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A/C-Free? Rethink Cooling Needs

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I vowed to cut way back on using my A/C this Summer. I live in North Carolina where the humidity and heat is sometimes brutal, so I made a reasonable deal with myself. Only 4 hours/week of A/C in June, 8 hours in July and 12 hours in August. So, far, I made it through June with flying colors – no A/C at all! I made excellent use of my ceiling fans, awnings and blinds, and it’s true, the more I do it, the easier it gets.

This is a comment from a reader of the blog, Little Blog in the Big Woods“I DO know from multiple times visiting home during college that your body DOES adapt to non-air conditioned um, conditions. And it takes several DAYS. When you’re used to leaving the air-conditioned house for the air-conditioned car to go to the air conditioned mall or store- it’s a shock to live in the real world at first. Bloody hot! But in 4 or 5 days suddenly it will feel mostly comfortable. It will NOT happen in one or two days.”

Awesome, I thought, upon reading the above – I can do this! July got warmer and in the beginning, I was getting by just cooling things off around 8pm for a couple hours and then opening the windows again at bedtime. I had heard that it could cost more energy to let your house heat up during the day and then try to cool it all at once, but a small house like mine was cooling off within 20 minutes, so this was working.
We’ve now hit mid-July and the real humidity and heat has moved in. I was losing sleep at night, tossing and turning even under the ceiling fan. Sleeping in my attic-like upstairs in Summer is not ideal and has also made me worry about the dogs. I’ve thought of sleeping downstairs, but my floors are cement, I don’t have a full-size couch or even the space to lay a futon mattress. So, upstairs it is right now and being loyal companions, my thick-coated friends insist on sleeping in the tiny family “den” rather than retreat to cooler temps below (the cats, being less co-dependent, were pretty much “outta there”). Consequently, I’ve started turning on the A/C all night – meaning I’m using about 8 hours/night instead per week Oh, the eco-guilt!

I think about No Impact Man and his family often – sleeping in a NYC Summer on the 9th floor without even fans. Could I really adapt? What about the animals? The dogs spend most of even the hottest days outside, staying cool enough underneath the deck in a pile of cedar chips, but they still sound darn uncomfortable upstairs on the hot, humid nights, panting continuously. (Can anyone tell me how much more they can adapt? Am I putting them at risk? One has a fairly thick, husky-like coat…)

I may end up using more hours as Summer continues, but I’ve managed to cut back A/C use at least 50% and have adjusted to that and a setting of around 82 degrees just fine. It feels great to be living more WITH the elements rather than hiding from them. As we used to say about spending time outdoors in 40 degrees below zero temps in Minnesota, “It builds character.”

It’s time for all of us to Re-think our climate control needs and remember that we can start small. Turning your thermostat down one, two, or three degrees can mean a significant savings for the planet. Learn to enjoy the relative coolness of the morning air. Invest in a window coverings. After that, you can go for even more A/C-free time. Build a sleeping porch (next on my idea list). Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it – making friends with your body and the natural world’s changing seasons is full of surprising rewards.

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6 Responses to “A/C-Free? Rethink Cooling Needs”

  1. Ben Says:

    Well Tracey it’s day 5? I’m curious to know how the human kiln experiment is coming along? I honestly can’t imagine what my house would feel like here in South Florida as daily highs climb into the 90’s with 90%+ humidity on regular occasion. Working outside in the Florida summer’s makes you feel like an egg in a frying pan. Hang in there, I’m rooting for you.

  2. tao Says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Ben.

    In your case, there’s no way you could or should try to go without A/C in Summer. I lived in Key West for a year without it. I was on the second floor of a house and July – September was pretty brutal. I had the luxury of being single, working in a restaurant nights and spending days on a bicycle or near the water, so I got through it. Otherwise, no way. Consider that you “offset” in Winter when the rest of us are using heaters!

    Update: I did use the A/C at night for about 2 weeks straight, but reasonable temps returned and I’ve been on the wagon for the last 10 days again. I found out that I really miss the sounds of crickets out my window at night and the birds waking me up in the morning, so this is making me even more determined to keep going.

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  6. lola Says:

    interesting site man

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