6.28.2007

The Joys of Air Conditioning

by Allison Doolittle

The sweat drips from the top of your head down your neck, careening along your spine to form a wet spot on the couch. Hot, sticky, tired, you sip a glass of water packed with ice cubes. Here you are in Texas where living without air conditioning – even for one day – is miserable. But, the AC is out. What do you do? Open the windows, turn on the fans, and blast the music.

For the last 50 years, families in Texas, Arizona, California, New Mexico and Florida have relied on air conditioning for their day-to-day survival.

Air conditioning as we know it has only been around for the last hundred years. Evolving from a process used to preserve food, “The Apparatus for Treating Air” was patented in 1906 by Willis Carrier. His innovative mechanism to control humidity and temperature was pioneered for factories, stores, schools and even movie theatres in the 1920s. He created the “Weathermaker,” an air conditioner for use in private homes in 1928, the same year AC was installed in the U.S. House of Representatives. It wasn’t widely available to middle class families until after World War II. From then on, air conditioning became a necessity.

AC changed American architecture, allowing for new innovations and less reliance on cross-ventilation and thick walls. AC changed the economy, enabling businesses and factories to stay open even during the hottest months. AC even changed cars, allowing Americans to roll up their windows.

According to the Energy Information Administration, Americans spent 15 billion dollars on AC in 2001. Two thirds of this spending is by homeowners in Southern states. Some estimate that 20 percent of summer energy spending in the U.S. goes toward air conditioning.

Now, as global warming concerns heat up, it appears that the cost of air conditioning may escalate in the coming years. Some say our cooling systems may even contribute to global warming. “We hide from global warming behind our AC units without ever thinking about how much those AC units add to the problem,” writes Cindy Richards of The Chicago Sun-Times. Though we may get hotter in the long run thanks to global warming, Americans are certainly not ready to give up the pleasures of AC.

It’s easy to forget the importance of AC in everyday life… until it stops working, of course.

(Here's a playlist of some summer songs for listening with or without the AC, but with the AC is definitely a cooler proposition.)

“Broken A/C Blues” by Duane Jarvis
“Ya Viene el Sol” by Ozomatli
“Temperature” by Sean Paul
“She’s So Cold” by The Rolling Stones
“Son Fo” by Africando All Stars
“Cold as Ice” by Foreigner
“Summer Heat” by Etta James
“Cold Sweat” by James Brown
“Hot Hot Hot” by Buster Poindexter
“Here Comes the Sun Again” by M. Ward
“Island in the Sun” by Weezer
“Slow Dancing in A Burning Room” by John Mayer
“Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer
“Heat Wave” by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
“1865 (96 Degrees In the Shade)” by Third World

(For an alternative take on summer songs, please also see: "The Songs of Summer," or "iVoryTowerz Radio: Summer Sounds.)

(Photo of an air conditioner on the island of Cyprus by jurek d. of Lublin, Poland via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

Editor's Note: This post was inspired by a summer air conditioning outage in Allison's home in Central Texas. We wish her well as she gets the AC back. This is Allison's last post on the blog, at least for now. We were lucky to have her for a second stint with us for part of the summer and we wish her well.






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