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It a conundrum. We use air conditioning to cope with our warming climate, making demands for energy spike, utilities burn more natural gas and coal to meet those demands, accelerating climate change, creating more extreme weather. Taken in isolation its becoming a feedback loop. The more air conditioning we use the hotter the heat waves get, and the more we need air conditioning to cope with them.

Energy Supply and Use pdf

Warming will be accompanied by decreases in demand for heating energy and
increases in demand for cooling energy. The latter will result in significant
increases in electricity use and higher peak demand in most regions.

The vast majority of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, about 87 percent, come from energy production and use.
How air-conditioning is baking our world

By Dan Watson

As your air conditioner cools your room, it makes heat waves more extreme  

When you think of the causes of global warming, you may picture an SUV before you picture a central AC unit. But almost 20 percent of electricity consumption in U.S. homes goes to AC — that’s as much electricity as the entire continent of Africa uses for all purposes. So says Stan Cox in his new book, Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer).

When I looked at the doubling in the amount of electricity used for air conditioning homes in this country just since the mid-90s, I thought, we really need to address this, because it is a big contributor to greenhouse-gas release and it’s going to increase the likelihood that we’re going to have longer, more intense heat waves and hotter summers in the future, and we’re going to have to be running the air-conditioning even more.

When I was a kid I spent a couple of years living in Baltimore before air conditioning was commonplace. I can remember nights the heat and humidity were so stifling it was almost impossible to sleep. Air conditioning would have been what I lay away longing for, so I am well acquainted with the need for cool spaces in summertime.

Here are a number of short term strategies to reduce power consumption needed for air conditioning, and still be comfortable.

(1) Using window air conditioning units for the rooms you spend the most time in can save power over a central air conditioning system for the whole building.

(2) If you use a central air conditioning system have it serviced every couple of years to keep it working at its best efficiency.

(3) Change the filter in your air conditioner frequently to save power and money.

(4) Placing air conditioners out of direct sunlight can reduce the power consumption by 10%.

(5)Putting white roofs on our buildings will make big reductions in cooling demands


Turn up your thermostat

Set your thermostat to 78 degrees when you are home and 85 degrees or off when you are away. Using ceiling or room fans allows you to set the thermostat higher because the air movement will cool the room. Always take into account health considerations and be sure to drink plenty of fluids in warm weather. (Save: 1 - 3 percent per degree, for each degree the thermostat is set above 72 degrees)


Planning to do some remodeling soon? Time to replace old appliances? Consider these energy efficiency suggestions when you make purchases.

Install a whole house fan

A whole house fan is permanently installed in your attic and draws cool air into your home through the windows while forcing hot air out through your attic vents. Use after sundown when the outside temperature drops below 80 degrees, and in the early morning to cool your house and help reduce your air conditioning use. (Save: up to 5 percent)

Install window shading

Install patio covers, awnings, and solar window screens to shade your home from the sun. For additional future savings, use strategically planted trees, shrubs and vines to shade your home. (Save: 5 percent)

Solar control window films applied to existing glass in windows and doors is an effective method to reduce peak demand during hot months and conserve energy anytime air conditioning might be required. In addition to the energy management benefits, the use of these films can also reduce exposure to ultraviolet radiation and reduce glare. Vist the International Window Film Association for more information. (save 5-10 percent)

Invest in a new air-conditioning unit

If your air conditioner is on the way out, buy an ENERGY STAR® air conditioner. (Save: up to 10 percent)

Seal your ducts

Leaking ductwork accounts for 25 percent of cooling costs in an average home, so have your ducts tested and have any leaks or restrictions repaired by a qualified contractor. Note: duct cleaning is not the same as duct sealing. As of October 1, 2005, if you install a new central air conditioner or furnace, your ducts will have to be inspected. (Save: 10 -20 percent)

Replace your refrigerator with an ENERGY STAR® model

Refrigerators with a top or bottom freezer design can save you an additional 2-3% on your bill compared to a side-by-side design. (Save: 10 percent)

Increase attic insulation

If existing insulation level is R-19 or less, consider insulating your attic to at least R-30. (Save: 10 percent)

Install ENERGY STAR® windows

If your windows are due for replacement, ENERGY STAR® windows can make your house more comfortable year-round. (Save: up to 10 percent)

Many of our newer buildings are designed to rely on lots of air conditioning. For longer term solutions to cooling with less air conditioning we need to change how our buildings are designed and built. Earth sheltered homes and buildings have substantially lower cooling and heating needs than conventional construction (and they're hurricane and tornado proof).  Small design changes to conventional conventional buildings can substantially lower cooling and heating demands too.        
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tipped and rec'd (8+ / 0-)

    Title typo

    I ♥ President Barack Obama.

    by ericlewis0 on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 11:39:49 AM PDT

  •  I Can't Keep My House Cool Right Now (9+ / 0-)

    it has been, although this week much cooler, around 105+ for the last week. I hate to ponder what my power bill is going to be, and I am literally just trying to keep my house around 80.

    BTW: I put an attic fan in my house. All your suggestions are wonderful suggestions. But my attic fan, by far the best thing I ever bought!

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 11:43:55 AM PDT

    •  We put a fan in the attic window (0+ / 0-)

      With a flannel/plastic sandwiched cover around it that seals up to the box fan with elastic as an attic fan. Really makes a difference, and was inexpensive to install. Best of all the fan is easily replaced if it dies.

      The cover has a flap that goes up in the wintertime to seal the window with velcro, capturing the heat when we need it.

      Women create the entire labor force.

      by splashy on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 03:12:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  All good points (10+ / 0-)

    but humidity has to be taken into account. 78F in dry conditions is very pleasant and easy to do office work in, 78F with RH of 90% say is anything but.

    Another related factor is air pollution - if is is an issue then high humidity will amke it an exponentially bigger issue.

    Investing in systems with humidity and temperature control is the way forward and could potentially save a lot of money and waste.

  •  Lennox is Now Selling a Solar Powered Heat Pump (12+ / 0-)

    Which might be a solar-electric entry path for some home owners who can't afford systems big enough to run their houses on. They're claiming saving half on electric bills.

    It's nice to see a development like this tied to a household system investment owners already need to make periodically.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 11:45:47 AM PDT

    •  I Don't See How That Saves You Money (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lefty Coaster, jayden

      I bought my house 8 years ago. Built in 1973. As things in my house fail, well I upgrade to the most energy efficient things I can buy.

      I went with a super cool hot water heater. My gas bill in the summer, when I am not using gas for heat, is about $12/month.

      Now with that said, and you kind of mentioned it, I looked at solar. It is still really, really expensive. The estimate I got was $57,000. I make a good living, but my gosh that is so far out of my price range, since my five bedroom house is only worth $168,000 (yes rural IL things are a lot cheaper then "big"cities)

      When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

      by webranding on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 11:51:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It seems a good idea (0+ / 0-)

        on the face of it . . . there should be plenty of "solar" when it's hot, and you only need enough battery to get through the night.  If "solar" will work anywhere this is it.  But getting the cost down to where it makes economic sense is not so easy, since the necessary "solar system" will not come cheap.  I do suspect that a case could be made for it in the Southwest, though.

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 12:22:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  57,000 for how many kilowatts? (0+ / 0-)

        It's not an all or nothing proposition.

        Thinking the "food stamp challenge" teaches you about being poor is like thinking a camping trip will give you insight into being homeless.

        by JesseCW on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 01:40:27 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I married a woman from an equatorial country (12+ / 0-)

    and I, myself, despise A/C. So I have a wife who isn't used to A/C and doesn't like it anymore than I do.

    we only run the AC after 10 pm or so and even then we'll set it to 84, just to stomp the humidity.

    If it's really humid and hot at night (Atlanta Ga) we'll knock it down to 82 for the night and cut it off in the am.

    I don't like A/C the way MOST Americans seem to: set at 68 degrees and freezing my ass off. That IS very wasteful....

    The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

    by xxdr zombiexx on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 11:48:00 AM PDT

  •  Swamp (Air) Coolers. (4+ / 0-)

    Maybe not in Baltimore, but in many places it is a viable energy efficient alternative, especially in homes with no existing vents. They draw so little power they can be run on solar panels.

    "Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates.” Simone Weil

    by chuco35 on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 12:07:04 PM PDT

  •  Try this: portable AC on little wheels: (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Zinman, Mary Mike, ExStr8, OLinda, Creosote

    It sits on the floor, it has casters so you can roll it around between rooms, and it has a little flexible duct sticking out the top or back with a thingie you can stick in the window, to discharge the hot air outside.  

    Some of them have a second flexible duct where the cold air comes out, that you can aim wherever you like in a room.

    Yes, it looks a little like a contraption out of the movie Brazil but the point of air conditioning isn't how it "looks," it's about how it works.  

    Go to and put "portable air conditioner" in the search box and you'll see examples from about $100 to about $500 depending on size & capacity.

    The point of this is you can have one unit and easily roll it around from room to room where it's needed.  This can save you some money compared to buying a separate window unit for each room in the house that you need to cool.  And cooling only the room(s) that are occupied at any given time, is what enables the major energy savings.

    When you're eating dinner, put it in the kitchen.  When you're in the family room watching TV or reading or going online, or in your home office working, roll it into there.  

    If you have a second floor, you may as well have a separate window unit in each bedroom, and only turn them on 1/2 hour or so before you go to bed.  

    Cool the rooms that are actually occupied, not the rooms that are vacant.  

    As for "open plan" kitchen & living room areas, you can point the second hose at the area where you're hanging out, so the cool air goes there.

    "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

    by G2geek on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 12:07:36 PM PDT

    •  Researching this post I saw this on 2010 blog (6+ / 0-)
      New Air Conditioning System Yields "90 Percent" Energy Savings

      We're making progress. A team of engineers at NREL recently developed a potentially revolutionary new air conditioning system. Unlike standard air conditioners, which compress a circulating liquid refrigerant such as Freon, this new system draws warm air through a cooling unit that contains a water-absorbing dessicants compound that cools the air by evaporation. The payoff? It uses up to 90 percent less energy.

      "We don't need someone who can think. We need someone with enough digits to hold a pen." ~ Grover Norquist

      by Lefty Coaster on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 12:20:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  oh hot shit!, that is farkin' fantastic! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Lefty Coaster, Creosote

        In essence it sounds like a dehumidifier that a) dumps the humidity into the dessicants, and b) allows the cooled air to discharge to the room rather than re-heating it to a higher temperature first to match room temp.

        Presumably the dessicant material can be recycled on-site by heating it outside to dry it out.  

        I'd buy one.  Even in the East Bay we get occasional days in the 90s, which are a health hazard, so being able to cool it down to 80 with low humidity would be a major plus.  

        "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

        by G2geek on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 01:19:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  So... (0+ / 0-)

        It is essentially a high tech Swamp Box?

        Very, very cool (<----see what I did there?)


        Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

        by Kysen on Thu Jul 12, 2012 at 07:05:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  They're insanely inefficient. (0+ / 0-)

      Check the EER ratings.  The high-end ones usually barely approach 10.

      At a similar price, wall and window room air unites are often as high as 12.

      Thinking the "food stamp challenge" teaches you about being poor is like thinking a camping trip will give you insight into being homeless.

      by JesseCW on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 01:47:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We're past the point of no return. Unfortunately, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ExStr8, Creosote

    no one is talking about it in those terms. Maybe that will change?

    The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it. G.B. Shaw

    by baghavadgita on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 12:38:22 PM PDT

  •  Don't forget trees! (5+ / 0-)

    Shade can dramatically reduce cooling costs.

    And if you plant deciduous trees, you can get
    solar warming in the winter!

    Many thanks for a very thoughtful diary and many
    excellent comments.

    Stonewall was a RIOT!

    by ExStr8 on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 12:45:29 PM PDT

    •  Duh! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lineatus, ExStr8, MKSinSA

      My omission.

      "We don't need someone who can think. We need someone with enough digits to hold a pen." ~ Grover Norquist

      by Lefty Coaster on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 12:53:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Closing shades/draperies during the day, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ExStr8, Lefty Coaster, JesseCW

        especially if you're away at work, can do a lot to keep a house cooler.  If you're around during the day and don't want to be in a dark house, even closing them halfway, or closing them in the rooms you're not in will help.

        Closing the doors to rooms on the south/west side of the house (to help contain the heat) also helps.

        If it's a home you own, consider adding awnings.  Older houses in the west (pre-AC) used to have long eaves which shaded the windows, but modern subdivision homes often have little or no overhang.

        •  I grew up in an apartment (4+ / 0-)

          in Manhattan. Awnings were put up on all the windows in the building after Memorial Day and taken down in September.

          If you see old photos of New York taken in the summer you can see lot of awnings. No more.

          We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

          by denise b on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 02:00:58 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I couldn't sleep without A/C in the summer. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ExStr8, Lefty Coaster, cachola, Bronx59

    The combination of my upper Midwestern upbringing and the hellscape that is Washington DC in the summertime is damn near lethal for me... if it's hot and sticky, it doesn't matter if I'm running on no sleep for the past 48 hours, I won't get a wink of shut-eye.

    That said, my upper Midwestern upbringing is how I "pay" for running the A/C all summer, too... since I don't even turn on my heat in the winter.

    "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

    by JamesGG on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 12:47:23 PM PDT

  •  The amount of air conditioning that is used (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ExStr8, the fan man, Creosote

    to cool IT infrastructure is a seldom commented upon component.

    I'm not aware of any studies with numbers contributing, but anecdotally, I know that a crapload of air conditioning is used in the maintenance of server farms.  Servers are typically kept in temperature controlled environments, usually VERY air conditioned.  And that low temperature is maintained fulltime, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

    Certainly, home air conditioning is an important thing to curtail as much as possible.  However, the impetus to push technology further and faster is ALSO contributing to an increase in air conditioning usage specifically and climate erosion in general.

    Obama 2012: For More Wars!

    by chipmo on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 01:01:08 PM PDT

    •  Bingo! Someone calculated that number, significant (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      energy use. Home AC is here to stay, it must be superseded by geothermal and heat pumps.

      In homes two years ago, Con Ed saw high electric usage in winter, either from increases in space heating and/or home entertainment. Big screen TVs, computers, Xbox stuff, cable/dish receivers all suck juice.

      Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

      by the fan man on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 02:16:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I foresee more earth-sheltered homes in the future (5+ / 0-)

    Cool in the summer, warm in the winter.
    Safe(er) from tornadoes and hurricanes.

    Have you noticed?
    Politicians who promise LESS government
    only deliver BAD government.

    by jjohnjj on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 01:10:09 PM PDT

  •  You can save a lot more than 10% by upgrading (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lefty Coaster, chipmo, Bronx59

    your AC unit.

    Some folks still have 20 year old units running.  Modern units are twice as efficient.

    One of the beautiful things about rooftop solar is that in much of the country if it's hot there's plenty of sunlight.

    Thinking the "food stamp challenge" teaches you about being poor is like thinking a camping trip will give you insight into being homeless.

    by JesseCW on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 01:38:02 PM PDT

    •  Have a 24 year old central unit running well (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Beginning to consider a replacement, but windows, a kitchen, and a wood stove went ahead in the queue.

      With a lot of shade, cost of running it is under $500 a year.

      •  If you barely use it, upgrading it becomes (0+ / 0-)

        more questionable.

        You can get central units with SEERs as high as 18.  If your unit is over 20 years old, it's probably around 9.

        So, yeah, you could cut power usage in half - but if that usage doesn't amount to much anyway you might be be better off making other investments.

        Thinking the "food stamp challenge" teaches you about being poor is like thinking a camping trip will give you insight into being homeless.

        by JesseCW on Thu Jul 12, 2012 at 02:21:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  If you live in a single family and have AC in (0+ / 0-)

    direct sunlight, (either large window or central AC) you can do a very simple mod using plastic tubing connected to your garden hose faucet to mist your unit during peak heat and sun. Reduces the load on your AC by quickly removing heat from the condensers. Cost about $10 to $20, can save you much more than that.

    Look up "AC mist cooling" to get ideas from commercial models which cost around $100 to start.

    Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

    by the fan man on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 02:05:03 PM PDT

  •  Loving the A/C banner ad up top! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    the fan man, Lefty Coaster
  •  A heat pump can be extremely efficient. We just (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lefty Coaster, Creosote

    got one.

    After a lifetime of hating summers, I decided I've suffered enough.  So we got air conditioning in the form of a heat pump.

    It should help save electricity in the winter, too.

    Geothermal is another extremely efficient, albeit expensive, option.

    •  unless there's something you know that I don't (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      heat pumps suck in the wintertime. i bought a new energy-star heat pump year before last. this ridiculously huge unit seemingly large enough to heat and cool a 2500sqft house; mine is just 1100 sqft. i keep my thermostat set on 72 all year round. summertime the heat pump is great as a/c. winter time, tho, unless it's because i run the fan all the time, my bills are ridiculous. but i run the fan all the time, in winter, because the house is warmer than if i let it cycle on and off with the heat. i just got my electric bill for 6/4 thru 7/3 and it's only $84.00. i'll be interested in the amt from these really hot days.

  •  Photo voltaics (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lefty Coaster

    Just came back from Hawai'i where more and more PV is being retrofitted on homes all across the islands.  

    My sister is putting them up on her house, her two abutting neighbors have them on theirs already.  She expects to generate enough electricity to switch from a gas hot water heater and dryer to all electric.  They will easily cover all their current electricity usage, plus new usage, and still net back to the grid.  

    Their consumption costs will go down from a monthly $200+ to the $15 administrative fee HECO charges to allow the meter to reverse.  That's a $2400+ (adding savings for natural gas switch) per year.  But we need more state and federal support to make this feasible for the average homeowner who cannot afford the unsubsidized costs.

    It is possible to maintain some level of comfort by using renewable energy, instead of petroleum.

    "Out of Many, One." This is the great promise of our nation -9.75 -6.87

    by Uncle Moji on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 05:03:58 PM PDT

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