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How the rise of AC changed how we work & live

The Washington Post published an article last month about how your air conditioner can make these heat waves we’ve been having in late summer worse, as well as how it changed the way we work and live. We’ve summarized some key points below. Of course, information is power when it comes to our North Suburban (Lake Forest, Buffalo Grove, Skokie, etc.) customers, and we always want to make sure you know what’s best for your family, home, HVAC system and overall comfort as we deal with continued high temps this summer.
The gist of their message is that our consumption of air conditioning is making us need it more. So let’s talk about that theory. In the past, before AC, workers had different schedules to account for the steamy weather. Although we’ve retained some of those habits, the prevalence of AC remains a central part of our summer time comfort and productivity. Think of all those times your work AC goes down – you spend a lot of time trying to compensate for the uncomfortable temps or simply just complaining about it to your co-workers. Without air conditioning, office buildings and other common work environments would become sweat shops.
It may seem unfathomable, but in 1960, only 12% of U.S. households had air conditioning and by 1980, that had risen to only 55% and today, it’s almost 90%. The surge in efficient and affordable air cooling technology caused a big change to the structure of cities and suburbs. You saw more glass office-block looks with deep, inexpensive inside spaces that would not have been conducive to workers if they didn’t have AC. The same idea goes to housing – homes and apartments saw a big drop in warm-weather architectural details, such as porches, large eaves, high ceilings, cross-ventilated designs, transom windows, windows that open and attic fans, per the article and author. These features made the dwellings more affordable and places that otherwise we’d consider too hot, like whole parts of the country, unliveable (at least by our modern standards). Now, it’s more common to have people (especially in our service area) have homes in Florida and Arizona and not just go there over the winter.

“It’s not too late to reduce our dependence on air conditioning, especially in rural areas, small towns and leafy suburbs. Even in big cities, homeowners can plant shade trees and other vegetation, install whole-house fans, sleep in the basement. On the other hand, apartment dwellers have far fewer options: They can live with open windows, fans and cold showers up to a point, but when heat waves like this one arrive, it’s time to reach for the thermostat.

“Air conditioning has become a necessity but not a solution. It’s like an ice bath for a patient suffering an extreme fever, treating the symptom while leaving untouched the underlying cause — in this case, the one-two punch of climate change and the distorted physical and social structure of our cities. And by making our world temporarily cooler, air conditioning is making it permanently hotter, thanks to the increases in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, vehicle fuel consumption and refrigerant production that keep the cool air flowing,” the article continued.

If your air conditioning is struggling to keep up with the temperatures this summer, regardless of the brand – we service American Standard, Rheem, Lennox and Trane – call us at 847.509.2024. Although it’s interesting to learn about how air conditioning emerged as a major source of change over the last 60 years, we know that you want to be comfortable in your home today. And with fall right around the corner, it’s important to have a fully functional and energy efficient HVAC system.

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