THE QUESTION:

Dear Alexandra,

It’s so hot in New York right now, and I know its not going to get cooler anytime soon.  I hate air conditioning – I know it’s bad for the environment, wastes energy, and costs me a fortune.  Sadly, my apartment is on the fourth floor and is sweltering without it.  My boyfriend has threatened to never sleep at my place unless we keep it at a reasonable temperature (colder than I’d like).  Can you advise on how to best reach a compromise for this situation?  Obviously I can’t survive the summer without it, and don’t want to survive without him, so what is the best way to meet in the middle and be the most environmentally sound?

Thanks,

Beth

THE ANSWER:

Hi Beth!  Thanks for the question.  You’re so not alone. I cannot tell you how many couples have this same dispute every summer (cough cough).  Obviously you’re not going to give up your boyfriend, but it can be hard to agree on when to use the A/C and how much.  If he can survive some days that are below a certain temperature with natural coolers like fans, window shades, and lots of iced tea (or cold beer?), always go that route first.  Some days, even I’ll admit, are absolutely unbearable in the city, so the air conditioning is necessary. Talk about it and strike a compromise that works for both of you. Agree on what temperature you will set the A/C at, too. 75 is the current number in my apartment, and it goes on usually only after it’s around 88ish outside. If it’s humid, sometimes it goes on when the mercury is lower than that. Um, don’t tell anyone, but if it is on, I frequently sneak it up higher than 75 and–sssshhh!–even turn it off. I suspect the other people I live with are equally sneaky. Once you decide on your limits, both of you should really stick to it. Don’t act like my family.

If you’re in the market for a new machine (or don’t have one), I’d suggest upgrading your air conditioner to a high efficiency Energy Star rated unit, which will both lower energy bills and impact the environment somewhat less. Win win(ish). Air conditioning efficiency is rated using a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER). Any system sold in the U.S. after July 2006 must have a rating of 13. To be Energy Star rated, it must have a SEER rating of 14.5 or higher.

Window units are rated differently, through an EER rating. Energy Star units have an EER rating of at least 9.4, although the American Council on Energy Efficiency recommends a 11.6 or higher. All of this detail might make you want to fall asleep, but is worth paying attention to.

Basically, if your system was installed before 2006, you definitely have room to improve in the energy efficiency department–and have plenty of options to choose from. I’ll spare you the heat pump and geothermal information here. I’m not thinking either are in your future on the fourth floor. If so, an experienced contractor can come to your home and give you a tailored analysis of your options. You can also check out the American Council on Energy Efficiency’s site (http://www.aceee.org/consumer/cooling) for more information.

Stay cool! With any luck, the weather will cooperate with you and you’ll have many nights of just fans and the boy. Happy summer.

Alexandra