Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Keeping cool without air conditioning

Earlier I'd written about the issue of keeping cool without having to use an air conditioner. Our society has thousands of years of experience of living without the modern technology and air conditioners, so why do we today need this? Is there anything we can learn from our ancestors?

Air Conditioning: "We're cooking our planet to refrigerate the diminishing part that's still habitable": explains some of the cost involved with over use of air conditioning. It costs a lot of power, and the power only contributes to global warming, making the heat worse, which then just makes people want to crank up the air conditioners.

Other air conditioning alternatives and Make your own air conditioner: cover a couple alternatives to air conditioners. These are low-tech methods made by individuals. They have a cooler full of ice water, submerge a pump in the water, and use the pump to send the cold water through some coils. The coils are intertwined into a fan. As the fan blows air over the coils the air cools etc.

How much ice would I have to store up in the winter in order to air condition my house all summer? is an interesting HowStuffWorks.com question along those lines. The idea is, during the winter there's snow, and what if you stored that snow and used it for cooling during the summer.

Before you scoff and say the snow would melt before summer ... do you realize that's exactly what an "ice house" is? Our ancestors would dig a hole in the ground and store snow/ice there. They called it an "ice house".

It shows a possible method to avoid having an air conditioner, so long as you have a significant amount of snow in the winter. It would be the same method as "make your own air conditioner" but on a larger scale.

The HowStuffWorks people tried to answer how much snow is required to be collected. But I think their calculations are faulty. Read it carefully and the base number is the BTU rating of the air conditioner in a typical house. The BTU rating of a gadget like that is going to be the peak capacity of the unit, not its actual usage. You aren't going to have the air conditioner cranked to the max for 12 hours a day all year long. Instead the actual usage in the air conditioner is going to vary during the day.

In any case this seems somewhat achievable to collect enough snow to make a cube 25 feet on a side. Interestingly the ice houses I've seen in colonial era houses were similar size.

While an individual might get tired thinking of shoveling 900,000 pounds of snow, don't most people in heavily snowed places own snow blowers? In other words technology can come to the rescue and some form of snow blower could be used to move snow into a modern day ice house.

Collecting that much snow would also answer this question: What about keeping warm in the winter?

But, really, this solution only helps for places that get a lot of snow in the winter, and are hot in the summer. There are a lot of places which either don't get very hot in the summer, or don't get a lot of snow in the winter. Georgia for example gets rather hot, but gets no snow, and therefore people there wouldn't be able to build an ice house for summertime cooling.