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Wednesday, June 25, 2008 01:39 am

Alternative to AC

Fans can do a good job of keeping summer’s heat at bay

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Fans do a pretty good job of making sure you don’t get dogged by the heat, and they use considerably less electricity than air conditioners.

What’s the best way to keep cool indoors without running energy-hogging air conditioners all the time?
According to Harvey Sachs of the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the movement of air over the skin is what’s key to keeping the body cool. So instead of turning on the air conditioner, see which direction the breeze is blowing outside (no matter how minimal it may be) and then strategically open a few windows to try to get it flowing through the house from end to end or side to side.
If the breeze alone isn’t enough, apply some fan power. Even small tabletop fans, which can be had for $30 or so at Target and similar stores, can really whip the air around. Placing one facing in by the window where air is coming in and one at an opposite window, positioned to blow warm air out, can create a nice wind-tunnel effect in pulling air through the house. This strategy can be especially effective at night, when it is cooler, but then it’s important to shut the windows when you leave for the day in the morning to keep the cooler air in and the warmth of the new day out. Keep blinds shut and curtains drawn, too; sunlight pouring into the house only creates more heat, and remember that lights left on are not only wasting electricity — they’re creating heat as well. Ceiling fans also do a nice job of circulating air in the rooms you occupy most, and though they do require some up-front costs for installation they use only about a thirtieth of the electricity required to power a room air conditioner. Beyond moving the air around to keep cool, the Web site wikiHow.com lists several tips for using water to keep cool sans AC. One tried-and-true method is to wet your wrists and other pulse points with cold water and then keep those spots cool by holding an ice cube wrapped in a face cloth against them. The relief is immediate, and this method will cool down the entire body — by as much as 3 degrees Fahrenheit —for more than an hour. Another wikiHow suggestion: Wear a short-sleeved shirt and keep the sleeves wet with cold water from a squirt bottle, faucet, or hose. Keeping pant legs wet is a good way to keep your legs cool. Add in a breeze or a fan, and you may actually get cold. Of course, if you just can’t live without air conditioning, there are greener options out there. For starters, a single window unit that keeps one room cool is far less energy-intensive and polluting than central air conditioning that keeps all the rooms in the house (including those you’re not using) cool. Look for new models sporting the federal Energy Star label, which marks units as energy-efficient. Another option for those in hot, dry climates is an evaporative cooler, which cools outdoor air through evaporation and blows it inside the house. These units are a nice alternative to traditional central air conditioning, because they cost about half as much to install and use only one-quarter of the energy overall.
For more information: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, www.aceee.org; wikiHow, www.wikihow.com; Energy Star, www.energystar.gov.
Send questions to Earth Talk, care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.
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