Is Air Conditioning a Luxury?
Air conditioning is a luxury that many people around the world simply do without. In much of the world, a temperate climate prevails, and in places with hot summers, the heat does not persist for more than a month or two. Other places, including tropical islands such as Saint Vincent in the Caribbean or the Philippines in Southeast Asia, are hot year-round, and the inhabitants simply get used to it. The human body is, after all, rather well adapted to living in heat, but many inhabitants of first world countries prefer to enjoy a more liveable interior temperature.
In Phoenix, Arizona, the temperature rises above 100 degrees Fahrenheit more than 100 days per year, and goes above 110 for more than a month. While the area has seen permanent inhabitants off and on for the last few thousand years, air conditioning has been in use for less than one hundred years. The Hohokam and Tohono O’odham tribes that lived in the Phoenix area might have adapted to the heat, but modern residents consider it to be a necessity. Furthermore, the Hohokam tribe, while thriving for a while, simply disappeared a few hundred years ago. While archaeologists are mystified as to their disappearance, Phoenix residents are often less so. The intense heat is a good reason to move if air conditioning is not available.
In Phoenix in summer, electric bills can be three to four times as high as winter bills. This is because air conditioning units require a fairly large amount of electricity, and must run nearly all the time to keep the house cool. While many other locations that have hot summers still cool off at night, Phoenix, even at night is hotter than is comfortable for indoor temperatures. Overnight lows in June, July and August are typically in the mid to high eighties Fahrenheit and can reach into the nineties. This means that opening a window in the evening to let in a cool breeze is entirely out of the question. It’s usually over a hundred degrees at midnight in summer.
To stay cool without breaking the bank, here are a few tips. Keep the air conditioning as high as you can stand it. This is obvious, but many people are convinced that they cannot be comfortable if the air is over 75 degrees inside. With a little time to acclimate, eventually you can probably learn to be comfortable at 80 degrees. If the house is empty during the day, keeping the thermostat higher then can provide a big savings in electricity.
Plant trees on the south and west sides of the house to provide shade, especially if those sides of the house have large windows. Install blackout shades to keep heat out when the sun is high.
Scott Baker attended American Trade Instituted with a concentration in air conditioning, heating and refrigeration, and ventilation. He founded Air America Inc in early 2011, and also instructs at EVIT, the East Valley Institute of Technology.