Home Cooling Options Without Central Air Conditioning

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The temperature is heating up and everyone wants to keep cool and comfortable. But, what if there is no central air conditioning system in the home or apartment?

Like most of us today, you want to save energy this summer. With the current high cost of energy, it makes sense to look at lower-cost solutions that can do the same cooling job as central air conditioning but use much less energy and save money. Here are several alternatives to consider for keeping cool.

Portable Air Conditioners

Portable air conditioners, as the name suggests, do not need a permanent installation. There is a minor set up and take down process, but they can be moved from room to room wherever they are needed most. Use them in the living room during the day and then move them to cool the bedrooms during the night. Residential portable air conditioners, depending on their size, can cool rooms from 225-525 sq. ft. down to 60 degrees.

A portable air conditioner does require ventilation to run efficiently. The units create heat, as a byproduct of the cooling process and that heat needs to be vented to the outdoors. Usually portable units can be vented through a window using a simple window vent kit. If that is not possible, a portable can be vented through a dropped ceiling, exterior wall, or even the floor.

Larger units also can feature a heater function that is useful during the winter and colder days. Portable air conditioners can also dehumidify the household air during spring months when humidity levels are highest.

Window Air Conditioners

The next type to consider is the window air conditioner. They have been the popular choice over the last 50 years for smaller homes and apartments. The window air conditioner does require slightly more effort to get it installed. It typically is not moved once installed. The window unit can cool rooms up to 724 sq. feet and is a more powerful alternative to the portable units described above.

Window air conditioners do not require additional venting since most of the air conditioning unit fits outside the home or apartment. If there is not a window available for installation, the units can be installed through an exterior wall. This is usually a job for a licensed carpenter or handyman. Many of these air conditioners can also provide heating during the colder months.

home cooling options without central air conditioning

Mini Split Air Conditioners

The mini split air conditioners are popular throughout Europe and Asia. They are similar to a central air unit in that they have a compressor/condenser that fits outside and the air-handling unit that is installed inside. The two largest advantages of this type of air conditioning are the small size of the unit and the cost effectiveness over a central air conditioning system.

Mini split air conditioning systems do require installation by an air conditioning specialist. This type of system is more expensive than a window air conditioning unit. But, they offer the advantage of being able to be hooked up to multiple air-handling units allowing more than one room to be cooled at the same time.

This type of air conditioner does not require any ducting. The energy loss is much less than a central air conditioning system. They attach to an interior wall and only require a 3-inch hole to hook up the outside condenser unit.

Mini splits will also provide heating functions as well as dehumidifying interior rooms. They tend to be low maintenance after installation. Some models can be controlled with a hand-held remote.

Portable Air Coolers

Residential air coolers, sometimes called evaporative air coolers, are different from air conditioners. Air coolers are not able to cool down an entire room. But, using about the same amount of energy as a light bulb, an evaporative air cooler can keep the occupants feeling cool.

An air cooler works better than a fan because most units incorporate a water reservoir. The reservoir can be filled with ice water also. By distributing the water vapor, throughout the room, the air feels cooler. They are completely portable and may come with casters for easy movement from room to room. Portable air coolers consume little energy when in use.

Fans, Water & Ice

For a lower tech solution to air-cooling, a fan, a tray of water and an open window may be all you’ll need. Place the fan on or near an open window, then place a tray of ice or ice water in front of the unit and the air passing over the tray will be cooled as it flows around the room.

Low Tech Cooling Alternatives

There is a growing movement toward environmentally friendly solutions and sustainable living. Here’s how to use a few of those principles to keep cool and save money on energy.

During daylight hours, keep windows, drapes, and blinds or shades closed. This is most effective on the west and south sides of the home or apartment. White or lighter colored draperies will also help reflect light and heat back outside. Move the interior air around to strip off the heat. Ceiling fans can make a big difference. Just moving the air around will make it seem cooler. Humidity can make the air seem hotter. Do laundry early or late in the afternoon and invest in a dehumidifier for humid climates. Plant heat-absorbing deciduous trees, trellises, and shrubbery on the south and west sides of exterior walls. Avoid rocks and hardscapes close to the house.

Just a small amount of change can create a cooler and energy efficient environment.

Last Updated: July 17, 2012
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About Bill Washburn William "Bill" Washburn has a BA in advertising from the Art Center College of Design and has taught at the University of Southern California and Northrup University. Writing from a well-connected studio in the rural foothills of the west coast, he is a frequent speaker at local art associations and has published numerous articles discussing periods of art history and the fundamentals of drawing and painting. William is a master gardener who grows his own culinary herbs, organic heirloom vegetables and a variety of fruits. He writes frequently about his gardening experiences on his website Pioneer Dad. He is an accomplished advertising writer, fine art painter, and art director with more than 20 years' experience. 

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