Air Conditioner Alternatives: Is It Possible?


Some people don't necessarily need to cool their house as much as air conditioners do. So, they seek alternative ways to cool their house without air conditioners. But, is it possible to have similar comfort without using air conditioners?

Most of the time, people suggest using the natural way which is to open windows and doors to let outside air come into the house. Other people said that swamp coolers or evaporative coolers can do the job. Meanwhile, some people think that it is impossible to be comfortable without air conditioners.

To find out whether there are alternatives to air conditioners, we must understand the principle behind each alternative suggestion. Perhaps, they won't work as you expected.

Open Windows and Doors

If you search on Google, most people suggest you open windows and doors to cool your house if you don't want to install and use air conditioners. Well, it is super obvious. The chances are people already tried it and it doesn't work.

The open windows and doors method is technically known as natural ventilation. Fundamentally, natural ventilation makes the condition of the air in your house the same as the outdoor air which is unacceptable to most people, especially those living in a hot and humid country.

While natural ventilation does cool your house to a certain extent, it most likely won't work as you expected. By just opening windows and doors, the outdoor air won't enter your house and circulate thoroughly unless it is windy. Furthermore, not every room has a window and we often need some privacy and therefore, some of the doors got to be closed.

So, I'd say that the open windows and doors method is not exactly an alternative to air conditioners.

Moreover, unless you are living in a clean air place, your indoor air quality will be bad if you let much outdoor air come into your house. Meanwhile, most places don't have good air quality nowadays.

Forced Ventilation

Since the open windows and doors method introduces dirty air into your house, using forced ventilation may solve the problem and be an alternative to air conditioners. Forced ventilation basically is referring to using a ventilation fan to force outdoor air into your house and circulate the air thoroughly.

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) suggests that home ventilation rate should not be less than 15 cfm per person [source]. A wall-mounted propeller ventilation fan has a minimum airflow rate of around 50 cfm. So, one fan can cater to 3 persons.

However, small ventilation fans don't have enough strength to pull air from a large space. Thus, they are only suitable for small rooms like the bedroom and toilet. So, a large fan may be required.

But, forced ventilation also possess the same problem as the open windows and doors method which is the introduction of dirty outdoor air. Nevertheless, you can solve it by putting a filter before the fan.

Still, it is only applicable for cold and dry climates. In countries like Malaysia and Singapore, our daily average outdoor air temperature is around 30°C and the relative humidity is about 85%. Humans generally feel comfortable at a temperature around 24°C and relative humidity around 55%.

So, cooling our house with forced ventilation a.k.a. the outdoor air is definitely not practical. However, in countries like Portugal and Greece, forced ventilation is an excellent alternative to air conditioners because their weather is comfortable.

Countries like China and South Africa may have cool weather but the humidity level is too high (~70%) which is both uncomfortable and potentially causing mold and fungus growth issues.

Evaporative Coolers

Swamp coolers or evaporative coolers or air coolers are very popular among people who seek air conditioner alternatives. However, many of them ended up in disappointment.

I've simplified and explained the working principle behind evaporative coolers in my previous blog post. Check it out now if you want to understand why evaporative coolers don't work as expected.

In short, evaporative coolers fundamentally don't work in humid places. However, some people suggest using ice evaporative coolers but aren't you are indirectly using the refrigerator to cool your house?

Nevertheless, evaporative coolers do work appropriately and practically in certain places.

Roof Ventilators

Roof ventilators adopt the principle of cool air is heavier than hot air to cool your house. They do work but require a large volume of air to be effective. Furthermore, it is the same as the open windows and doors method as well as forced ventilation.

With a roof ventilator, you are basically introducing outdoor air into your house which again, the problem of dirty air and appropriate weather conditions.

Is Air Conditioner Inevitable?

In my opinion, the answer is yes. Air conditioners are inevitable and they will become an essential appliance in most houses just like the refrigerator, water filter and computer.

More and more people around the world need air conditioners as Earth is getting hotter and hotter. This is supported by IEA research back in the year 2018. Below is the summary of the research:

  • The use of energy for space cooling is growing faster than for any other end use in buildings, more than tripling between 1990 and 2016.
  • Rising demand for space cooling is already putting enormous strain on electricity systems in many countries, as well as driving up emissions.
  • Growing demand for cooling is driven by economic and population growth in the hottest parts of the world.
  • There is no doubt that global demand for space cooling and the energy needed to provide it will continue to grow for decades to come.

So, the world needs air conditioners. But, the electricity cost is high. How can we solve this problem in our own house?

How to Reduce Air Conditioner Electricity Cost?

Since you are going to buy air conditioners for your house anyway, why not choose high efficient air conditioners that use lesser electricity?

The first rule in buying efficient air conditioners is to pick inverter type. I outlined 9 reasons to use inverter air conditioners in my previous blog post which you can check out later. One of the reasons is energy saving.

After you purchase the inverter air conditioners, the next step is to make sure that you get the contractor to install them properly so that your air conditioners don't operate excessively. For that, check out my post on the positioning of split air conditioners.

There are several types of air conditioners such as window air conditioners, portable air conditioners and split air conditioners. Among them, split air conditioners offer the highest energy efficiency and you should always use split air conditioners when possible.

When it comes to split air conditioners or mini-splits, there are several brands to choose from. In countries like Malaysia and Singapore, I would recommend Daikin or Panasonic. For the United States, I suggest Daikin or Senville or Pioneer.

Because air conditioners are becoming an essential appliance in our home, we can't help but to use them and be aware of the practices that we need to follow to reduce energy usage as much as possible like a) only switching them on when needed, b) service them regularly and c) don't set the temperature too low.

We must face the reality that air conditioners are needed. So, carbon emissions, global warming and climate change issues must be addressed the other way; not stop using air conditioners. Cars are one of the biggest contributors to climate change but, can we walk instead of drive?

How to Reduce Climate Change While Using Air Conditioners?

Apart from the practices we just discussed earlier, there are other ways to reduce the impact of air conditioners on global warming and climate change.

But before that, do you know that many people don't realize that air conditioners by themselves don't cause harm to the environment?

Actually, the reason why people are saying that air conditioners are harmful to the environment is that air conditioners consume a lot of electricity and the electricity is generated by power plants that burn fossil fuels which emit lots of carbon and thus, causing global warming and climate change.

So, power plants are slowly transforming from burning fossil fuels to using solar panels and sunlight to generate electricity. See the top 19 biggest solar power plants in the world.

However, air conditioners use refrigerants that are currently harmful to the environment. These refrigerants do leak a little during the production, installation and maintenance of air conditioners. But, new low environmental impact refrigerants such as the R32 refrigerant was invented in an effort to reduce global warming.

Fundamentally, air conditioners must be highly efficient in energy usage and the power source must be environmental-friendly in order to solve climate change problems.


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Yu Chang Zhen

I enjoy working on air conditioners and ventilation fans because Malaysia is a very hot country.

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