As summer heats up, we seek out more and more ways to cool down. However, there are a few things we need to keep in mind as we look for the best way to beat the heat.
Portable AC units
In theory, it sounds like a good idea - cool a room the way a space heater warms it, just the one you’re in, not others you’re not. That must be more efficient than cooling a whole house, and it’s portable, right? Unfortunately, they aren’t that portable or efficient. The first problem lies in the fact that all air-conditioning units, including portable ones, have to be vented to the outside. In the case of portable units, this venting is accomplished via a wide hose that passes through a venting kit installed in a window or wall – dramatically reducing portability as they can only be placed a few feet away from the venting kit, which in most cases is a few feet away from the window. Their venting process also gives rise to concern as it only pushes air out, not circulating it in and out like a window unit or central air system. This style of venting creates a vacuum effect in these often closed-off spaces, pulling warm air from other rooms or the outside, and leading to questions about the healthfulness of the recycled air.
Secondly, portable units aren’t all that efficient – they need to run for much longer to cool the same space as a window unit or central air system. Not only that, but few can lower the temperature in a room from 90 degrees to 80, let alone from 90 degrees into the low 70s, where most of us find it comfortable.
Window AC units
Window units can be efficient coolers of small spaces, especially when options are limited. When considering these units, there are electrical precautions to keep in mind.
Most window units require a 15- or 20-amp dedicated circuit. If the circuit is not dedicated to just that window unit, the additional shared circuit can trip breakers, blow fuses and melt wire insulation, potentially leading to electrical fires.
A window unit should not be used if you have knob and tube circuits – this older wiring was never designed to handle the high demands of today’s appliance loads.
Finally, never plug a window unit into an ungrounded outlet, never remove the third prong and never use the “cheaters” that allow you to plug a three-prong plug into a two-prong outlet.
The good ol’ ceiling fan
Fans don’t cool the air in a room like air conditioners, but instead cool the people in that room. Fans cool by disrupting a layer of stagnant air around us that prevents us from losing body heat. Disrupting that stagnant layer increases our heat loss and makes us feel cooler. All fans help us stay cool, but the ceiling fan is the best as they single-handedly, when properly sized and placed, create a draft over a large area.
In the summertime, ceiling fans should be set to rotate counter-clockwise. Although there’s some debate by exactly how much, using a ceiling fan in conjunction with your air conditioner can enable you to raise your air conditioning setting by as much as 12 degrees and still feel as cool as when the air conditioner was running on a lower setting alone.
A word to the wise
Air conditioners, if overused, not maintained or improperly wired, can cause fires. Don’t use air conditioners plugged into extension cords or surge protectors, and don’t run their cords under carpet or rugs, or through walls or doorways.
Stretch your dollar. On average, a central air-conditioning system costs about $130 per month, a window unit runs about $50 per month, and each ceiling fan operates at a cost of about $1 per month.