GO TO CENTRAL OHIO!

  • justanother

    As long as breeze is present, we can tolerate heat better, so installing ceiling fans is a good idea to minimizing A/C use.

  • justanother

    Open our windows when humidity is low outside. Funny thing is sometimes my house feels hotter than outside due to not enough air flow. Ceiling makes a big difference.

  • marcel

    I live in a townhouse condo near Boston. It’s usually a little cooler inside in the summer, probably because of the cement firewalls req’d by law. I have relatives who moved to Venezuela from Europe and they live in stone houses and don’t have a/c, even though they’re wealthy.

    BTW, I have central air, though I almost never use it. Can I just run the fan without the a/c at night and get the same effect as a ceiling fan?

    I don’t have allergies, but would running just the fan with a good furnace filter help asthmatics? How about running a big HEPA filter?

  • marcel

    @George Heis: It’s because wealthy liberals are pampered little wusses who can’t stand a little extra heat or a little extra cold and are so fat and lazy that they walk to their mailboxes.

    We’re turning into a bunch of whinny little brats in this country. Toughen up America. This country wasn’t built by wimps who couldn’t stand a little discomfort, but it might well be destroyed by them.

    PS: Didn’t China just put up a bid for Cleveland on eBay?

  • justanother


    While I do agree with you about we all have to live up to our own preach. But to generalize and simplify an issue is not solving our wide spread problem. One has to appreciate the effort of even having a conversation about this issue. If one doesn’t care about the issue, there won’t be any discussion here.

    It’s funny most of the time, when “certain people” criticize other people who are bothered & troubled by our “inherited infrastructure” and try to make every step to make conscious choice when they can personally afford, but it’s always those “certain people” who are NOT doing anything about, with that “either you go all the way or do NOTHING and SHUT UP about it” attitude, thinking they have the right to say to us, “If you are disappointed that practical & systemic renewable energy is decades away…GO TO CENTRAL OHIO!”?

    What have you done to conserve energy?

  • justanother

    ***If you truly feel that Man Caused Global Warming is a serious issue, then you must shut off your air-conditioner and your furnace -OR- move to Central Ohio. Am I right?***

    No, you are wrong, but you can crack some jokes.

  • loninappleton

    Last one maybe….

    Anybody mention people in their Priuses and what have you riding around in 75 degree weather with the windows up? This is Wisconsin, not even the deep South. I for one am grateful when summer gets here. Air conditioning in cars, unlike a heater, is unneeded most if not all of the time.

  • justanother

    ***The point is not that we should get rid of AC altogether, but use it wisely and sparingly. Don’t train your body to require 65 degrees in summer. Let your body acclimate somewhat to the heat, rather than getting used to shockingly cold and sealed off inside, and steaming hot outside.***

    Very true, Kristen. I have heard people intentionally turn down A/C to 65 degree, so that they can sleep under their winter comforter, uniquely “American”!

    Forrest Gump: Stupid is as stupid does. My version: Spoiled rat is as spoiled rat dose.

  • justanother

    ***Open our windows when humidity is low outside. Funny thing is sometimes my house feels hotter than outside due to not enough air flow. Ceiling makes a big difference.***

    Correction: I meant “ceiling fan”.

  • terry t

    Hello, This comment may be a repeat of others,I just want to unload and sleep cool…so if we’re just going to pull the plug and use no electricity, like the lady says, buy a plant and feel pleased that you and your great grandfather now have something in common besides the color of your eyes. Granted an a/c uses a lot of juice and the end result is it cools the air about 20 degrees, which will circulate in the house and satisfy the humans that are worrying about their monthly elect. bill, which, by the way, makes them hotter! Now, there is no way that opening a window is going to help keep the house cooler, hot is hot and air flow from outside is hot, period. Here is a few things that may help and leave some money in your pocket.1)have an attic exhaust fan installed that will turn on automatically when its a sauna up there,140 degrees is way too hot already, this heat will radiate into the home thur the ceiling, stop it 2)pull your shades on the sunny side of the house,sounds like a song. 3)Ditch the a/c and put in one of those low humidity evaporator coolers, it will

  • terry t’s brother

    Terry went to bed !!

  • Bonnie S.D.

    Is there a tactful way to ask people who want to put on the AC if they’re doing everything they can to lower their ingestion of animal fat and UP the greens, beans, nuts and grains and to find some healing tears and wails about things for at least an hour a day? And I recommend praying at the five transition of day, too, to anyone who might have trouble doing any of this. Best, Bons.

  • Bonnie S.D.

    “transitions” [of the day]

  • Wendy

    We really need to look at how we build houses. In a housing development they cut down all the tress to build houses. Those trees would have provided some shade to keep the houses cool.

  • http://mofyc.blogspot.com Brian

    That we spend more on cooling than heating shows what energy hogs we are. We live in a northern climate. The majority of the country is cold for a good chunk of the year. Can you imagine what will happen if Africa or South America or Southeast Asia even starts to approach the energy use we put toward cooling?

  • joshua

    u haven’t mentioned the very unhealthy air that circulates in an air-conditioner–in some cases causing disease.

    And im not hearing anything about new green building codes that are very much needed–mimic environment, use the environment for natural air, wind, light, sun, etc, more trees for shade-home can be quite pleasant without air-condition, and i think its extremely selfish to buck the environment for your delicate nature–what a bunch of delicate petals. be a man! or be a woman, but be a man!

    put your feet in a basin of water. drink ice-water. buy a fan. open the windows–its healthy. u have migraines–open the windows–ur air is probably polluted.

  • joshua

    air-conditioning filters are infested with germs and bacteria. Air conditioning gives me sinus problems and monster headaches. open the windows let the air flow and im fine.

  • globi

    Producing electricity for air conditioning with renewables on existing roofs is peanuts:

    With the $180 billion spent on AIG and its bonuses, one could have financed 600 thinfilm photovoltaic factories, which produce 960,000,000 kW in 10 years.
    With 1500 sunhours per year those modules will produce 14 trillion kWhs of electricity!

    The only question is, whether the US wants to create sustainable jobs or not.

  • Paula

    1. Bring back oscillating twin window fans! For some reason, they aren’t being made to be as powerful as they used to be, and none oscillate.

    These suck in the cool evening air and are sufficient most of the summer in our 3rd floor bedrooms. They can also be reversed to suck out the hot air from the room, but I find it’s better to:

    2. Shut the windows, shades, and curtains in the morning to keep in the cool air and prevent the warm, more humid air of day from blowing in. Then open the windows towards sunset. (this is on very hot days; when it’s up to low 80s and not humid, I leave the windows open.)

    3. On very hot days, place a wet facecloth on the back of your neck and sit with a fan blowing on you. (At night, the wet facecloth can be on your forehead.)

    I also have pollen allergies and do appreciate the car a/c when driving … unfortunately, the spring allergy season is starting to overlap more and more with the advent of hot weather in New England.

  • peter nelson

    People seem to forget that AC is not just about cooling but also about controlling humidity. All this talk about “going outside to play” or running fans ignores the fact that warm summer weather is also very humid and fans do nothing to help with that. Humidity damages wood and fabric and promotes the growth of mold which can cause serious structural and health problems.

    Also, in my case, my wife is a classical musician and needs to keep her piano in tune, which is very difficult to do in high humidity. Steinway recommends 40-50% RH, which is impossible to maintain without AC.

    The correct solution to this is the same as the correct solution to oil spills, global warming, and ocean acidification – we must end our reliance on fossil fuels. It’s entirely within our reach – I know people whose houses are 100% powered by PV’s (and the cost per watt of PVs continues to fall). In addition:

    1. …Washington needs to get off its butt and built a nuke-waste facility plus eliminate the liability and insurance caps of Price Anderson, in which case nukes could make sense.

    2. End US taxpayers’ support/protection of oil-rich nations and weak regulation of domestic oil-drilling so oil prices will rise to reflect increase supply risk and extraction costs and this will encourage alternative energy development.

  • peter nelson

    That we spend more on cooling than heating shows what energy hogs we are. We live in a northern climate. The majority of the country is cold for a good chunk of the year. Can you imagine what will happen if Africa or South America or Southeast Asia even starts to approach the energy use we put toward cooling

    But I’ll bet the the most productive office workers and factory workers in those places work in air-conditioned places.

    Plenty of studies of industrial and office worker productivity have shown that people are most productive and alert within an optimal temperature range. So sure, it’s possible to work in a factory or office building where it’s 85 degrees with 80% RH, but workers won’t be very productive or do as good a job as under better conditions, nor will they be as happy.

    It’s all very well to pine away for lazy summer afternoons at the fishing hole wearing straw hats with your bare feet dangling in the water amid the shade of Spanish moss hanging from the magnolia trees, but you better catch some fish you can eat there, because you won’t make any money to buy food or keep the lights on, nevermind pay for AC.

    AC, like automobiles, are not just in-demand as status symbols of rising affluence, but, instead, because they confer real and practical benefits on their users. Getting all nostalgic about some pre-industrial era when everyone was poor and worked the land and died young is a waste of time. Better to use our scientific and engineering talent to make cooling more efficient and energy less polluting. If we don’t the Chinese will, and they will reap the benefits.

  • peter nelson

    Nicholas Bodley says: In past years, we’d read of people (mostly poor, probably mostly in cities) who died from the heat. Basic physics teaches that evaporation cools; air conditioners use that principle.

    No they don’t. Air conditioners (and refrigerators) are based on the Ideal Gas Law (pV=nRT)

    • Please look it up first…

      It does not use the ideal gas law. The conditions for that law are not met in the compression/expansion of the air conditioning cycle. It uses the combined gas law. 

  • Betty Landercasper

    Our house, built in l997, has central air only in the bedrooms. We hate air conditioning and use it only at night in the summer.

    BUT: I find as I get older that my tolerance for the hot humid nights has gone away.
    Like my tolerance for cold, as I’ve aged I find I just can’t take it.

    I notice this in my cattle herd too–the old cows just can’t stand the heat, and are always lying under trees when it’s really warm.

  • http://www.lemonsandbeans.com Frank

    The heat index in Louisiana today was 105, without AC I don’t know that much would get done in the summer. To be sure we use a lot of power that we don’t have to but remember that heating is much less efficient because of the relatively less dense nature of cold air versus warm air. In general it will always be more efficient to lower an equal mass of air ten degrees than raising it. It would be great if we could all like in Virginian or North Carolina though.

  • Michael WOod

    Electric air conditioning has only been around about 50 years. HOW did mankind make it for 10,000 years without it? “They” want us to turn the shower off while soaping, turn the water off while brushing, save and recycle every little can, box or newspaper, car pool on bad air days, on and on and on, making life more difficult and frustrating – and yet hardly anyone, especially the environmentalist extremists, ever offer up air conditioning as an energy saver (except for the occassional advice to adjust your thermostat up a degree or two). I don’t know how much energy would be saved if we all stopped using a.c., but I have a feeling we could probably stop all imports of foreign oil if we turned them all off. I think a.c. is a wonderful invention whose time has come….and gone (assuming the environmentalists’ dire predictions are true). Air conditioning is the utlimate and most wasteful luxury I can think of. And I wonder how much “global warming” is caused by the millions of motors that spin all day long, forcing toxic gases through a compressor to make it cold so it can cool our air? IF our environment is in such perilous shape where we need to recycle cans and bottles and get energy-saving “green” politics stuffed down our throats every day, then I will JOIN that effort if it FIRST requires everyone to turn off the greatest energy waster of all, their air conditioners. Now THAT would be the utlimate energy saving policy! But the hypocrites won’t acknowledge anything that would really require THEM to sacrifice. Having said all that, I really don’t think we need to turn off our a.c. In keeping with that thought, I also don’t think our environment is about to explode, humans have anything to do with global warming or we’re almost out of oil and other resources. So, let’s just keep them humming at home in our empty houses when we’re all out needlessly burning up energy with our boats, motorhomes, airplane trips to exotic ports, etc. etc., etc. (also known as enjoying life).

  • Richard in Somerville MA

    A simple energy-saving method I use to get through the very hottest nights: Stand under a cold shower for a while (helps to let it run strongly on the back of your neck), then dry off only minimally, and sleep naked in the direct airflow of a nice strong fan or two. I find that with one of those slowly oscillating free-standing fans, so the breeze goes up and down your body, it lulls me into quite amazing and restful sleep. To me *far* preferable to sleeping in over-dried air-conditioned air, though I understand I’m lucky not to have to battle asthma or allergies.

  • Polishkatie

    I began reading Mr. Cox’s “Losing Our Cool” this past Saturday. I’ve never been a fan of air conditioning, going so far as to block the re-up take vent and the blow-in vent in my room back in the 1980′s so that my one room could be open to the outdoors using the windows without bothering the rest of the house which was reliant on having central air for their comfort.

    Years ago I read a book about the history of air conditioning. It was preaching to the choir. I love the social anthropological take Mr. Cox brings to his arguments. The hard science and statistics he sites have taught me more than I ever expected to know.

    There are ways to stay cool without AC, With the current population, I think there is a lack of disconnect with the cooling knowledge of one’s grandparents vs. the cooling ignorance of their parents. The post WWII generation relied on AC and disregarded the traditional cooling techniques of the previous generation. What alarms me most how quickly the virus of AC has spread over the past 70 years.

  • airscape

    One simple solution: whole house fans

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Chilling Facts About Air Conditioners | WBUR and NPR - On Point with Tom Ashbrook -- Topsy.com

  • R. Scott Harrison

    Why can’t you download the MP3 to listen to them on iTunes?? And Why is there no detailed summary for each program or transcript available, as there is for other NPR programming?  This makes it highly inconvenient to recommend any program to other people who have time to read or listen to an MP3 later, but not now or online.

  • Potter

    I agree with Mr. Harrison. If you are going to recommend a show from the past- let us have the mp3 so we can listen on our own time away from the internet.

  • Alsofeistylady

    Loved Alicia Silva. She’s feisty!

  • Pingback: Energy Code Works » Blog Archive » Chilling Facts About Air Conditioners

  • Tortured-student

    my teacher is killing me by making me listen to this :’(

  • RolloMartins

    Love the irony when people move south then crank up the ac till it’s 65-68 degrees. You need a sweater when visiting southerners. Living in the south you’d think they would like the heat, but nope.

  • http://twitter.com/Atrendyhome Trendy Home Store

    We installed a whole house fan system that is very quiet.  The brand is called Quiet Cool Fans.  Best investment we ever made!

Sep 18, 2014
Flickr/Steve Rhodes

After a summer of deadly clashes between Gaza and Israel, we talk to Jews on the left and right about the future of liberal Zionism. Some say it’s over.

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Billionaires. We’ll look at the super super rich, and their global shaping of our world.

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Bob Dylan and Victor Maymudes at "The Castle" in LA before the 1965 world tour. Lisa Law/The Archive Agency)

A new take on the life and music of Bob Dylan, from way inside the Dylan story. “Another Side of Bob Dylan.”

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Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson watches from the sidelines against the Oakland Raiders during the second half of a preseason NFL football game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. (AP/Ann Heisenfelt)

The NFL’s Adrian Peterson and the emotional debate underway about how far is too far to go when it comes to disciplining children.

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