Thursday, July 17, 2008

A rant: air-conditioning

Okay, I realize that this post falls into the "rant" category. I'm aware that some of it may sound harsh, but I would like to make it clear that my intent is not to offend anyone who doesn't share my opinion. I'm constantly reminding myself that I was wrong once; it could happen again...

.... air-conditioning! I hate it. Granted, my circumstances are different from many others'. I live in a relatively cold climate. There are only one to two months out of the year that actually get uncomfortably warm, in my opinion. I am also aware that, for some people (the elderly, people with severe allergies, etc.), air-conditioning can be a necessity. Let me also make it clear that I don't enjoy summer. I love winter; -20˚ is pleasant to me, while anything over 80˚ is unpleasantly warm. Add in some humidity and it just gets ugly. One might think that a person who doesn't enjoy summer would like air-conditioning. Did I mention that I hate it? I think I did.

We don't have AC in our house. That means that, in warm weather, we have our windows open. Unfortunately for us, all of our neighbors do have AC. I like my neighbors, they're nice people, but the result is that, in order for our neighbors to enjoy their air-conditioned comfort, we have to listen to KKKKKRRRRNNNGGHHGHGHZHZHZHZHZNGHNGHNGHNGHGN for untold hours every day and I find myself getting pissed-off at people that I like. This sticks in my craw for a number of reasons.

First of all, they get to enjoy a nice, cool house and I have to listen to the noise that makes it possible for them to be comfortable. Noise pollution is one of the least recognized forms of pollution, but I believe it to be every bit as harmful as any other form of pollution (just think about those cars driving around BOOOMMM, BA-BOOOOM BOOOM!). At the very least, it seems to me that the people enjoying the benefits of an air-conditioned house should be the ones who have to listen to the absolutely totally obnoxious noise it creates. Did I mention that it's a horrible sounding noise? I think I did.

Secondly, it seems that once people turn on their AC, they don't turn it off until it's time to turn on the heat, even when they're on vacation. We have one neighbor (very nice people, by the way) who have already been gone for two weeks this summer and have left their air-conditioning on while they've been away. Two weeks of listening to KKKKKRRRRNNNGGHHGHGHZHZHZHZHZNGHNGHNGHNGHGN all day and all night when they're not even home! AARRRGHGHGH! As another example, about a week or two ago, the temperatures had been up in the 80s during the day, but down into the 50s at night for a couple of weeks. In that kind of weather, you open your windows at night and close them during the day and your house stays nice and comfortable. Heck, even if you leave your windows open during the day, if it's getting down to the 50s at night, your house doesn't get all that warm during the day and air-conditioning is just not necessary. While walking the dog one evening when the temperature was around 56˚, it made me feel angry at people whom I like to discover how many of them had their AC running when they could have turned it off, opened their windows and cooled their houses down faster than the AC was cooling it. And I have to listen to that vile sound. All day. All night. For no good reason. It's like having someone tapping you on the head with little tiny hammers for hours and days. It isn't excruciating pain in the short term, but over time it becomes sheer torture. Literally.

Thirdly, in this day and age of awareness of the shortage of petroleum, climate change, etc., it amazes me that so many people feel that air-conditioning is a god-given right or a necessity of life. Once again, people that I like and respect will point their fingers at drivers of SUVs, smokers, or whomever, but will never consider the possibility that using an air-conditioner is an ill-advised and irresponsible use of energy. "I can't live without air-conditioning" is a line I've heard all too many times. (The terrorists hate us for our freedom!) Many of these same people will complain about how they hate winter, yet most of them don't know what summer really means, because they don't live in it. Their houses are air-conditioned, their jobs are air-conditioned and their cars are air-conditioned. They have never lived in summer. I have never lived in an air-conditioned house. I haven't worked in an air-conditioned work-place since 1992, when I left retail. It's not that big of a deal. You just accept it and live in the environment. Hot, cold, whatever. Sure, when it's exceptionally warm you slow down. So what?

Fourthly, once upon a time, summer was a time when people pretty much lived outside. They went for walks, sat out on their porches or just plain hung out. Not anymore. When people air-condition their houses, they stay inside. So much for getting to know your neighbors or having any sense of community.

My experience has been that those people who don't have air conditioning at home or don't work in air-conditioning are the people who complain the least about weather in general. Farmers, carpenters and people in other similar professions don't complain much about winter. They don't complain much about summer. They just accept it and deal with it. If it gets too hot (or too cold) they accept the fact that they can't work that day. The whole "Southern Mystique" is based on a culture that has accepted hot weather. Nay, embraced hot weather. Buildings were designed with air-flow in mind. Lots of windows. Porches. The expectation that things would slow down in summer, and that it wasn't a bad thing. Now, everyone has to be productive all the time, regardless of environmental conditions. We rule the environment, after all, not the other way around.

I realize that most people aren't intentionally trying to irritate their neighbors. They're most likely not aware of how much noise they're pumping into their neighborhoods, the possibility that not all of their neighbors have air-conditioning and not thinking about how much energy they're consuming. But, to me, it's a giant "FUCK YOU! I want to be comfortable! Fuck you! Fuck the environment! Fuck! Fuck! Fuckfuckfuck!" (There goes my 0% Cuss-o-meter level, of which I was so proud.) And, yes, not having air-conditioning is a choice we made. We even had a major re-model done on our house a few years ago and decided against including air-conditioning, for a number of reasons, but we now have wonderful air circulation in our house. Still, it doesn't seem right to me that those of us who choose not to buy into the AC lifestyle should have to suffer so others can enjoy their climate-controlled comfort.

Things are going to have to change, and soon. Energy prices are going through the roof and I suspect it will only get worse. People will be forced to re-evaluate some of their lifestyle choices, whether they want to or not. Meanwhile, I guess I have to live with KKKKKRRRRNNNGGHHGHGHZHZHZHZHZNGHNGHNGHNGHGN all day, every day, from the beginning of June through the end of September (that's one third of my life that I have to listen to that hellacious noise!). Either that or I go on a rampage with my flame-thrower. Actually, I think I might enjoy that.


Pagan Sphinx said...


I couldn't agree more. I don't own any ACs. W.P. and I refuse to use the one he has. I agree with you for all the reasons you mention, with one acception: I LOVE summer. I don't always like the humidity, to be honest, but hey, it's the way it IS. I can live with it.

One of my main objections to AC, besides the wastefulness of it (about which you make some great points), is that it cuts me off from the natural world. And you are SO right that it affects how often we go outside, how often we talk to our neighbors, how often we take time to enjoy what's out in nature.

Great post. Really.

Your in peace,

Pagan Sphinx said...

Oh, we do use fans to cool down the bedrooms at night. But they turned off at some point during the night when it becomes a) too noisy and b) too cold (!!!)

Suzy said...

Fans are good. When I was a young 'un we had a huge fan in the attic. It was one of the harbingers of summer, when my dad set up the big fan. It kept the house nice and cool. Trees are good too. And porches. Mr. Geranium didn't mention the screened porch we put on our house. It's great to sit out there, with a ceiling fan on -- at least until the neighbors' air conditioners come on. Oh yes, and gin & tonics, sweating down the side of the glass -- they are a great antidote to hot weather. I also love summer. (Ah -- the air conditioner JUST went off for a while. Silence is golden.)

Pagan Sphinx said...

Suzy & Ed,

You are a couple after my own heart.

I LOVE screened-in porches. This house, which was built by W.P.'s father in 1953, used to have a breeze-way, which has since been turned into an extension of the dining room. I like the bigger dining room but I wish the breeze-way was still here...

We cool off out in front of the river. W.P. doesn't drink alcohol but I myself love margi's with salt. ;-)
;-) m

Ed said...

Hi, Pagan,

Thanks for the comments. It's reassuring to know that there are other people who feel the same way. By the way, even though I don't really care for warm weather, I do like summer. I like the pace, living more or less outside, outdoor music festivals, etc.

I look at your posts with the photos of the Connecticut River and it makes me want to come visit, just to hang out with good people and absorb that spectacular view. With a scene like that outside, why would anyone want to shut themselves indoors?

Yes, Suzy, fans are good. They use much less energy than AC, make much less noise and don't cut you off from the world outside. Gin & tonics, margis with salt, I like them both.

poodledoc said...

Air conditioner use is an addiction. Once you start "using", it's hard to stop. I'm trying to avoid using my window unit. I am able to open my bedroom door onto the back (screened) porch and so get good flo through ventilation. I share your angst.

Another really annoying thing about AC: I currently work in the veterinary school on campus. None of the few windows the ugly thing has can actually open. So it has to have AC. When energy costs rise prohibitively, will the have to carve out windows? Windows that can actually open? Love it when you start ranting. Keep up the good work.

Suzy said...

We went out to a restaurant last night to meet out of town friends. The restaurant has an outdoor patio, but they weren't serving out there last night, presumably because it was "too hot." We had to eat inside, where it was air-conditioned. I was dressed in shorts and a tank top, i.e., sensibly for the weather, and within 10 minutes I was uncomfortably cold and wishing I had a sweater. How absurd is that?

Ed said...

Funny thing..., I went in to the very same restaurant at almost the same time and thought "this feels really good." Within minutes I felt uncomfortably warm, much like I did when I was outside. So, what was the point? Even with AC, I was too warm inside, and Suzy was too cold. While I was also too warm outside, at least there was a breeze, things for the kids to climb on, no overly-loud former mobsters (Sinatra) singing slightly off pitch (as he always, always did) from a speaker right over my head. Which one sounds like it makes more sense, overall? This was my impression: The AC gave me the pleasure of feeling relief from the heat for about two minutes. That was it. Was it worth the cost of cooling the building so that each customer could walk in and feel good for two minutes? Open windows, people! (That's my "I-think-I'm-talking-like-a-teacher-but-really-I'm-just-showing-my-ignorance-of-how-to-talk-like-a-teacher" voice.) Build for natural air circulation. It's not that hard to do. After all, if people could figure out out to make ice in the desert thousands of years ago by using air-flow, can't we keep buildings cool using the same technology?

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

It's hot here from the end of April to mid November. And in the dead of summer is wildly hot, so we love our AC in the south.

Lockwood said...

There's no dout that noise pollution is a disregarded and largely unrecognized problem in much of the US- and that seems to be the major source of your actual anger. Living in the western part of the Pacific Northwest, we can almost always count on temps down into the 50's even on hot days. If you get into the habit, it's pretty easy to keep your space cool by opening and closing windows at appropriate times. Having grown up in a Midwest climate, though, I suspect that had I stayed in that region, I would now have air conditioning. Don't like heat, don't like humidity, don't like sweating while I should be sleeping. Not one little bit. But I basically agree with everything you have to say here.

Ed said...

Dr MvM: I'll be the first to admit that I might feel differently about it if I lived in the south. I still think that developers should build with the idea of using more passive methods of cooling in order to make it possible for people to use their AC less. Here in "frozen tundra" country, there is no reason to build a building with windows that don't open. It's just dumb.

Lockwood: Greetings and welcome. Yes, you are correct that the noise pollution is a major cause of my frustration. And, of course, for the sake of writing a rant, I may have, let's just say, dramatized things a wee bit. I too don't like heat, humidity and sweating when I should be sleeping. Nonetheless, I still have chosen to suffer through those periods of time, which, granted, are shorter here in Wisconsin than in other areas, rather than use AC. For what that's worth. (That and a couple of bucks will by you a cup of coffee in an air-conditioned coffee shop.) Thanks for visiting and thanks for your comment!

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, I concur. I can't sit on my patio in the back yard and enjoy the sounds of the birds and the rustle of the wind through the trees because the neighbor behind me has an awful sounding air conditioner. It's the only sound you hear on the whole block and when it cycles off it is blissfully quiet. But then it cranks back on with its menacing groans. My only hope is that it will break down and the neighbor will be forced to buy a properly sized a/c unit that will "hum" as opposed to "groaning".

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