Whole house air conditioning units tend to come in two categories: contractor’s grade and homeowner’s grade. A newly built home is usually equipped with the former type. That helps control the cost of the house, but I’ve never had one last more than 5 years. The more expensive major brands that local air conditioning pros recommend provide about 12 years of lifespan.
Before choosing a new whole-house or single-room system, get solid information about its cooling capacity. I’ve received good, free advice from a Georgia Power helpline to confirm the recommendation of the local contractor. An undersized unit will work at full capacity for too long. It will be unable to cool the area, or wear out prematurely, or both. An oversized one first seems to do a terrific job. But it takes time to sweep the moisture out of the air, and the big appliance chills it too quickly. The result is a cold, clammy feeling in a room cooled by an air conditioner that’s too large.
Air conditioning works best when combined with a breeze, like one from a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans don’t expire on a predictable timeline. But enticing names and fancy designs often hide a lack of performance. To provide a breeze, the blades on a ceiling fan must be angled to swoop air up or down. This requires a powerful motor. Using a small motor instead is cheaper, so the bargain price fans have blades set at a shallow angle. Even at high speed, they barely put out any wind. Others have the proper angle but still come with a malnourished motor, and the humming and buzzing of the overworked fan is annoying enough to keep it turned off.
Some recent ads promote a “huge scientific breakthrough” in a miracle “personal air conditioner”. That’s actually a rehash of a little boxed fan that was hyped the same way in the 1980’s. For a price approaching 100 dollars, you get a tiny fan and an opening for pouring water onto some sponges in the box. Technically, yes, that brings the temperature down in the space a few inches in front of the fan. But you can get a good table fan much cheaper from local retail. Using the humidifying method to cool that tiny breeze is not good air conditioning in our humid Georgia weather.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.