Friday, July 24, 2009

Cheap Chilling: Save Money by Going Without Air Conditioning

This hardly seems appropriate to New York City this year, where we've had below average temperatures and rain for what seems like months... but somebody, somewhere is having to deal with blistering heat, and that somebody, somewhere might be choosing to save money by doing so without the aid of air conditioning.

In yesterday's New York Times, there was an article called The Unchilled Life:

Lisa Finkelstein, a freelance editor, stopped using the semi-functional air-conditioning and heating unit in her rented cottage in Tallahassee, Fla., two years ago, mostly for economic reasons....
This summer, she probably has more company in the choice she has made. Shipments of window air-conditioners from manufacturers to distributors were down 39 percent in the first half of this year compared with the first half of last year, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers in Washington, D.C., and shipments of central air-conditioning units have been down 10 percent a year for the past few years, according to the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute in Arlington, Va....
Air conditioning is definitely expensive-- my electric bill last August was double any other month of the year except July, and July was only lower because I was away for two weeks. Fortunately, this year's weather has meant I've only turned the A/C on about twice, on humid nights when it was just a bit too sticky to sleep without it.

But who knew? Going without A/C turns to have a variety of other benefits beyond the economci ones:

Genma Holmes, a 42-year-old mother of three in Nashville, and her husband, Roger, declared their suburban ranch house a no-air-conditioning zone last summer as surging gas prices ate into the profits of their pest control business. Their children — now ages 17, 18, and 23 — were not amused, given that average summer temperatures in Nashville are in the high 80s with around 90 percent humidity....

It was when the family put up an awning and fan over their patio — effectively transforming it into their living room, where they spent about three hours a night grilling, playing games and talking instead of going their separate ways — that they discovered the upside of an uncontrolled climate

“We spent an entire summer getting to know our kids by sitting outside trying to keep our electricity bill down,” said Ms. Holmes, who estimated that the family saved $2,100 last summer; they are repeating the experience this year. “It was very therapeutic and we got closer. We also got thinner — all of our diets changed because we were eating a lot of grilled food. And by the time fall came around, with the change in the economy, we had learned to live off less. So when everyone started talking about how hard things are, we felt like we had already experienced the worst of the worst. It prepared us for the whole year.”
If you need to cut your electric bills this summer, this part of the NY Times article gives some great tips for keeping cool. My favorite is the suggestion to keep your linens in the freezer, which reminds me of another tip someone once gave me: put your underwear in the freezer! The same person also suggested microwaving your underwear to warm up in the winter. And who knows, maybe there's something to be gained from putting it in the blender or the coffeemaker too...

9 comments:

A said...

That's nice if you have a patio and are able to install a ceiling fan. When you live in an upstairs apartment in inland Southern California (where you don't have permission to modify the light fixtures), *not* using your air conditioner on a 100+ degree day is the luxury!

Sicilian said...

We are in Texas where we have been in the 100's since early June. AC is not an option, but the dryer is. I do not use the dryer to offset the fact that I have to use the ac so much in the summer. The dryer consumes the 2nd largest amount of electricity in the home.
Ciao

Anonymous said...

I have gone without air conditioning for the past several summers. I realized that I'd rather use someone else's AC. So, I go to the library, or go to an outdoor concert/movie or window shopping in the mall.

Also, my basement is cool so I spend a lot of time downstairs in the summertime.

-Tasha

Adrienne said...

Christ! I used to spend summers in Tennessee with my grandparents. Both suffered from that old age affliction where they are ALWAYS chilly. So no AC during those two miserable weeks. So I totally sympathize with the children's original angst.

Having moved to Houston myself 6 years ago, I find myself with a higher tolerance for humidity and heat...but only to a degree. Now that the weather has cooled off some here (and by that I mean <100 degrees but still humid as all hell) I've gone without AC up until it's time for bed. I absolutely CANNOT sleep without some covers on me and a fan alone just won't cut it.

Little Dough Girl said...

OMG. I live in Phoenix. If I don't run my AC it's 92 to 94 in my house even with the fans. My electric bill is huge in July and August.

If I didn't have a small child, I would consider this more.

K said...

In the country I grew up, it was very hot and humid in the summer, but my frugal parents were the last to get an AC. Even after we got one for the living room, we only used it for about half an hour at a time to cool down the house on the hottest days.

Now, in my small nyc apartment, I have a couple of fans and only use the AC sparingly. Even with the rainy June, many of my friends were saying they had the AC on all night. It makes me wince to think of their electricity bill!

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Anonymous said...

I just found out my 10,000 btu window ac costs 7.5 cents an hour to run. My local library has a 'kill a watt' meter that we can borrow to measure electricity usage. My husband's ready to turn on the ac any old time now!

joel said...

A missed point that you must consider is that houses in South Florida and similar climates are no longer built to withstand the environment without A/C. While it is expensive to run the A/C, failure to use it in a property built in the last twenty years can result in structural damage with wood swelling, walls cracking and separating, etc. That can easily run into tens of thousands of dollars. Consult a professional before you make any decisions.