Welcome to Green Boot Camp

Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Week 26--Choosing the Right Cooling System for Your Home

Now that things are really heating up in July--well, at least they are in the Northern Hemisphere--chances are that you're spending time at home trying to get cool. We've already talked in Week 24 about using ceiling fans to move cool air around. But in some instances you've got to have air conditioning.

If you've ever wondered if your window a/c made the most sense or if you should upgrade to an Energy Star-certified central air conditioning system, now is the time to think about that. So this week in Green Boot Camp, I'd like you to determine which kind of air conditioning is the greenest--and most financially feasible--option for your home.

How do you determine if you should have a window a/c unit versus central air? There are a number of factors that affect whether or not you should use window units versus central air. According to experts what really matters is the climate where you live (hot and humid Houston versus dry Denver), how your home is insulated, and what your personal preferences are. Let's start with climate.

If you're looking to cool your home and lower the humidity, a central air system is your best bet, hands down, as far as efficiency goes. There are two reasons that window units are all wet when it comes to reducing humidity are that they tend to sweat (especially if they are overworked) and therefore introduce moisture into the room. And since it's harder to seal window units, you tend to get hot, humid air sucked in from the outside.

That said, if humidity isn't your problem but you'd just like to cool your home, you could get away with one window unit on each floor, if your home is well insulated. (Check out this Energy Star website to figure out the right-sized air conditioner based on a room's size.) Insulation isn't just in the walls, by the way. We're also talking about well-insulated windows and, believe it or not, a well-insulated attic.

Keep in mind that while window units are cheaper in the short run, if you're looking to purchase more than a few of them, you're probably better off going with a central air system. A central air unit will use less energy overall and cool more efficiently than a series of window units running in tandem. On the other hand if you need to cool only one or two rooms in your house--and you can live with the rest of the home being unairconditioned, then all you would need would be a window unit for each room you want to be cool.

Keep in mind that just like appliances with Energy Star ratings, air conditioning units come with their own efficiency ratings. This Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy website offers a guide to understanding central air efficiency ratings so you can make the best choice for your budget and the environment.

Air-conditioning talk aside, here is some parting advice for keeping your home cool, whether or not you have a/c.

* If your home faces south or west--or simply sits in the sun all day--and you don't have any shade trees helping to cool your home, you're going to have a tougher time keeping your house cool. (See Week 23 for more about "acting shady.")

* Having lights on throughout the day inside the house or even running the oven or dishwasher will inch up the indoor temperature.

* If you don't block out the sun, you're just going to bake inside your house. That's why window treatments play an important part in keeping a house cool--and your cooling bills lower.

Bottom line: to keep your home cool, with or without air conditioning, plant shade trees, keep curtains, blinds and shutters closed during the hottest part of the day, and limit lights on (especially halogen, that burn bright and hot) and appliances used during the heat of the day.

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