Some new systems use energy of ‘a 60-watt bulb’

When a hydro company offers money to the public to turn air conditioners off, it’s obvious that excessive use of cooling is a serious problem. Yet air conditioning is considered by many to be so vital during heat waves that the city opens cooling centres as an escape.


Is air conditioning a basic necessity or a planet-wrecking eco-nightmare?

“People do not want to lie awake at 3 a.m. dripping with perspiration,” notes John Mitchell of Davenport–Campbell, a Toronto company dealing in air conditioning systems. He says the air conditioning industry has and will continue to respond to ecological considerations. For example, by the year 2020, Freon gas will be replaced by Puron, which is more environmentally friendly.

Mitchell says many new and improved A/C units are designed to use half as much energy as older ones.

“If enough people buy new units, it will prevent future power shutdowns. Problems occur, too, because people like to keep the temperatures in the frigid range, when a temperature of 25 or 26 degrees Celsius can be quite comfortable.”

Older window units gobble up electricity with their propensity to vibrate. “A window unit that is not firmly mounted will consume a lot of power,” Mitchell says. “In the industry we call them ‘window shakers.’ The latest state-of-the-art air conditioning system will run all day and use only the same amount as a 60-watt light bulb.”

Robert Harkin of Harkin and Associates, a project management company, points out that virtually every new or renovated home today has air conditioning built in or added. “Anyone who is adding or changing a furnace will include air conditioning,” he says. “But today’s systems are much more attuned to the environment. In my own home I have a system with sensors both outside and inside. From outside, it might sound as if my air conditioning is just running non-stop, no matter what the temperature. But that is not the case. The fans are circulating air, but the air is not being cooled unless it is actually hot.”

Architects and designers are aware of environmental concerns and, when possible, will design buildings and homes to minimize or eliminate the need for air conditioning. Carolyn Moss of Moss Sund Inc. says systems such as stacked cooling and ground-source cooling result in homes with comfortable climates.

“Stacked cooling draws air through the house,” she says. “Windows placed low in areas that are shaded are positioned to draw in cool air, which is released in windows that are higher when this air becomes warm. Hot air rises. Ground source systems are based on extremely deep holes, which, when filled with a liquid, are designed to keep homes within 10 degrees of the temperature within the ground. Ground source systems are expensive to install, but if energy costs keep rising, they could become attractive even from a cost point of view.”

Meanwhile, consumers have the opportunity to take part in programs such as Toronto Hydro’s peakSAVER, designed to reduce demand on the electricity system by enabling the company to switch power off if necessary. The program is ongoing, and details are available at 1-877-487-8574. Consumers who joined early were offered $25 to participate.