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Baby, It’s Cold Inside: Tips for using air conditioners

Posted on July 22, 2010 by

Toronto Blackout - August 14, 2003 [Peter J Thompson/National Post]

Toronto Blackout – August 14, 2003 (Peter J Thompson/National Post)

 It was almost seven years ago, on August 14, 2003, when a series of power surges caused a cascade of shutdowns at more than 100 generating plants throughout the northeastern U.S. and Ontario. The result was the biggest blackout in North American history with 61,800 megawatts of power lost to over 50 million people. A lot of reliability measures have been implemented and business contingency plans instituted since then but, the demands on our aging grid continues to grow.

Then on July 5, 2010, at 4:45 p.m., an extreme heat alert day in Toronto, a rush hour blackout caused traffic chaos. Before the power was restored, the blackout, triggered by a fire at a transformer station, left 250,000 Toronto Hydro customers in the dark.

There is no confirmation yet about the cause. However, while we await confirmation of the cause, one thing is for sure, we have become air conditioner addicts.

According to Stan Cox, author of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World, we air condition everything from golf carts to storage rooms and recently, Dubai was looking at air conditioning a popular beach.

Obsession with Air Conditioning

Our obsession with air conditioning is a relatively recent phenomenon. The amount of energy consumed by running residential air conditioners in Canada almost tripled between 1990 and 2007. And to make matters worse, we are entering a cycle of increasing temperatures resulting in ever higher demands on air conditioners which in turn will contribute to our warming climate.

There are however, some important tips for using air conditioners that will result in more efficient energy use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Set your thermostat at 25°C or higher. Each half-degree setting below 26°C increases your energy consumption by approximately 8%.
  • Consider cost-effective conservation measures, such as shading windows from direct sunlight.
  • When possible, delay heat-generating activities, such as dish washing or cooking until the evening on hot days.
  • Be sure your air conditioner is not blocked.
  • Over most of the cooling season (which does not have to start as soon as the snow melts), keep the house closed tight during the day. Don’t let in unwanted heat and humidity.
  • Ventilate your rooms at night naturally as weather permits by opening windows to create cross ventilation
  • Consider supplementing the air conditioner with fans which will allow you to set the thermostat a few degrees higher.
  • If purchasing a new air conditioner consider an ENERGY STAR® model, which use at least 10% less energy.

Looking for more energy saving tips? GLOBE, a leader in bringing energy efficiency to the housing sector, will be launching its Sustainability Toolbox in the coming weeks. For more information on GLOBE, visit

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