Air Conditioners: Ultimate Comfort or Money Sucking Machines?

I was recently taking a walk in our neighbourhood with wifey. It was a comfortable 19°C down from a daytime high of 26°C. Up here, we have an additional stat called the humidex. Weather meteorologists up here in Canada use it to tell us what it feels like*. The daytime humidex was 31°C, down to 21°C at the time of our walk. However, despite the cool temperatures, I noticed something odd. It seems like every other house was blasting their air conditioners!

Granted, maybe the house heated up during the day and the internal temperature of the house became an insane 35°C or something, but there's a better way. Really.

Wifey is a fan of letting the air flow through the house. This is for two reasons.
  1. She wants to air out the house.
  2. She like the feeling of freshness.
Admittedly, those could be the same thing, but I'm not going to mention that to her. Anyway, there's a third point that she's missing. We're saving a ton of money by not having the AC on 24/7.

Granted when the temperature outside is over 38°C (and with humidex it feels like 42°C), then that is when the AC is required. However, even then, it is a rare occurrence. Even the in-laws feel AC is a waste and refuse to turn it on while we're out at work and they are home**.

However, not every summer day is going to have those insanely high temperatures. For those days, you can use a window.

Last spring, to maximize airflow while keeping pesky insects out, we installed storm doors at the front and back. Every day, these doors are open. When I come home from work, it is noticeably cooler than outside and no air conditioning was used. 

Occasionally, the in-laws have friends visit them at our house. Their friends are amazed at how cool our house is despite having no AC on. They also like how fresh the house smells. Guess wifey was onto something there. However, when they bring up the idea of installing storm doors with their kids, they were refused bluntly.

No! Storm doors are ugly!

First, I'd like to say storm doors are not ugly. Sure the old ones from the 80s and 90s were kind of bad looking, but things have changed in the last decade or so. Although, you could still buy those doors if you were so inclined.

Second, if storm doors are ugly, why did other houses around us install storm doors after we installed ours? It is like people had a stigma with storm doors and by installing a storm door first we gave the neighbours permission to install their own storm doors. Hear it from me, folks! It's okay to install a storm door!

Third, the storm doors serve another purpose aside from ventilation. It protects the main doors from storms. Who would have thought? Last winter was especially harsh. Aside from ice quakes (cryoseisms) and polar vortexes (vortices doesn't quite sound right), we had a ginormous amount of snow and freezing rain. Coupled with the extremely cold weather, the snow and ice (as thick as 26mm) didn't go anywhere. Aside from the back storm doors sealing shut due to the ice accreting, our storm doors did its job by taking the brunt of the winter. When everything thawed, the storm doors were still in great shape.

Finally, the amount of money saved by not using AC. Are you worried more about the ugly doors than the ugly hit to your wallet? Unfortunately, I don't have any concrete figures. Luckily, the hydro company provides comparisons with others in our neighbourhood. In the two month period between mid-June and mid-August of 2013, we used 967kWh of electricity. According to the statistics, 63% of the households in our area used more than we did. This is despite a family of four adults. If it was just wifey and I, I'm sure it could be much lower. Doing some quick math, 38% of the households consumed twice the amount we did. One household in our area actually used 6,528kWh***. Holy cow!

How does a household consume 6,528kWh of electricity?
In addition to having AC on during those unnecessary days, do you really need to set the temperature to 18°C? Whenever, I turn on the AC (usually, the crazy hot days), I have it set at 28°C. You still notice the cooling effect and you don't need to wear a sweater indoors!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-air conditioning. If I'm sweating like no tomorrow and the thermostat displays a temperature of 40°C, I'll be turning on the AC. Air conditioners are great inventions, but mostly unnecessary 95% of the time. You'd be surprised how efficient opening a window or storm doors are at cooling your home.

I'll leave off with one more anecdote. When I was a child (and in my teenage years), my parents didn't have an air conditioner. They spent every day in a partially finished basement. They did other things like shop for groceries and stuff, but when they returned home, it was straight to the basement where it was cool. As a teenager, I didn't want to hang around my parents so much, so I suffered on the main floor.

I'm sure their electricity bill at the time was extremely low.

Come to think of it, I'm sure that's why we never had guests.

*I noticed on my recent trip to the US, that the meteorologists down there use another measuring tool for the feels like temperature.

**This is despite wifey's protests. However, I think when the temperature is really hot, they turn it on. If they don't, I'm guessing they go to the community centre where the AC is free.

***Nothing funky smelling in our neighbourhood, so I don't think it's a grow-op. EDIT (03/26/2015): Apparently, there is a licensed medical marijuana grow op in our area. It was a huge news story because this grow op was directly across from a school and the smell was unmistakable. So I suppose it could have been the grow op sucking all the electricity.


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