Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Frivolous Post Unscientifically Maligning Air Conditioning

There was a mistake in timing for a renovation at the college dorms in Atlanta where I'm staying. That means that several of us have been given rooms without air conditioning for a night until some other guests check out. Yes, daytime temperatures are in the 90s, nighttime temperatures are in the 70s and humidity is currently at 75%. We are staying in the "hot dorm" and have been given repeated apologies and little consolation gifts for our understanding.

We were told in the conference information to remember a sweater. Air conditioned buildings are kept so cold that we need jackets to stay comfortable. Wait, I thought air conditioning was designed to provide comfort.

My room is kept quite comfortable by a fan and an open window, through which I can hear highway traffic but I can also hear breezes through the trees and night insects. In air-conditioned buildings it is commonly known that an open window is a cardinal sin.

To play devil's advocate, I have been in Sacramento during a heat wave (over 100 degrees) and been in a position where I had to stay outside for an afternoon due to locked buildings. Even in the shade it felt almost unbearable. I was grateful for air-conditioning then and it rapidly cured my heat induced headache. My question is, does it really have to be set so low?

It seems like most people attempt to keep a steady year round indoor temperature - somewhere in the low 70s or high 60s. We've ingeniously invented machines that allow us to do that. We don't, however, maintain a steady year round wardrobe. Anybody with a whit of sense wears sweaters and coats in winter and lighter clothes in the summer to keep themselves comfortable outside. It would be nice to extend this common sense to the indoors and allow interiors to be a little warmer in summer and a little cooler in winter because people are able to dress for that variation (and already do). The potential energy savings seem staggeringly large to me.

That's my head argument against the state of climate control. My gut argument is that I never feel well in these super heated/super chilled extremes. Since I've been in Atlanta the heat has been a presence but I haven't really been in heavily air-conditioned locations. It's been perfectly bearable wearing a light sheen of sweat until the sun disappeared and the night cool came.

I'm contrasting this experience to so many other summer conference experiences. I can so clearly remember freezing for an hour during a seminar then rushing through what seemed to be the blazing heat so I could enter another building and start over again. It makes me feel clammy and I rapidly grow irritable and feel a little sick and headachy. My allergies start acting up which then starts the road to mild asthmatic wheezing. I have come to the unscientific conclusion that these constant adjustments must be extremely stressful for my body, which has to constantly adapt to new climates.

It will be interesting to see how thoroughly air-conditioned the classrooms are tomorrow. Maybe I can perform some unscientific testing since the heat and humidity will be constants.
Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon?

2 comments:

Marina said...

Ok, since I'm here I'll give you my two cents -- Oregon doesn't need AC, but when we lived on the Gulf Coast, it was a lifesaver. If you set the AC temperature fairly high, it just serves to dry out the air. Then not everything molds and gets so nasty sticky. Going in and out of temperature extremes is disorienting and unhealthy feeling, but is some of that due to ac buildings being air tight? all the ick gets stuck in them...

Liz said...

I concede the point. Central air is useful for reducing humidity. We noticed a marked difference in the dampness when we moved to a house with central air in Oregon. I guess my real complaint is with excessively cooled, apparently hermetically sealed buildings. I'd totally believe it's partially due to filters not getting cleaned thoroughly enough.