We just can’t take the heat

Environmentalists denounce air conditioners, which suck up energy, boost hydro bills


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It's become the wonder drug for heat waves.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/07/2010 (4696 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s become the wonder drug for heat waves.

Ice cubes, Super Soakers, Popsicles and pools — whatever method you’re using to keep cool these hot summer days just can’t compete with the antidote of central air.

But much like any drug, there are side-effects to cranking up the air conditioner, and Winnipeg environmentalists say we need to kick this habit cold turkey.

Curtis Hull of Climate Change Connection lowers the blinds, uses a fan and avoids cooking or using the clothes dryer until it cools off in the evening.
JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Curtis Hull of Climate Change Connection lowers the blinds, uses a fan and avoids cooking or using the clothes dryer until it cools off in the evening.

"We have to realize there is a greenhouse gas outcome to our consumption," said Curtis Hull, Manitoba’s Climate Change Connection project manager. "The more electricity we use, the less we export to places that use dirtier forms of energy like coal."

Hull said there is also a monetary cost to the persistent use of air conditioners, adding higher Hydro bills should be another incentive to turning them off.

"I think the goal is to use as little air conditioning as possible," Hull said. "I don’t use one now, and my house is really quite comfortable."

Josh Brandon, living green co-ordinator for Resource Conservation Manitoba, hasn’t used air conditioning for two years and said there are a number ways people can beat the heat.

"Keeping the blinds down in the day, and using fans to circulate the air all help to keep the rooms cool," Brandon said. "I also turn on the fan on my furnace in the basement, which circulates the cool air from downstairs."

Brandon also noted, rather ironically, the increased use of air conditioning further necessitates its existence.

"As more greenhouse gases go into the environment our climate gets hotter every year," he said. "So in effect we’re creating a situation where they will become more and more necessary."

Landscape architect Garry Hilderman said air conditioners were not always as necessary as they seem now. "If you look back to thousands of years ago, people used their natural environment to stay cool," he said. "They knew how to use the shade, and utilize living spaces like caves that stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter."

Hilderman said a reliance on mechanical machines to solve our woes has created a lifestyle where we move from air-conditioned car, to home, to office.

"It’s become simple for us to just use more energy, build a bigger air conditioner rather than plan with wind and weather to keep us cool," he said. "However, Manitoba Hydro’s new building is one recent example where they have really tried hard to build with, not against, the environment."

Calculating Manitoba’s energy consumption from air conditioners would be next to impossible, Manitoba Hydro spokesman Jim Peters said.

Peters said despite the summer energy spike, there is a "much bigger energy load" in winter.

One person who doesn’t need energy statistics to tell if air conditioner sales are up is Brian Baker of Winnipeg’s Custom Vac Ltd. He said work has been steady since the heat wave hit.

"It’s been hot weather for a while so we’ve seen business for that," said Baker.

At the same time, Baker said customers are also looking for cleaner energy alternatives.

"I’ve absolutely seen more people concerned with greener energy," said Baker. "As a business we’ve taken it upon ourselves to be more energy efficient and people come to us for that."

Hilderman said he has also seen a shift in energy awareness with more planners and architects looking to alternative modes of cooling, but said a future without air conditioners is far away.

"You still see tons of new-model homes being built exactly the same way, no insulation, with windows facing the wrong way. "The vast majority of people are still oblivious."

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