Alternatives to Central Air

A thermometer with the sun in the background.

Central air is one of the best inventions created by man, but it’s also expensive, and not everyone can afford to have it installed in their home. Believe it or not, people at one time did live without this marvel of modern technology, and somehow, they made it through. There are several alternatives to central air for people who don’t have it, or don’t want to use it.

The Fan

A standing fan

Long before there was forced central air, people were sitting in front of fans and letting the moving breeze cool them down. Fans come in all shapes, sizes, and powers. For example, you can have a small personal fan, a larger box fan for more coverage, or even a giant window fan that will feel like a hurricane in your bedroom. I grew up with a window-mounted fan and can remember turning it on and feeling like a jet pilot going Mach 6.

On the more advanced end of the spectrum, there is also a whole house fan. This type is installed in the ceiling of the upper level to push hot air into the attic, where it filters out with the use of gable vents or something similar. If you live in an area where the outside air is cooler in the mornings and evenings, this is definitely a substitute to consider.

The Window Unit

Window AC units can be a perfect choice for smaller homes, but they can still provide an energy-saving substitute for central air even in bigger homes.

Window-mounted AC units actually use less energy than central air. While this is true, it’s a little more complicated than it seems. Forced air systems do have more energy-efficient units than window AC units, but the whole system loses something along the way. Bad ductwork and lack of insulation can lead to big leaks in the hot and cold air being pumped around your home, so the unit has to work harder to maintain the temperature you want. Central air is also designed to keep your entire home cool, which is great until you consider that it is also cooling the home when you’re not there and cooling rooms whether you’re using them or not. This ultimately results in the unit using more energy overall than a few window air conditioners installed in key rooms throughout the home.

Geothermal System

I like to think of geothermal energy as coming straight from Mother Nature. An e

I like to think of geothermal energy as coming straight from Mother Nature. An elaborate underground array of piping takes room-temperature water and cools it by traveling below ground where the temperatures are constant. This allows the water to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The water then goes back up to the home, where it creates colder air and that air is blown through the home by a fan. A geothermal system replaces both the heating and cooling systems, and while it’s a high upfront cost, it saves considerable money in the long run.

Evaporative Coolers

If you live in a dry climate like Arizona or Texas, an evaporative cooler might be for you. It’s like a humidifier that uses water to cool the air and then expels it throughout the home. If you live in a humid state, avoid this like the plague, as it can just make matters worse. Evaporative coolers use about three gallons of water per day and can be either freestanding or window units.

The summer heat can be brutal, especially for people who don’t have central air, but you can beat the heat if you choose some of these simple alternatives.