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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Consumer Reports/Beating the Heat

Air Date: Week of May 19, 2006

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This summer, if you’re in the market for an air conditioner, remember: bigger isn’t always better. Host Steve Curwood talks with Consumer Reports’ Urvrashi Rangan about what buyers should bear in mind when it comes to keeping cool.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. Well, it’s already that time of year down south and it’s getting to be that time of year up here in the north. You know, the time of year when you dig the air conditioner out and stick it in the window in hopes of keeping cool. To find out what we should do as consumers about air conditioners, we have with us Urvashi Rangan. She’s director of Greener Choices dot org, a free public service from Consumer Reports. Hello.

RANGAN: Hello Steve.

CURWOOD: So how necessary is air conditioning?

RANGAN: For folks who are living in places that are fairly dry and cool in the evenings you don’t really need to use an air conditioner. And you have other options, like using ceiling fans and using your drapes smartly in the daytime to block out the sunlight. But in places that are hot and humid – just in 1995, for example, 485 elderly people in Chicago died from heat exhaustion. And that was primarily due to the fact that these folks didn’t have any air conditioning.

So it can actually be a matter of life and death for many people. Specifically, you know, the elderly populations, young children, people who are particularly overweight. If you have a heart condition, for example, or you’re on certain medications that can intensify heat, those are all people who are good candidates to use an air conditioner in the summertime. Especially when it’s very hot and humid.

CURWOOD: Now you’ll tell us the results of what you were able to find among these various air conditioners on your website for people who want to know the details, but basically if you go shopping for a room air conditioner, what kinds of things should one keep in mind?

RANGAN: Yeah, it’s a great question. There’s a couple of things to keep in mind. I don’t know, Steve, if you ever felt so hot you just wanted to run out and go by an air conditioner. Did you ever try to look for the biggest air conditioner you could find?

CURWOOD: Uh-oh, you caught me.

RANGAN: (Laughs)

CURWOOD: Of course. Bigger’s better, right?

RANGAN: Well it always seems that way and yet, when it comes to air conditioners, that’s the biggest mistake that people can make. You want to make sure that you size that air conditioner right, and you want to make sure you actually take the dimensions of the room and visit our website and use the calculator on there to plug in the dimensions of your room so you can find out exactly what size air conditioner is right for the room.

If you don’t size it right and you just get the biggest, you may in fact not be cooling the most efficiently in that room. It may cool it before it actually deals with the humidity of the room, so you could have a cool room with high humidity. So make sure that you do actually buy an air conditioner that is appropriately fitted for your room.

CURWOOD: So where in the house is the best place to put a window air conditioner to make it the most efficient?

RANGAN: Well, really when you’re talking about room air conditioners, you know, it depends on the room itself and what you have. But generally any kind of non-south-facing window. The south-facing windows are obviously going to get the most radiant heat, and it’s going to make your air conditioner work the hardest. So if you have a north-facing window, even an east/west-facing window, those are probably better options.

CURWOOD: How can we save money around air conditioners?

RANGAN: One thing you can try is using a ceiling fan in conjunction with your air conditioner. Since ceiling fans themselves can make a room feel six to seven degrees cooler, you can actually keep the temperature level on your air conditioner set fairly high – say around 72, 75 degrees – while using a ceiling fan. So that’s one way you can actually use less energy, less electricity, save money.

And here’s an interesting statistic: for every degree you raise your air conditioner you can actually save three percent or more on the energy that you use. So that makes a big difference in terms of setting it at, say, 68 degrees compared to 75 degrees. And finally, make sure that you clean your air filters. A dirty air filter is really going to reduce the energy efficiency of your air conditioner as well.

CURWOOD: Urvashi, your website also has something called a “label center” where you give consumers a head’s up on misleading labels. Any that we should be aware of in terms of beating the heat?

RANGAN: Well, when you’re looking for new filters, Steve, for your air conditioner, make sure that when you’re shopping you don’t pay more for any filter that claims to be hypoallergenic.

CURWOOD: Really?

RANGAN: Really. Consumers buy that label because they think in terms of air filters, maybe it filters out more dust or dirt, making it ultimately the air less irritating to use, or causes less allergies. All of that is simply misnomer, unfortunately, and hypoallergenic really doesn’t mean much.

CURWOOD: Urvrashi Rangan is director of Greener Choices dot org, a free public service from Consumer Reports. Thanks so much.

RANGAN: My pleasure, Steve. Thank you.

 

Links

Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices website

 

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