Air Conditioning and a Monotonous Life (& update on Jenny's house)
The invention of air conditioning changed our world in more ways than we realise. This short podcast by '99% Invisible', titled Thermal Delight, explains the history of its invention, and how it has changed our world. If you look at the big picture, we have to question whether it was for the better or for worse.
“On-demand cold air freed architects from the challenge of designing a home that was uniquely suited to the climate around it.” The invention of controlled indoor climates at the flick of a button invited new mass developments that forgot the simple passive design principles that came before. We moved away from local building styles, and towards a sea of cheap cookie-cutter monotony.
The convenience of the system meant that air conditioning changed from being a luxury to a necessity. “Today, America uses the same amount of electricity on air conditioning, as the entire continent of Africa uses for all purposes.” Most air-conditioned buildings are now forced to keep going down this path, as they aren’t designed to manage thermal comfort in an alternate way.
Of particular interest to us, is the discussion at the end of the podcast about living in ‘thermal monotony’. Professor Gail Brager talks about the delight we get from thermal change – the relief of a cool breeze, the heart warming feeling of standing in front of a fire. She worries that air conditioning isn’t just affecting our electricity use and dumbing down our architecture, but also placing us in some kind of “thermal monotony”. Her research indicates that “people actually prefer naturally ventilated buildings where they can open up windows and feel a little bit of control over their own temperature.”
We feel strongly that even the most basic spec home can include enough sensible passive design, that (along with education of residents on how to operate their house correctly) air conditioning could become an occasional helping hand, rather than the necessity most people think it is these days. Homes could re-connect with their surroundings, and people could enjoy an increased awareness of their local environment and comfortable, affordable living.
We encourage all of our clients to give their Light House homes a chance before installing air conditioning, and we’re thrilled to say that less than 5% of clients have installed a small split system/heat pump. (*Update 2019 - we are now recommending to clients that they install a heat pump as their main source of heating; this of course has the added bonus of providing some supplementary cooling on the small number of occasions each summer that it is needed). The rest report back with encouraging feedback, such as this family who moved in late last year and responded with the following when asked how their home fared on the 41 degree day last week:
“Our day yesterday was very comfortable with the house closed up and living room fan on. We had several tradies in and out and one son had a mate over so there was a bit of door opening going on. It was 60 degrees in the roof when the electrician had to get up there but the house was around 25 or less.”
The graph below shows the external versus internal temperatures at Jenny's House over the last week. She and her family, and the groups of weekend visitors, agree it was indeed a thermal delight - extremely comfy during the day, closed up and with the ceiling fans running gently in the rooms they were in and lovely at night when windows were opened as the external temps dropped. With nearly all windows opened and ceiling fans running gently all night, plus the bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans switched on low to help draw in cooler night air, the internal house temps dropped and everyone slept comfortably under bed covers. The only thing that threatened to disturb us was the noise from our neighbours' air conditioning systems running all night! You can read more about Jenny's house in previous journal stories eg. the opposite extremes in the middle of winter.