Air-Conditioning and Christian Faith

Have you ever wondered what air conditioning has to do with Christian faith?  Its obviously not something that Jesus thought about so why should we get concerned?  I have just read a fascinating article and conversation at Alternet about whether we can and should live without air conditioning.  The article Air Conditioning is Terrible for the Earth – Here’s How To Live Without it is well worth a read and got me thinking about my faith and the unexpected responsibilities it places on me over the summer months.

This is not a topic that most Christians spend time thinking about.  The Bible belt is the biggest offender when it comes to over use of airconditioning.  And many of you may think that because I live in the Pacific NW where the weather is rarely warm enough to bother with air conditioning, I have little to say.  However I spent most of my life in Australia or working in the tropics – living on an unairconditioned ship with a single fan wafting a few stray so I feel I am more of an expert than you would expect.

The sizzling heat on the East coast of the US and in Europe recently has had many of us thinking about thinking about how to keep cool.  But as as the temperatures drop we often forget about it.  After all when the temperatures are in the 80s we are not likely to overstress the electrical grid with our power usage.  But then again summer is just beginning and according to the Alternet article:

The air-conditioning of America’s homes, businesses schools, and vehicles causes the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to 400 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. air conditioning

There are a number of ways to cut down the inside temperature of our houses without using energy intensive air conditioning as the Alternet article suggests – some simple, some not so simple.  So lets start with some of the simple ones first:

  1. Plant deciduous trees on the south side of the house in the northern hemisphere on the northern side of the house in southern hemisphere.
  2. If you are still waiting for those trees to grow close windows and curtains during the day in rooms that get direct sun; open windows and doors at night.
  3. Make sure roof and walls are well insulated.  Seal gaps around windows and doors so that heat cannot enter.
  4. Move the air – use fans can decrease the temperature by 5 – 8 degrees and opening windows for flow through air will similarly reduce temperatures.
  5. Wear clothing made of materials that breathe – like cotton or wool (yes wool is warm in winter & cool in summer).  Loose fitting garments are better than tight fitting.  Also get rid of those shoes or wear sandals.  Feet are good heat exchangers.
  6. Wet down your clothing with a spray bottle and stand in front of a fan, wear a wet hat or wipe down the back of your neck with a wet cloth.
  7. Drink plenty of water (not alcohol or sugar drinks)
  8. Turn off any unnecessary appliances.  All electrical appliances generate heat; particularly refrigerators and TV’s. Plasma screens in particular are known to create a great deal of heat, to the point that some refer to them as space heaters.  Other huge heat producers are clothes dryers and dishwashers so take advantage of the cool evenings to hang your clothes outside or put them on a drying rack in front of your fan and take advantage of the cooling flow of air.
  9. Replace your incandescent lights with CFLs.
  10. In dry climates replace traditional air conditioning units with evaporative (swamp or desert) air conditioners.
  11. Retreat to the basement if you have one – it will be the coolest part of the house.

And now for some more challenging solutions:

  1. Build houses with lots of overhang – porches, verandahs and eaves all make a difference in the heat
  2. Learn from the termites.  Here is an amazing building design in Zimbabwe based on the air cooling system found in a termite hill.
  3. Build an underground house and cut do away with air conditioning costs
  4. Build on stilts.  This increases air flow through the house though if you live in a place that gets cold in the winter this may not be very helpful.
  5. Get involved in your community and advocate for the replacing of asphalt with parks and green spaces.  Cities absorb more solar energy during the day and are slower to release it after the sun sets, making for uncomfortable nights and no real relief from the heat. And because they haven’t cooled down as much overnight, mornings are warmer and the thermometer goes right back up when the sun starts beating down the next day.  Green areas help keep the temperatures down.

I am sure that there are lots of other ideas that I have not thought of here so let me know – how do you keep cool in the hot weather?

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154 responses to “Air-Conditioning and Christian Faith”

  1. I think you did very well in addressing how to cut back on the AC. Just as I think you missed one, I kept on reading and found it. If we had known how much cooler our house would have been with a big front porch added on (because need necessitated a wheelchair ramp be added) we would have done it years ago. This house is more than 100 years old, and we finally added central heat and air about 7 years ago. We did with fans, especially an attic fan. Even with no AC, the attic fan would most nights pull in enough cool air that we actually pulled up blankets on the bed even when the prior day was stifling. The attic fan was on from 9 or 10 at night until 6 to 8 the next morning. You leave the windows open to pull the maximum amount of air in the rooms you want. More open bedroom windows, only cracks in living areas that are not used at night. Usually made the house bearable until late afternoon, and then you knew it would cool. Small fans all over the house help too. And if you have a bowl of ice water in front of the small fan, the air moving across it is also cooler.

  2. A lot of good ideas on how to cut back on usage of air conditioning.

    Some comments: #3. When I built (30 years ago) my outside walls (except for south facing which is almost all windows) were built 8″ thick with studs 2′ apart on the outer edge, and offset by 1′, inside studs 2′ apart. This meant 2 sets of 3-1/2 batt insulation, doubling the usual, and each batt is offset by 1′ which means there are no wood studs going all the way through … thus no conduction of heat through wood, and no escape of air between insulation and studs because there is always another 3-1/2″ blocking it. It works!

    What you didn’t mention (and I think of it because of both heart conditions [plural] and a muscular disease) is that A/C isn’t always for comfort alone.

    And, to be consistent, if we are suggesting dropping A/C (without consideration not just for comfort, but for life safety) as a biblical concern for being good stewards of God’s earth, then should we not be just as “hard” on heating?

    Your basic concept is great and we need to be careful about what we DO to God’s creation, but need to carefully weigh benefits and (not related only to money) costs.

  3. Ralph,
    This was not intended to be a comprehensive list of why no one should use air conditioning. I agree there are some situations in which air conditioning is essential though even for people with heart conditions and muscular dystrophy there are times when it is easy to reach for the thermostat control rather than for other methods that could be more beneficial to their health… but that is another discussion.

    You are also right about heating – we need to be as concerned about that as about cooling. Growing up in Australia where most people do not have central heating i learned to dress with layers rather than to turn on the heat. Here in the US I have gotten used to having it available but we still set ours much lower than average. when I visited my mother in Australia recently I realized that there are even more methods I could use to cut back on usage of heat. When I got up in the morning there the house was about 50 F & in the middle of the day with use of heat in one room it got up to 60 F and I was quite comfortable because I had lots of warm layers on.

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