Is central air conditioning more energy-efficient than window units? #central #air #conditioning #problems
Is central air conditioning more energy-efficient than window units?
Is central air conditioning more energy-efficient than window units?
For many urbanites, summer means being constantly dripped on from the air conditioners that fill virtually every city window. These ubiquitous boxes must consume a tremendous amount of energy. From an environmental perspective, aren’t central air conditioners better?
Not necessarily. Air conditioning accounts for more than 15 percent of the energy use of the average home—somewhere around 183 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in the United States per year, according to a 2001 analysis by the Energy Information Administration. Generating that much electricity creates about 119 million tons of carbon dioxide, or roughly the amount of CO2 spewed by 20 million cars each year. Remarkably, the percentage of homes with central air more than doubled. from 27 to 55 percent, between 1980 and 2001.
When deciding on how to air-condition your abode, you have two basic choices: single-room units or a centralized system. Anyone who’s been to a big-box hardware store has seen the single-room air conditioners. They’re heavy, steel boxes designed to wedge into a window and dangle precariously over passing pedestrians. (In case you were wondering: Yes, they do fall on people .) Inside, there’s a condenser, an evaporator, a thermostat, and a couple of fans .
Central air conditioners have a different structure altogether. The condenser typically sits on the roof or in the backyard. A set of pipes runs coolant from the condenser into an air handler, which is usually located near the home’s furnace. The air handler blows the cooled air through the home’s duct system and into individual rooms.
A central air system’s energy efficiency is measured two ways. The more basic rating is the energy efficiency ratio, or EER, which describes the unit’s energy consumption while cooling a prescribed volume of 95-degree air over the course of an hour in a specialized laboratory. The seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER, is a bit more complicated and considers the average energy use at various temperatures and humidity levels.
Window units are rated only by EER, and lose out to central A/C by this metric. An Energy Star-certified central unit must have a minimum EER of 12. while window units only need to achieve between 9.4 and 10.7. depending on size, to be certified. (It’s possible to buy a window unit rated higher than this minimum, but the same goes for central units. Overall, the central units are still rated higher.)
One reason window air conditioners have lower ratings is that it’s impossible to fit much advanced hardware into that little box. While modern central air conditioners can work at a range of speeds, for example, the condensers in most window units only have two: on and off. (This is, incidentally, the primary reason window air conditioners don’t get SEER ratings.)
This can make a significant difference in energy use. Air conditioners not only lower air temperature; they also remove moisture. Just how much moisture is removed depends on how much air passes through the air conditioner. A machine that only works at full speed (or not at all) can drop a room’s temperature quickly by cooling just a small volume of air to an extremely cold state. In contrast, an air conditioner with variable speed settings can have the same effect by processing a larger volume of air, but cooling each unit volume by a smaller amount. The latter situation results in greater dehumidification because more air runs through the machine.
While this seems like a technical point, it’s quite significant, because it means users can set central air conditioners to a higher temperature and feel just as comfortable, because the air is less humid.
But the window units have their advantages, too. Central air conditioners suffer from “duct losses.” As cooled air passes through the system of ducts on its way to the rooms, it warms up and often leaks through the fittings. These losses can decrease an air conditioner’s energy efficiency by up to 30 percent.
Window units that block the sun from your room, buzz, and shake violently every time the condenser switches on are basically begging for attention—very few consumers walk out the door without remembering to shut off their window units. The quiet and unobtrusive functioning of central air conditioners, on the other hand, can lead to accidental overuse. Industry observers note that people tend to set their central air conditioner to a comfortable temperature and never change it.
Window units also offer room-by-room control. For singletons or couples who occupy only one bedroom at night, cooling a single room consumes a small fraction of the energy that a central air conditioner would.
Central air units are getting smarter, though, and accordingly more efficient. Programmable thermostats can make up for forgetful central A/C users by shutting the unit off when no one is home. Some central air systems even divide homes into separately controlled zones, so you don’t have to cool the kitchen at 3 a.m. just to keep your bedroom a sleepable temperature. And some new central air conditioners have an air handler in each room, skipping the ducts entirely, combining precise control with improved efficiency and less noise.
Because of the construction and behavioral variables, it’s impossible to pronounce a winner in this particular competition. As is often the case, the choice is often going to come down to each consumer’s behavior. Generally speaking, the newfangled ductless system is going to be the most efficient but priciest option upfront. If you’re choosing between an old-school central air system and window units, the latter could be better if you’re childless, live in a large home in a dry environment, or tend to be forgetful about adjusting your thermostat.
The Lantern thanks Jennifer Amann of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
Click here to see a slide show of clever and humorous cooling systems.
Are you looking for a reasonable and reliable air conditioning service, repair and installation company in the Matthews and Charlotte area? At McClintock Heating Cooling we do good work at a fair price, we arrive on time, in uniform, wearing a photo ID and we clean up before leaving. We not only provide you with superior products and the appropriate solutions for your air conditioning needs, but we also provide the very best customer service. We are family owned and operated heating and cooling company located in Matthews, NC with over 25 years of industry experience. Our technicians are NATE certified and EPA licensed and receive over 100 hours of annual on-going training. Regardless of your AC needs, we have technicians available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We offer a wide range of air conditioning products and services to meet your every need. Please contact us to inquire about how we can improve your existing home with our quality Trane products and services. Our products and services include:
A variety of air conditioning systems and equipment to fit your budget including:
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We service all makes and models of cooling systems with:
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How air conditioning changed the world
Imagine we could control the weather – pushing a button to make it warmer or cooler, wetter or drier.
The implications would be enormous. No more droughts or floods, no heat waves or icy roads. Deserts would become verdant. Crops would never fail.
In fact climate change has sparked some crazy-sounding ideas for hacking the climate, such as spraying sulphuric acid into the upper atmosphere, or dumping quicklime in the oceans.
Clever as humans are, however, we’re nowhere near precision control of the weather. Outside, at least.
Since the invention of air conditioning, we have been able to control the weather inside, and that has had some some far-reaching and unexpected effects.
50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the inventions, ideas and innovations which have helped create the economic world in which we live.
Ever since our ancestors mastered fire, humans have been able to warm themselves. Cooling down when it’s hot has been more challenging.
The eccentric Roman emperor Elagabulus sent slaves to bring snow down from the mountains and pile it in his garden, where breezes would carry the cooler air inside.
The humidity problem
Needless to say, this was not a scalable solution. At least, not until the 19th century, when Boston entrepreneur Frederic Tudor amassed an unlikely fortune doing something similar.
He took blocks of ice from frozen New England lakes in winter, insulated them in sawdust, and shipped them to warmer climes for summer.
Until artificial ice-making took off, mild New England winters caused panic about an “ice famine”.
Air conditioning as we know it began in 1902, but it had nothing to do with human comfort.
New York’s Sackett Wilhelms Lithographing and Printing Company became frustrated with varying humidity levels when trying to print in colour.
Image copyright New York Public Library Image caption Sackett Wilhelms asked a heating company to solve their humidity problem
The same paper had to be printed four times in four colours, and if the humidity changed between print runs, the paper would slightly expand or contract. Even a millimetre’s misalignment looked awful.
The printers asked heating company Buffalo Forge to devise a system to control humidity.
A young engineer called Willis Carrier figured out that circulating air over coils that were chilled by compressed ammonia maintained the humidity at a constant 55%.
Image copyright Carrier Image caption Willis Carrier was quick to see the wider potential of his humidity-controlling invention
The printers were delighted.
Buffalo Forge was soon selling Willis Carrier’s invention wherever humidity posed problems, such as to flour mills and the Gillette corporation, where excessive moisture rusted the razor blades.
These early industrial clients didn’t much care about making temperatures more tolerable for their workers – that was an incidental benefit.
Image copyright Carrier Image caption Carrier’s original drawings for the system he designed for Sackett Wilhelms
But by 1906, Carrier was exploring the potential for “comfort” applications in public buildings like theatres.
It was an astute choice. Historically, theatres often shut down for summer: no windows, human bodies tightly packed together and, before electricity, lighting provided by flares.
New England ice had been briefly popular.
In the summer of 1880, New York’s Madison Square Theatre used four tons a day: an eight-foot fan blew air over the ice and through ducts towards the audience.
Image copyright Alamy
Unfortunately, though cool, the air was also damp, and with pollution increasing in New England’s lakes, the melting ice sometimes released unpleasant smells.
Willis Carrier’s “Weathermaker” was much more practical.
The general public first experienced air conditioning in the burgeoning movie theatres of the 1920s, and it quickly became as much of a selling point as the films.
The enduring Hollywood tradition of the summer blockbuster traces directly back to Carrier, as does the rise of the shopping mall.
But air conditioning has become more than a mere convenience. It is a transformative technology, which has had a profound influence on where and how we live.
Computers fail if they get too hot or damp, so air conditioning enables the server farms that power the internet. Indeed, if factories couldn’t control their air quality, we’d struggle to manufacture silicon chips at all.
Air conditioning has also revolutionised architecture.
Historically, a cool building in a hot climate implied thick walls, high ceilings, balconies, courtyards and windows facing away from the sun.
Image copyright Alamy Image caption The invention of air conditioning radically altered housing in America’s so-called “sun belt”
The dogtrot house, popular in America’s south, was bisected by a covered, open-ended corridor to let breezes through. Before air conditioning, glass-fronted skyscrapers were not a sensible option: you’d bake on the upper floors.
Air conditioning has changed demographics, too. It’s hard to imagine the rise of cities like Dubai or Singapore without it.
As residential units spread rapidly across America in the second half of the 20th century, the population in the “sun belt” – the warmer south of the country, from Florida to California – boomed from 28% of Americans to 40%.
As retirees in particular moved from north to south, they also changed the region’s political balance. The author Steven Johnson has plausibly argued that air conditioning elected Ronald Reagan.
More from Tim Harford
Reagan came to power in 1980, a time when America used more than half the world’s air conditioning.
Emerging economies have since caught up quickly: China will soon become the global leader. The proportion of air-conditioned homes in Chinese cities jumped from under a tenth to more than two-thirds in just 10 years.
In countries like India, Brazil and Indonesia, the market for air conditioners is expanding at double-digit rates. And there’s plenty more room for growth: 11 of the world’s 30 largest cities are in the tropics.
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The boom in air conditioning is good news for many reasons.
Studies show that it lowers mortality during heat waves. Heat makes prison inmates fractious – air conditioning pays for itself by reducing fights.
When the temperature exceeds 21C or 22C in exam halls, students start to score lower in maths tests.
In offices, air conditioning makes us more productive: according to one early study, it made US government typists do 24% more work.
Economists have since confirmed that relationship between productivity and keeping cool.
William Nordhaus divided the world into cells, by lines of latitude and longitude, and plotted each one’s climate, output and population. The hotter the average temperature, he found, the less productive the people.
According to Geoffrey Heal and Jisung Park. a hotter-than-average year is bad for productivity in hot countries, but good in cold ones. They conclude that human productivity peaks at between 18C and 22C.
But there’s an inconvenient truth: you can only make it cooler inside by making it warmer outside.
A study in Phoenix, Arizona, found the hot air pumped out of air conditioning units increased the city’s night-time temperature by 2C,
Of course, that makes air conditioning units work harder, making the outside hotter still.
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On underground metro systems, cooling the trains can lead to swelteringly-hot platforms.
Then there’s the electricity that powers air conditioning – often made by burning gas or coal – and the coolants air conditioners use, many of which are powerful greenhouse gases when they leak.
Air conditioning technology is getting cleaner and greener.
But demand is growing so quickly that – even if the optimists are right about possible efficiency gains – there’ll be an eightfold increase in energy consumption by 2050.
That’s worrying news for climate change. When will we get inventions to control the outdoor weather, too?
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