Most people equate keeping cool in summer with having the air conditioning turned up and relaxing with a cold drink while watching TV, but while it may be the most commonly held concept, it is not always necessarily the best solution to the heat. It may be the most convenient, but as far as economy, ecology and personal health are concerned, it is anything but ideal.
In this subsection of the website, I cover many aspects of air conditioning from what it is and how it works to where it is best employed and where it can be replaced by better alternatives. After all, just because most people believe a thing to be true as in AC is the best way to keep your home's climate comfortably in summer, doesn't mean it is always true or has to be the only option.
Why Air Conditioning?
The first place to start without going into too much detail is why we look to this form of air cooling as the only workable solution for being comfortable when it gets too hot outdoors (more in the detailed, individual articles that are included in this part of the site).
Why do we insist on opting for the most commonly used solution and why is AC the most popular solution anyway?
"Convenience" is the answer in most cases.
People generally like to be able to walk out of the searing heat of summer into their nice, cool homes.
They like it even better when it's made possible by a system they don't even need to physically turn on/off or fiddle with if they don't want to.
Let's face it, with modern HVAC systems all you need to do is set the thermostat to the temperature you want your home to be and then forget about it. The system will kick in and do all the work automatically and make sure that temperature is maintained at a constant level until someone goes and deliberately changes it.
When you're gifted with a system such as this, why on earth go to any trouble with trying to find alternatives that so far, don't provide this level of simplicity and total hands-off automation? For most people, that's all the reason they need to keep feeding their monster HVAC system with energy that they struggle to pay for each quarter when the utility bill arrives in the mailbox.
After all, there isn't a comparable alternative, is there?
A Comparable Alternative
Or is there? Actually, there are several alternatives and they will suit some people depending on how involved they want to get in how they keep their homes and their families (and themselves) comfortable in their living habitats.
The easiest to use and closest rival to traditional AC for keeping cool is the evaporative cooling devices. These work on the same simple principle that our skin uses to keep us cool by perspiring when it gets hot and allowing the breeze to reduce our body temperature to a comfortable level.
Evaporation for Coolness
Simply put, evaporative coolers force air through moist, porous pads which chills the air by evaporating the moisture and blasting out cold air into the home. Because they don't employ any kind of CFC free refrigeration process as does AC, there are no energy hungry compressors or other mechanisms at work and so the energy consumption is considerably lower.
By using a lot less electricity, these devices are kinder to the environment because they require only a fraction of the natural resources our huge electricity grid power plants consume to run. That means less pollution, lower carbon emissions and greater savings in monetary terms for both the power plants and the end user (the consumer).
Why Don't We All Use Evaporative Cooling?
You may be wondering that if there exists such a wonderful, cheap and ecologically friendly alternative to AC, why doesn't everyone ditch their energy guzzling monster ACs and switch to evaporative cooling? The answer is that it doesn't work as effectively in all climates, most notably very humid climates.
A major weakness in the way swamp coolers work can also be graphically explained by the skin's cooling perspiration example. You may have experienced being in a really hot place, maybe unable to sleep at night because it was so hot and humid and even though you were soaked with sweat and lie beneath a fan, the breeze was not cooling you at all.
The reason for that is easily explained too. For the evaporation of moisture to create coolness, that moisture needs to evaporate from your skin and dissipate in the air. The laws of physics will not allow any more moisture to be added to air that is already saturated with moisture (100% humidity). Simply put, you can't add any more moisture to totally saturated air. So there is no cooling effect.
This works the same way with cooling devices using evaporation as their means of chilling the air that passes through them. If that air is very humid already, the chilling effect is reduced pro rata until you reach 100% humidity and the cooling effect becomes zero.
AC is King in Humid Climates
For this reason, anyone living in a particularly humid climate is restricted to traditional refrigeration-based air conditioners to keep cool as they don't rely on evaporation to produce cold air. In fact, AC will actively reduce the moisture level in the air and expel the excess moisture outside, effectively drying the air that remains in the home.
This has some advantages, especially for homes that suffer from damp and mold caused by excess humidity. This comes at a heavy cost both to the environment and the household budget of the consumer, since AC uses a lot of energy to operate.
How Else Can You Keep Cool?
In all but the most inhospitably hot and humid climates, there are some things you can do to reduce the temperature inside the home without resorting to AC. Insulating the home, especially in the attic to keep the heat out is the most logical way and many companies can carry out work to effectively increase your home's radiant heat barriers that will not only keep you cooler in summer but also warmer in winter.
Shading the building during the daytime is another effective way to shave off a few degrees of unwanted heat inside the home. Awnings and shade trees are surprisingly effective at lowering the temperature by several degrees by simply keeping the sun's heating rays off the building.
Misting systems are effective in dry heat areas, but like evaporating coolers, lose their effectiveness when the humidity rises. Misting is also of no use indoors because things will get wet that shouldn't get wet (like TVs and other electrical devices, furnishings, carpets and rugs, clothes etc)!
Regular fans are helpful but again lose their effectiveness in high humidity because they only cool when the breeze is directly on a person and their perspiration is keeping them cool, not the breeze itself. In fact, if the temperature in a room is high, the fan just pushes hot air around the room without cooling it at all.
What More Do You Want To Know?
There is a lot of information available about the many ways to maintain a comfortable indoor climate including the ins and outs of air conditioners which are further explained in the several separate articles that I have included in this website. They are free to read and have been compiled through extensive research and acquired knowledge of the author for your convenience.
There are also several complimenting product review articles that highlight the pros and cons of some of the best air conditioners, portable and fixed models and cooling alternatives for your information and recommendation should you be interested in acquiring a cooling solution for your home or workplace.
Please look down the titles in the list below and click any one that interests you. You can easily return to this page from each article by clicking the breadcrumb links at the top of the page.