The Pros And Cons Of Air-Conditioning

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 5.26.40 PMPeak summer heat has taken over, which means air conditioners everywhere are cranking.

I’m usually able to go without A/C at home during the day, but lately, the stuffiness has been a little bit unbearable. I can’t imagine New York City before the advent of A/C.

Unfortunately, air conditioning is a double-edged sword. Not only does it use tons of electricity, but it also expels coolants that result in planet-warming emissions. So, the more A/C we use, the hotter it gets.

But cooling isn’t just about comfort. Productivity rises when the environment is cooler. For every 2 notches in the thermostat above 77 degrees Farhenheit, worker productivity falls 2%.

So to put all of this together: It’s hot. We need A/C to be more productive, but it contributes to global warming, which raises earth temperatures, which causes us to use more A/C, which can stress out our electrical circuits and eventually cause sweltering blackouts.

… and we haven’t even gotten to the impact of A/C on your wallet.

Short of canceling work and spending the hot hazy days of summer at the beach, what can the average urban dweller do to minimize the impact of A/C on the environment and their wallets?

It seems the sweet-spot for worker productivity is a temperate 72 degrees. If you work in a big office building, it may be difficult to influence the dictatorship of central air, but if you’re like me and work in smaller offices with direct access to the powers-that-be, why not request more sustainable ways to optimize temperature?

Blinds and large office fans might do the job on a cooler day. On a warm day, if you don’t have central air, encourage your coworkers to use the air conditioning units only when they’re occupying the spaces in which they sit.

A few minutes of sweltering a stuffy meeting room might mean a little breathing room for our friends in more tropical climates to access air conditioning when they need it.

Finally, suggest a casual dress policy for the summer. Most American companies chill their office spaces down to an arctic 70 degrees, but if employees can wear lighter, more seasonal clothing, they may be able to handle a few more notches on the thermostat.

If you’re at a bigger company, why not try out the power of a petition? You never know. It might work!

At home, I recommend eschewing A/C whenever possible and opting instead for an open window and/or a fan. Curtains, blackout blinds, and window screens can also play a big role in keeping the temperature down.

Make sure your air conditioner is an energy-star certified model and that the filters are clean. If you have a window box A/C unit, choose a shady spot for it. The cooler the air the A/C unit draws in, the less work it has to do.

Don’t cool an empty room: if you’re not using the space, turn the air conditioning off or put it in energy-saver mode.

According to Daken at Energy star, “Raising the temperature by 7 degrees when no one is home, 4 degrees at bedtime, along with proper programming during the winter, can save you more than $180 every year.”

Personally, I have a weakness for chilly nights. What can I say? I like to cuddle up to my down comforter.

Turns out, we can sleep comfortably at up to 84 degrees … if we sleep naked. It’s 85 right now in New York City and temperatures are dropping.


A new soul and social media geek, Laura writes about sustainability, community, poetry and pop culture. Find her on Twitter @Pennyscientist



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