Air conditioner – What do you need to know
Sure, our summers seem to be getting hotter (Al Gore likely has something to say about that), but does that give Canadians cause to crank the a/c all season long, regardless of what it’s like outside? Turn it on only when you really need it (i.e., to stave off heat exhaustion) or right before you go to sleep on a sweltering night. And definitely turn it off (or at the very least raise the temperature on the thermostat) if you’re leaving a room or your house for more than four hours. Air conditioners might not be filled with CFCs any more, but it turns out CFC replacements weren’t all that green either. Many air conditioners now pump ozone-depleting and climate-changing HCFCs (like R-22) through their coils. The relatively greener alternative, HFCs, don’t mess up the ozone layer but they’re still a potent greenhouse gas. You can’t win for losing. If either HFCs or HCFCs leak or escape from your system somehow, it’s really bad news.
RAISE IT UP
Turn your thermostat up to, at the very least, 25°C. I’m not kidding. Each half-degree below 26°C ups your energy consumption by 8%. Besides, it’s the least you can do, considering the Japanese have instructed government departments to set the a/c to 28°C, and China’s Jiangsu Province told municipal government offices not to turn on air conditioning until the thermostat hits 33°C!
Air Conditioner Features to Consider: If you are going to buy a new unit, here are some tips to being a cool shopper:
- Never buy used. Newer models are much more energy-efficient.
- Always buy Energy Star. Energy Star room/window units use at least 10%less energy than other new models. And Energy Star central-air systems use about 20% less power.
- Let EnerGuide lead you. The higher the number on the label, the more efficient your unit.
- Stay ozone-friendly. Make sure your a/c is free of ozone-depleting HCFC refrigerants (which are being phased out south of the border as of 2010). Their replacements (HFCs like Puron) aren’t perfect—both HFCs and HCFCs are greenhouse gases—but they’re considered the greener option.
- Get the right unit for your space. Why buy a window unit with the ability to cool 1,000 square feet when you need to cool only a 12-by-10-foot bedroom? Same goes for your central system.
- If you have central air, get a programmable thermostat. You can start chilling your space about an hour before you get home. It’s a handy-dandy tool that’ll keep you cool while saving you money and energy.
Is your a/c acting up? Are the coils frozen over? You could have a coolant fluid leak, baby—which means you might be spewing either ozone-depleting or climate-changing gases into the atmosphere in a bad way. Shut it down and call a repairperson pronto. Even if you don’t detect any funny behaviour, have your central a/c unit inspected periodically by a pro.
SOLAR AIR CONDITIONING
Imagine cooling your home with the sun’s rays. Depending on your vantage point, it sounds either absolutely insane or incredibly logical. The day has yet to arrive when air conditioners everywhere run on solar power, but Solcool One makes an Energy Star-certified air conditioner that can run on DC power and can thus be used by off-the-gridders. It uses up to 50% less energy than regular air conditioners use, and it has a backup battery that can run for up to 12 hours on steamy nights (solcool.net). Now that’s cool.
If you’ve got an old a/c unit you’re looking to replace, the feds will give you $250 towards a new Energy Star-qualified central air system and $25 per Energy Star window unit, through their ecoENERGY Retrofit program (see Resources: Rebates and Incentives Guide). Stores like Home Depot have also been known to offer rebates on new, more efficient models if you bring in your old clunker for proper disposal or recycling. Be sure to ask.
5 STRATEGIES FOR COOLING YOUR SUMMER
#1 Dig in. Plant a cooling garden and trees to shield your house from the sun. Okay, so this one takes a while to grow into its own, but that’s all the more reason to hurry up and get gardening! If your yard is paved over, reduce the heat-island effect of concrete and get landscaping.
#2 Insulate yourself. I don’t mean stop meeting new people, I mean bump up the insulation in your attic. It’ll help prevent your home from cooking from the attic down. If you can’t afford to go whole hog, just add a radiant barrier (a thin sheet of aluminum, often lined with craft paper or cardboard) inside your roof to help reduce cooling bills.
#3 Lighten up. Black roofing materials turn your attic into a scrambled egg. Look for light-coloured tiles or roofing materials next time you’re redoing your roof.
#4 Get low. Invest in high-quality low-E windows (with an argon or argon-krypton gas fill). These will help keep all those rays from charring your pad.
#5 Combat global warming. Reduce your carbon spew by biking to work and unplugging the a/c.