Sustainable Air Conditioning Solutions to Try This Summer

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

Summer is one of the best times to get outside and enjoy nature's wonders. Hiking, biking, camping, and kayaking are all great ways to enjoy the outdoors with your friends and family. But, once you're indoors, you likely head straight for an air-conditioned space to cool down. Eco-conscious individuals may wonder about the environmental impact of air conditioning and how to choose more sustainable options. We've rounded up some sustainable air conditioning solutions as well as ways to cool your home without using as much electricity.

Impact of Air Conditioning Use

According to the US Energy Information Administration, 87 percent of homes in the United States use air conditioning equipment. On average, use of this equipment accounts for 12 percent of our overall home energy usage. This equipment can also have a significant impact on the environment.

Project Drawdown, a research initiative working to both rank problems and create solutions for climate change, put refrigerant management in the top ten climate change mitigation measures. To cool air, window AC units and whole-house systems use fluorocarbon refrigerants. Older varieties of these refrigerants—such as hydrofluorocarbons—are being phased out after 2020, reports the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. This is because they are known to deteriorate the ozone layer in the stratosphere, which warms the planet and reduces the atmosphere's ability to shield us from UV rays.

Window Air Conditioner Units

AC Alternatives

There are a number of sustainable air conditioning solutions you might consider as alternatives to traditional air conditioners powered by fluorocarbon refrigerants.

Evaporative Cooling

This cooling system is best in arid climates where humid air feels cooler than dry air. The solution cools warm, outdoor air by moving it over or through water-saturated pads. The air evaporates the water and is cooled by 15 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit! This cooler air is then pushed into the home as warm air is pushed out, creating a breeze effect that also cools the space. This system requires only a quarter of the energy needed for traditional refrigerant systems, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).

Whole House Fans

Typically, a whole house fan is installed in the attic and moves air up and out of the house. These large fans move the air automatically, creating air movement that causes a cooling effect. The DOE compares the cost of a whole house fan to a traditional window air unit. The fan system costs about one to five cents per hour of use, while a traditional system costs more than seventeen cents per hour.

Geothermal Cooling

Like geothermal heating, this system takes advantage of the constant 54-degrees-Fahrenheit temperature underground to cool liquid-filled pipes. While geothermal systems use energy to move liquid around, little energy is introduced to cool air. According to the Energy Environmental Corporation, geothermal cooling is 43 percent more efficient than traditional methods.

Radiant Cooling

According to the DOE, radiant cooling works by absorbing heat in a room through systems installed in the floor or ceiling. Typically, these systems use aluminum panels that circulate chilled water to absorb the heat. This type of cooling is best in arid environments, since condensation and mold can be a concern. In spaces that already have radiant heating, a similar radiant cooling system can also be installed. Oorja Energy Engineering reports that radiant cooling uses 30 percent less energy compared with refrigerant-based AC units.

Ceiling Fans

Fans placed at the top of a room move air around the whole space as opposed to the limited circulation of a window fan. The DOE tells us that, when used in conjunction with an air conditioner, ceiling fans make the room feel four degrees cooler, meaning you can use your AC less.

tan leaf shaped fan blades on ceiling fan

Tips for Reducing AC Energy Use

If you're not ready to install an AC alternative quite yet, you can still reduce your home cooling costs. Keep a running tally of how long your AC unit is running, and then calculate your cooling energy costs with this Energy Use Calculator. Try putting some of the following ideas in place and see how much you save! (Be sure to use comparable temperature days.)

  • Keep blinds and curtains closed during the day to prevent sunlight from heating your room.
  • Sip icy drinks.
  • Have a water balloon fight, dip in a pool, or play in the sprinkler with the kids.
  • Check your attic ventilation. Warm air rises to the top of your home. If your attic remains hot, the rest of your house won't be able to get as cool.
  • Open windows on opposite sides of the home and across rooms to create cross breezes.
  • Keep the oven off.
  • Put your pillow in the freezer to cool it down before going to bed.
  • Change the air filters on your home air handling system (furnace or otherwise) on a regular schedule. This will improve how it runs and can help both your AC and your home heating system work more efficiently.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to let your home get warmer while you are away and only lower the temperatures when you are there.
  • Seal and caulk around doors, windows, and foundations to keep the warm air out and the cool air in. Similar to home heating, you want the air that you are cooling to stay in your home—not escape.

How do you keep your home cool? If you are you searching for more ways to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle, check out our other green living tips on the Thinking Sustainably board by @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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Why It's Good

Using less energy to cool your home can help you save money and reduce your family's carbon footprint.