Air Conditioning Statistics In the US: Cooling Your Home
Cooler air inside your home at the touch of a button? Florida being bearable even in the dog days of August? This would have been unimaginable for the average household even a hundred years ago.
While we take air conditioning for granted in the US today, the idea of “comfort cooling” is a relatively new one in the history of humanity. The first patent for an artificial cooling system was registered (understandably) from Florida in 1851 by physician Dr. John Gorrie. Gorrie was primarily concerned with lessening the instances of heat-born diseases like malaria and keeping patients more comfortable in southern hospitals. None the less, his rudimentary idea of shipping ice from frozen northern lakes to the south for indoor cooling sparked the imaginations of other inventors including Willis Carrier in 1902. Carrier’s “Apparatus for treating air” began a new industry resulting in the first public buildings, mainly movie theaters, being electronically cooled in the 1920s.
Air Conditioning Today
Today, 87 percent of all US homes use air conditioning, according to the Energy Information Association, with 75 percent of those being central units. Individual, portable, and window units are more common in the northern states where AC is needed for fewer months per year. In fact, in the US it’s now more common for a household to have an air conditioning unit than a dining room or a garage.
In the southern states, 67 percent of households with air conditioning simply leaving them running all summer long. Though all air conditioning companies recommend yearly maintenance checks on central AC units, only about 43 percent of Americans have annual maintenance performed on their units, and of those that do, their AC units last about 40 percent longer.
Air Conditioning: Is It Cool?
Up until the end of the last century, air conditioning was run on a refrigerant system using chlorofluorocarbons. (CFCs) These were then determined to be damaging to the earth’s ozone layer. By the end of the 1980s units were using halogenated CFCs as a safer alternative, however, new evidence suggests that these are also harmful to the environment, though they use about 50 percent less energy than those prior to 1990. New, safer alternatives are expected to be mainstreamed by 2030.
US homeowners spend an estimated $29 billion dollars annually on air conditioning costs, with the average household spending approximately $300 per year. A programmable thermostat can actually lower that cost, saving up to $180 per year. According to the US Department of Energy, each household with central air conditioning emits about two tons of carbon dioxide into the air annually. Energy demands are highest during July and August, when temperatures are at their highest with an estimated 18 percent of all household electricity is used for air-conditioning. Americans can reduce CO2 emissions by adjusting the thermostat. For every degree above 72 degrees F, 120 pounds of CO2 emissions are eliminated.
Despite the risks to the environment and the high energy costs, air conditioning is far from a bad thing. Not only does it make us more comfortable during the hot months, it reduces heat-related illnesses and saves lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 618 people die in the US each year due to heat exposure. This is a huge improvement over the thousands that were killed annually from heat exposure in the last century.
Cooler air has also allowed for huge boosts in productivity in manufacturing and other industries and has allowed for greater numbers of people to populate the southern states, reshaping our country’s demographics.
The Future of Air Conditioning
With so much of our modern way of life depending on air conditioning, the industry is focused on making safer, more efficient units available in the near future. The Energy Department’s Emerging Technologies Program is working on making a non-vapor compression technology which will reduce energy consumption by 50 percent and be much safer for the environment.
It’s safe to say that unless or until we are living in a post-apocalyptic world, we will be moving forward with our air conditioning technologies and not back to the days when we suffered without it. Thankfully, consumers today are more aware of dangers to the environment and the air conditioning industries are responding with greener cooling technologies.