Until recently, this Southwest Washington summer was cool, cloudy and rainy. But now that we’re shifting to sunnier days, it’s time to prepare for the scorching afternoons that may lie ahead.
A generation ago, air conditioning was largely reserved for the wealthy and large public spaces in the Pacific Northwest. But as temperatures have increasingly risen year after year, home air conditioning has become a more common feature in regional homes.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau reports that at least 70 percent of homes and apartments in the Portland-Vancouver metro area have air conditioning. That’s up from about 40 percent from the early 2000s.
“Air conditioning used to be thought of as a luxury that many people in our region could simply do without,” said Clark Public Utilities Energy Services Supervisor DuWayne Dunham. “But as air conditioning units have become more affordable and more customers are installing electric heat pumps — which perform both heating and cooling — for their home climate systems, it’s become increasingly common in Clark County.”
Electrically heated homes are best served by a heat pump, whether in a central air system or as part of a ductless system, because they efficiently offer year-round climate control.
But renters or homeowners who can’t get one aren’t without options.
Freestanding or window mount air conditioning units are available for a few hundred dollars and some are powerful enough to cool a small home. Plus, their portability makes it a breeze to bring them from room to room.
“They aren’t very expensive to operate. Running an 1100-watt window unit to cool one room for five hours per day equals $13.47 at the end of the month,” Dunham said. “That small amount of money can buy a lot of comfort on those hot summer evenings.”
Fans also can make a room more comfortable, and they are affordable. A ceiling fan running six hours a day for a month only costs $0.90 for Clark Public Utilities customers.
“Turning on the fan in your home central air system will also circulate air and create a draft that can help you feel cooler,” Dunham said. “They don’t change the temperature of the air, but the movement of air in the home can help us feel cooler.
If you’re not afraid of a DIY project, you can get the benefits of air conditioning without the upfront costs by building a homemade air conditioner.
An internet search will net countless designs from which to base your project. The basic idea is as follows.
Cut two holes in the container of your choice, such as a bucket or cooler.
Position a small fan next to one hole and a section of pipe in the other. Fill the container with ice or frozen water bottles, seal the container, turn on the fan and enjoy a chilly breeze.
Remember to check the ice and be prepared to occasionally empty the melted water.
“With a little bit of ingenuity, a modest investment of time and money, you can enjoy the sunshine and still keep cool this summer,” Dunham said.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.