Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fire Breathing Toaster: Central Air Conditioning Is Dumb

by Bill Adler

Let me get this said at the outset: I'm not suggesting abandoning air conditioning in the summer. Or even the spring. Or even the occasional weird hot December day. Take it from a guy who considers Antarctica a desirable destination: cool beats hot.

It's spring, so it's time to think about the inevitable: air conditioning season.

But when it comes to central air conditioning, we've been given a snow job.

Here's why. Central air spends 10 percent of its time and energy cooling hallways that nobody spends much time in; it spends another 30 percent of its energy trying to cool an uncoolable attic; another 50 percent turning the basement into a meat locker; and, finally, 10 percent cooling the rooms you're actually in.

The 10 percent of the energy used to cool actual rooms causes heat to increase in those rooms, too. Why? Because invariably, one person wants one room even cooler while another person in another room is complaining about having to put on a sweater. These angry,  conflicting views increase people's tempers and temperatures, causing the central air conditioning system to work even harder, (not to mention leading to surreptitious trips to the thermostat to secretly adjust the system up or down.)

How much sweeter it would be if everyone could control the temperature in their own space. When there's a roast in the oven, rice in the cooker, bread in the baker, and something being sauteed on the stove, making the kitchen a rather toasty place, the kitchen needs more cooling. The rest of the house (or all of one zone if you're into the whole two-zone AC thing) shouldn't be turned into a penguin habitat just because it's no fun if the chef du jour is sweating onto the food.

I can hear some arguments against this bold idea. Window air conditioners are too noisy. (Sure, they are noisier than a central air conditioning system, but do you really want to be able to hear Chris Matthews on the TV in the other room?) Window air conditioners are ugly. (Think of them as retro and you'll be fine.) When window air conditions are installed you can't open those windows. (Hello mosquitos! Why do you want to open windows in the summer anyway?) Window air conditioners are more expensive to operate than a central AC system. (Not if you're not cooling an already frigid basement they aren't.) Window air conditioners are too individualistic -- everyone should be happy with the same climate.

Okay. Nobody ever actually makes that last argument, but that's something worth talking about for a moment. Few people experience temperature in exactly the same way. Kids, spouses, visiting parents, pets -- they all prefer something different.  Sometimes a lot different. Why should everyone have to have the same thermostat setting --65 degrees in summer-- just because I like it that way? Window units give people control over their own comfort, and that's the way it should be.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," and "Outwitting Squirrels," He tweets at @billadler.

Fire Breathing Toaster is a new column on the Cleveland Park Listserv. It doesn't yet have a home on a particular day. What does Fire Breathing Toaster mean? It's doesn't mean much, but it's a fun image, and once the column name popped into my head, it stuck.

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