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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog

Fan Conditioning

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I believe people should adapt to their environment, adjusting themselves to the climate in which they live, rather than trying to force nature to suit their whims. Air conditioning is one example of how we twist nature, using huge amounts of energy to create an artificial environment.

A friend recently sent me a news item about a Salina, Kansas, author, Stan Cox, who has made news by refusing to use air conditioning even when temperatures rise to 105 degrees and cattle are dying. (The cattle are dying because they are confined in feedlots; cattle left to roam on our ranch have no trouble with those temperatures, because they spend the day by alternately standing knee-deep in a stock dam or lying on top of a breezy hill chewing their cud. And see Pasture Perfect: The Far-Reaching Benefits of Choosing Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Products from Grass-Fed Animals by Jo Robinson for information on the unhealthy stuff those cattle in feedlots are eating before they appear in your local supermarket in plastic wrap.)

Stan Cox hasn’t turned his air conditioner on since 1977 He and his wife, Priti Gulati Cox, an artist, use fans to cool their rooms. They move around the house and yard in the opposite direction of the sun’s rays, staying in the basement or in shade.

Cox is the author of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer). He says, "In a country that's among the world's highest greenhouse-gas emitters, air conditioning is one of the worst power-guzzlers. The energy required to air-condition American homes and retail spaces has doubled since the early 1990s. Turning buildings into refrigerators burns fossil fuels, which emits greenhouse gases, which raises global temperatures, which creates a need for -- you guessed it -- more air-conditioning."

He adds that air conditioning has helped turn suburban neighborhoods into dead zones; people’s interaction with their neighbors and with nature is almost nonexistent because no one goes outside. Meanwhile, in the American Sunbelt, for example, a husband and wife may get up in a 3,000 square foot air-conditioned house, get into two air-conditioned cars and commute to an office block that has cooled all night in preparation for the workday while their 24,000 cubic feet of living space is being cooled with nobody in the house.

One of the results, says Cox, is that between 1993 and 2005 our use of electricity [in the U.S.] for cooling residences and retail space doubled over that period and that, over that same period, more or less, we doubled our use of petroleum energy used in cooling automobiles.

Furthermore, he suggests that spending most of our time in a zone where the body doesn’t have to work hard to stay warm or cool could contribute to obesity. And there’s some evidence people eat more when they are cool. Instead of staying outside in summer, many people now stay inside, where activity is more sedentary.

After Cox was interviewed, many commentators wrote angry emails against his viewpoint, including predictions that the economy of the U.S. would collapse and thousands of people would die without air conditioning. When his ideas were mentioned in The Washington Post, he received 67-pages of angry emails, including death threats.

Cox notes that builders of new homes often ignore opportunities for passive cooling; a lot can be done with landscaping, with insulation, extending the eaves of houses, and other instances of planning ahead. Older homes sometimes are more easily cooled without air conditioning because it wasn’t available when they were built, so these homes often have more insulation. Some modern homes and office buildings have windows that don't even open whereas in older homes windows were properly placed for cross-ventilation. A modern home may not have a basement to supply cool air to the upstairs in the evening, and some older homes have attic fans or swamp coolers. Consider your own situation, research the possibilities, and see what you might do to eliminate or reduce your use of air conditioning.

Because of all this uproar, I’ve decided that by “fan conditioning” my homes, I’m not only reducing costs but being incredibly brave. Both my own home and Homestead House (where I conduct writing retreats) are fan conditioned.

Homestead House is well-shaded by trees, which helps keep inside temperatures down. My home, Windbreak House, is not. Because we are concerned about prairie fire, our nearest trees are too far away to cool the house. Yet this method works to keep both houses at comfortable temperatures during the hottest summer days. To be honest, I must admit that the thermometer has not registered triple digits since sometime in August, 2007, more than 1080 days without temperatures over 100 degrees. And while I have experienced many days of 100 degrees and above here, they are usually in July and August, and the humidity is usually low.

Fan conditioning a home begins with shutting windows and pulling shades early in the day, especially on the sunny side of the house. Trap cool air inside, and keep warm air out. Do this early! If you are an early riser, try shutting windows before the sun rises. By eight a.m. on warm summer days, the temperature in the house has already climbed 10 to 20 degrees from its overnight low. To test the truth of this statement, open a window in the sunshine and feel the hot air flowing in.

During the day, if the house gets warmer than is comfortable, use fans to move the air around inside the house. Fans cannot cool the air, only move it. Pointing a fan directly at you cools because it evaporates moisture from your skin. Drink plenty of water on hot days; dehydration also makes you feel warmer. You might drape a wet towel over a fan, or place a bowl of water in front of it, to put more cool moisture into the air.

Remember, though, that fans use electricity, and increase energy use and costs. Moreover, the heat given off by the fan motor increases the heat of the room. In a small room, with windows and doors closed, the heat is easily felt.

Try dampening a scarf and tying it around your neck and head; evaporation will cool you even without a fan nearby. Or soak your shirt in lukewarm (not cold) water, wring it thoroughly, and put it back on. Spray your head and clothing with water from a spray bottle. (This cooling method is portable, too; see my “Heat Wave on the Highway” in Land Circle.)

Since the body radiates heat from hands, feet, and face, cooling any of these will help cool your body; soak your bare feet in a tub of cool water. Natural fabrics (cotton, silk) wick water away from your skin better than nylon, polyester or other synthetics. If you’re going outside, wear lighter colors since dark colors absorb heat. And covering up with loose clothing, long sleeves and long skirts or pants, as citizens do in Middle Eastern countries, may keep you cooler because your skin is shaded; covering your skin also helps prevent skin cancer. And the spicy foods popular in warmer countries is part of a natural “air conditioning” system: eating them increases perspiration which cools the body by evaporation.

In late afternoon, when windows are in shadow, compare the inside and outside temperatures. Only when the air outside is cooler than that inside should you open the shades and windows.

Place a fan in a west-facing window in late afternoon, blowing out; this will help draw cool air inside from the east side of the house and from the basement. Close the window firmly on the fan to keep it from rattling itself out of the window, or buy fans made to fit windows. Later, you may wish reverse the flow, blowing cool air in.

One source says you can speed the house’s cooling by opening cupboard doors at night, too; cupboards store the heat. Turn off unnecessary lights and other electrical equipment; TVs, computers-- they all give off heat.

Windbreak House doesn’t have a clothesline (yet), but I frequently air blankets and pillows and dry laundry by hanging it on the deck railings. We often use the Homestead House clothesline-- refurbished since my mother used it-- to air out blankets and throws between retreats. Some neighborhoods ban these devices as “unsightly,” thus making it actually illegal to save energy and get fresh air while doing laundry.

But that’s another rant.

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For more information:
Search the term "clothesline ban" or see the following websites
Earth911 website
Care2 website

For information about grassfed animals see the website for the American Grassfed Association
and the website for Eat Wild

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