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Keeping cool without air conditioning

It's the topic on everyone's lips this summer and the headline story across Canada: How are you keeping cool in the heat? And if recent news reports are correct, it's sweltering in places all around the globe.

It's so hot that people are looking for answers from places on the planet where temperatures in the 50-Celsius range are common, and from animals who seem to know how to cool off when the temperature and humidity soar.

Of course, many Canadians turn to air conditioning to keep cool, but with the increasing costs for electricity and the growing concern about climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions, this can be a costly option.

Reaching the peak
When temperatures soar, increased electricity consumption creates what's called peak energy, pushing the local power sources into overdrive.

"While we may only need a certain amount of power 90 per cent of the time, we have to design a system for peak demand," says Ben Chin, vice president of communications for the Ontario Power Authority.

"We spend a lot of money for the infrastructure to meet those periods of peak demand," says Chin. "Historically, winter was our greatest peak period, but that's now in summer."

That's where air conditioning use comes in.

According to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance's PeakBusters conservation campaign, air conditioning represents 40 per cent of total electricity production in peak periods.

That translates into costs for consumers in the form of higher taxes and utility bills, and high costs for the environment, especially where coal-fired generation is used.

The Ontario Power Authority estimates that 60 per cent of a household's annual electricity bill goes to heating and air conditioning, with cooling representing between 1,000 kWh to 1,500 kWh annually. Your actual cost will depend on usage and the rate your local power company charges, ranging from $100 on a low end up to several hundred dollars per season.

Tips to lower costs and temperatures
With this in mind, it pays to look for some lower-cost ways to keep your cool.

In your home or apartment, try to keep the heat and humidity from getting inside in the first place by drawing drapes or blinds and closing windows during the hottest part of the day.

For example, electronic blinds originally used for security purposes can be used on a timer-basis to shade your home during the hottest part of the day.

Fans are effective ways to feel cool, but they work best if you've kept your home cool in the first place -- otherwise, they are just moving hot air around. You can use ceiling fans in a reverse or counter-clockwise motion to create a comfortable breeze and improve air circulation. Or, try facing a box fan toward the outside to send that hot air back to where it came from.

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-- Posted: Aug. 4, 2010
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