Gonna be another hot one today. About 97 degrees, according to the local forecast. The National Weather Service is advising people to stay in from 11am to 8pm if possible, in a nice, cool, air-conditioned environment.
That poses a dilemma for ecofrugal types like me. Because, on the one hand, air conditioning is a huge energy hog. I mean, really huge. This chart drawn up by Michael Bluejay, aka "Mr. Electricity," shows that running a central AC system for just one hour uses 3.5 kilowatts of electricity, and even a room air conditioner uses 900 watts. By contrast, a floor fan running on high speed uses only 100 watts. That's a huge difference.
But on the other hand, in really hot weather like this, fans don't really help that much. As Bluejay explains, fans don't cool the air; they just blow away the cushion of hot air that naturally surrounds your 98.6-degree body. But if the air itself is at 98.6 degrees or close to it, that does no good, because there's no cooler air to replace it. Fans can also help your sweat evaporate a little faster, but that does little good either when the humidity is this high, because the air can't really hold any more moisture. A recent review of scientific studies on the use of electric fans during a heat wave concluded that there was no conclusive evidence they do any good.
So, on behalf of Money Crashers, I started digging into the topic of how to keep cool in the summer heat. And after I submitted my work, my editors concluded that this was really too big a topic for just one article. It really needed two separate pieces: one on how to reduce the costs of air conditioning, and a separate article on ways to keep cool without air conditioning.
So for all those who don't have AC, or who don't want to use it if they can possibly help it, this article - 4 Air Conditioning Alternatives to Stay Cool This Summer - explores various ways to stay cool without turning on the big, energy-guzzling beast. In addition to fans of various types, I discuss different ways to cool yourself directly with cold water or ice, as well as more elaborate alternatives such as whole-house fans, swamp coolers, and geothermal systems.
And for those who do prefer AC but want to cut back on the amount of energy it uses, this article - How to Save on Home Air Conditioning & Energy Costs in the Summer - covers ways to use your air conditioner efficiently. It explains how to keep the heat out of your house and avoid adding heat inside, so the AC doesn't have to work as hard, as well as how to choose an efficient system and keep it running as efficiently as possible.