Conspicuous Consumer BILLING AND COOLING

A few years ago when we built our house we thought it would be a good idea to install an electrically operated central air conditioning system. At that time I was not familiar with fuel adjustment clauses. It would not have dawned on me that there was the slightest relationship between the cost of gas, oil and lignite coal on the one hand, and our electric bill on the other. I thought that electricity came from the sky. I was also very surprised to learn recently from Dallas Power and Light that we have had four consecutive cool summers, and that if it gets hot, this summer’s average bill for a 2500-square foot house will be $818.48 compared to last year’s $521.71. Is it too late, or can we still escape from the bondage of central air conditioning?

Undoubtedly the least painful retreat for Texans is to another form of refrigerated air, the room or window air conditioner. Many of us, especially working couples who eat out during the week, spend almost all of our time in the den or bedroom. So why cool the whole house? Room air conditioners are much more efficient energy users than central air, especially the “builder’s model” central units. A high efficiency 12,000-BTU window unit uses about one-sixth as much electricity as a 36,000-BTU builder’s model central system, costing $60-$70 a summer instead of $350 to $400. So whether you’re trying to get away from your central unit or give it a boost, room air conditioners deserve a look. And if you’re adding a room or enclosing a garage, a window unit is the only way to go.

The first consideration in selecting a room air conditioner is capacity. Pay no attention to tonnage talk – it’s misleading and unreliable. The key to selecting the unit with the proper capacity is the BTU (British thermal unit) rating. The BTU designation signifies the number of heat units that a cooler can remove from the atmosphere in a given time period. Roughly speaking, you need a unit with a BTU capacity about three times the volume of the area you want to cool, such as in this example:

Width 12 X Length 15 X Height 8 = Volume 1,440 X 3 = 4,320 BTU’s needed.

There are several other considerations which will cause this estimate to vary, including shade, insulation, number of windows and the particular side of the house you want to cool. Experienced dealers such as Pat Kellum at Ed Kellum and Son (3133 Knox) or Melvin Rowe of Avalawn Appliance (4620 Cole) can help you select the precise capacity needed.

At least on a par with capacity in importance is the EER (Energy efficiency ratio). The EER is figured by dividing the cooling a unit can produce (BTUs) by the number of watts of electricity that it will consume in the process. So far, manufacturers have been able to attain peak energy efficiency in the 7,000 to 14,000 BTU range, as shown on the accompanying chart. Here are the small models (less than 7,000 BTUs) that are the stingiest on electrical consumption:



Model BTUs EER

Friedrich SP05D10 5,200 9.1

Friedrich SP06D10 6,500 9.0

Fedders ALR05F2HB 5,000 8.8

Frigidaire A5LECHEP 5,000 8.8

Ward’s LFE5016B 5,000 8.3

Fedders ALF05F2AB 5,000 8.3

And here are the most energy conscious large units (more than 14,000 BTU’s):

Model BTUs EER

Fedders ASD24E7HB 24,000 9.4

Fedders ASD19E7HB 19,000 9.3

Friedrich SL19D30 19,000 9.3

Emerson 18ED4E 18,000 9.3

Friedrich SL24D30 24,000 9.1

All of these cost a little more to buy than the “economy” models, but the additional front end cost is well worth it. Friedrich, for instance, produces two 9,900-10,000 BTU units, with EERs of 7.4 and 11.5 respectively. The 7.4 model is $90 cheaper than its counterpart. But over the expected 10 year life of the units in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the 7.4 model will cost $281 more to operate. And that’s based upon today’s electrical rates. As actual rates increase, the operating cost gap will widen.

Here are other important considerations in selecting a room air conditioner:

Quietness. If you don’t think this is important, imagine trying to sleep every night with one of those motel type economy models that sound like lawn edgers. Fortunately, energy efficiency and quiet operation go hand in hand. All of the high EER models are quieter than their less efficient brethren. The GE high efficiency models are particularly low on noise output.

Flexibility. The best units have ten thermostatic settings, at least three fan speeds, and adjustable louvers which allow you to put the air where you want it. Most of the Friedrich models have five fan speeds and six-way air flow control. Gibson has a novel motorized air sweep, like an oscillating fan. Frigidaire has a handy built in timer that will turn, the unit on and cool off the room just before you get home.

Appearance. Friedrich, which has one of the best lines mechanically, is the drabbest in appearance. All of their models have a dirty grayish-tan plastic look. Frigidaire offers a very attractive line of simulated wood grain finishes. Fedders, Amana, Whirlpool and York also offer models which are pleasing to the eye.

Warranty. The industry standard covers parts and labor for one year and the compressor for five years. GE covers all parts for five years. Airtemp guarantees parts and labor on the whole sealing system for five years. Amana warrants all parts and related labor for five years.

Most multiline dealers say that Fried-rich is the best air conditioner made. One dealer, who admits that he sells a lot of Friedrichs, says that GE and Airtemp are just as good and that Fedders is coming up. Some local residents have bad impressions of Fedders because of unsatisfactory experiences with their Fedders builder’s model central air systems. But a glance at the EER charts indicates that the Fedders people are trying harder these days. Airtemp is still a quality product even though the Airtemp operation has been in a state of disruption since the rocky transition following the sale of the Airtemp Division from Chrysler to Fedders a couple of years ago. Hotpoint puts out a good quality cooler with an unfortunate name. It’s like trying to market an insect repellent called “Ouch.”

The pioneer spirited may wish to abandon refrigerated air altogether. Now we’re talking about attic fans, air coolers, oscillating fans and ceiling fans. Around here, the most sensible use of these units is as a supplement to a central system or as a transitory measure in the late spring and early fall to shrink the central air cooling period. The sexiest of the un-refrigerators is the ceiling fan. Hunter makes the best ones and has been doing so for 74 years. Hunter ceiling fans can be purchased at Fantasia, 3132 McKin-ney, from $149.95 for the simple 36″ fan to $450 for the fancy four light, brass plated 52″ model. Installation is $30 to $50 extra.

A ceiling fan uses 6/l0ths of a cent in electricity per hour of use. These are great for vaulted ceiling dens where much of the summer cooling and winter heat is lost before it ever gets down to the people. A ceiling fan in a hard-to-cool den should afford enough comfort to permit a higher than average central system thermostat setting. And they are much more efficient than they appeared in the old movies where Sydney Green-street sat underneath one in a rundown bar grumbling and sweating up his rumpled white suit. They just weren’t designed for July in Casablanca.

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