Keep Cool for Less With Solar A/C

Learn more about solar air conditioningEarth-conscious homeowners looking to keep cool this summer without breaking the carbon bank, listen up. As of late last month, LG introduced the world's first mass-marketed solar-assisted air conditioning unit and promoted it using sexy, mini-skirted models.

Attaching a small solar panel to a traditional A/C unit, the hybrid unit is estimated to prevent 466 pounds of carbon dioxide over 10 years from entering the atmosphere, the equivalent of growing 780 pine trees, according to the Korea Times.

Considering how energy-inefficient traditional air-conditioning units are, LG's hybrid could be an environmental breakthrough. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), an environmental think tank based in Washington, D.C, reports that home air-conditioning currently accounts for 5 percent of all energy produced in the U.S., approximately 140 million tons of carbon dioxide.
While solar-assisted A/C could put a significant dent in U.S. pollution output, Jason Holstine, an eco-builder and owner of Amicus Green Building Center in Kensington, Md., says that there are a few simple steps that homeowners can take without shelling out funds for an entirely new AC unit. (We also touched on a few more eco-conscious steps last month).

"First off, if you have a central A/C unit, go to the thermostat and turn it to the 'Fan' setting," says Holstine. "The fan is a lot more efficient than an A/C unit and since you're just circulating air rather than cooling it down, you can keep the windows and doors open with the fan on."

Switching a central fan helps to combat stratification -- the natural process in which hot air rises to the upper levels of your home while cooler air stays on the lower ones. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy reports that home owners who choose central or ceiling fans over traditional A/C units will be rewarded with 3 to 5 percent sliced off their electric bill for every degree they raise the thermostat.

Homeowners can also improve their energy efficiency by installing timers to shut the A/C off when they're not home and choosing to purchase units with at least a season energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of at least 14. Perhaps the most important step is simply maintaining the unit you already have. The ACEEE recommends that homeowners have a technician come to inspect and tune up their A/C unit every two to three years, a move that can improve air flow anywhere from 5 to 10 percent.

"The older your system is, the more often it needs to be checked," adds Holstine. "Also, if there are bushes or shrubs around your unit, cut them down so that there's at least 12 inches of space around. If things are impeding the airflow, it's going to make your unit work harder."

For more tips on how to stay cool without damaging the earth, check out the ACEEE's guide to air-conditioning.

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