Cooling the Hot Summer

In the U.S., climate is everything. It’s a big part of why the Northeastern states and the temperate West Coast have been such population centers. Before the advent of air conditioning (AC), it was simple enough to heat a home in the winter, but impossible to cool it in the summer. Even today, where an AC unit is a common appliance, AC does not come standard in many homes; primarily in northern states and other traditionally cool areas. As this year, like many before it, brings hotter and hotter summer days, many homeowners are rethinking AC. Once a seemingly unnecessary expense, the sweltering North is joining the steaming South in looking to AC, not only to improve their comfort and the value (and marketability) of their home, but to protect their health and safety: extreme heat is responsible for hundreds of deaths in the US each year, and thousands of cases of heat-related illness. AC technology can make having heat-related health problems inside a home completely preventable. Here are some AC options for homeowners and renters.

Many homes have central air built-in, especially in hotter Southern and Midwestern states.  These units use ductwork to pump cooled air throughout the residence. The best type of AC unit for a home also depends on the climate, as other issue such as humidity and extremes in temperature can dictate what type of unit will be most effective. In hot, dry areas, a “swamp cooler” or evaporative cooling unit, uses water and evaporation to leach heat out of the air. In hot damp areas, dehumidifying AC units strip the excess moisture (which holds in the heat) from the air to help cool it. Other cooling mechanisms include underground heat exchangers, which use the near-constant temperatures deep underground to cool the air.  In addition to these processes, most common AC units use compression, chemical coolants, and mechanical processes to effectively cool and circulate the air in the home. These AC units are generally large machines or systems placed outside the building with the cooled air pumped in through pipes or ducts.

Window mounted units blow cooled air directly into the room where the unit is mounted. They come in all sizes and strengths, and should be sized to the square footage and cooling needs of the structure. These units can be very heavy and bulky: they often take up the entire window space, protruding both into the room and outside the building. Mounting a unit may require specific reinforcing and support to keep it safely and securely in place. Once mounted, these units are not intended to be moved, though homeowners can dismantle them with some time and care (such as between seasons). Portable AC units, on the other hand, are designed to be moved. These compact (though still heavy) units are about the size and shape of large indoor trash bins. They use a system of tubing and a 6 inch sliding screen to vent out of a window while the entire unit remains inside the building.  These can take up significant floor space, but the wheeled units and screw-less window vents allow for easy installation and transportation, allowing owners to pack them away or transition them from room to room or building to building with no structural concerns or damage.

Integrated systems are expensive, and can be physically impossible for some retrofits without a complete and total rebuild/renovation. Using the ductwork from existing central heating is occasionally possible, but can require many adaptations and hours of labor on top of unit and system costs. Options to add AC to an existing structure without breaking the bank are primarily window-mounted or portable window-venting AC units. Be sure that you have adequate electrical access and compatibility to power your system without overloading breakers and wires (the main wires that cover most electrical outlets typically serve multiple outlets at once, causing overload when too many things are plugged in). Extension cords are not recommended for window mounted or portable units as they typically require a full 15amp electrical draw, which can cause underrated wires to overheat. You may need to contact an electrician to properly hardwire or provide a dedicated electrical line for your unit. Whatever system you choose, do your research and make sure it is suitable to your needs, home, and budget, and keep cool!

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