Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Alternative" Air Conditioners

Although the cooler months are upon us, in areas like Southern California where there have been a wave of brush fires, air conditioners used to ventilate homes from smoke and pollution may still be helpful. However, for those who don’t have conventional air conditioners installed in their homes, "alternative air conditioners" should be considered. Here are some suggestions and low cost options to help you keep cool, ventilate your home, and save money.

Passive Cooling
Passive cooling uses nonmechanical methods to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. One of the most effective passive cooling methods involves keeping heat from building up in the first place. The primary source of heat gain can often be attributed to sunlight that is absorbed by your home through the walls, windows, and roof. Secondary sources can come in the form of heat-generating appliances and air leakages.

Prevent heat gain by reflecting sunlight away from your house, shading and blocking the heat, removing built-up heat, and by reducing heat-generating sources in your home.

Save Energy
Sometimes the above strategies may not provide enough cooling, and mechanical devices may have to be used as supplements. Ceiling fans and evaporative coolers can be energy efficient choices, as they cost less to install and run as standard air conditioners. Ceiling fans have the ability to lower the air temperature by about four degrees, and evaporative coolers use one fourth the energy of conventional air conditioners. However, keep in mind that evaporative coolers are only suitable for dry climates.

Contact your local utility companies and inquire about rebates and cost-incentive programs when you purchase or install energy-saving products such as lighting, appliances, and insulation.

Consider a Whole House Ventilation Fan
If you are looking for a lower-cost, natural alternative to an air conditioner, whole house ventilation may be the solution. Installing a whole house fan costs only a fraction of central of central or wall-mount air conditioning (around $300-$400 versus up to $2500), and operating costs may be as little as 10 percent of the cost of operating an air conditioner.

When the fan is activated, cooler air from the outside is drawn into the house via open windows and doors, and warmer air is pushed out of the house through ventilation spaces in the roof or gable end walls. This air movement cools your house by replacing hot air with cooler air; by flushing out hot air; and by creating a gentle breeze that cools occupants by an evaporation effect.

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