Despite triple digits, some do without AC

Ben Plante of Manchester stands under one of his ceiling fans, which he uses to cool off instead of an air conditioner.

The heat continues to sizzle.

Cooling stations are up and running.

And weather forecasters and health officials have issued all sorts of warnings about prolonged exposure to what feels like triple-digit heat.

While this weekend’s heat will drive most to the protection of an air-conditioned lair, many will forgo AC comforts and endure in conditions they say will be uncomfortable but tolerable.

Some do so for environmental reasons.

Others say they never grew up with AC and have never gotten used to it. Still others say they don’t like the shock of opening a door and getting struck with polar chill or tropical spa.

“You don’t need air conditioning; you’re fine, you’re human. You’ll live,” said Janet Delfuoco of Northwood. “If you never had it, you don’t miss it.”

A visiting hospice nurse, Delfuoco said she lives a holistic life that includes growing vegetables and raising chickens at her home. Delfuoco, 52, said she grew up without AC and worked on a farm while in college, a job that had her outside for hours in the summer heat.

Like others interviewed for this article, she said home air conditioning is the final step for people who live in a world of climate-controlled office, mall, supermarket and car.

A lot of environmentalists avoid air conditioning once they understand the effect that energy use has on climate change, said Michele L. Tremblay, who lives in Webster and is president of the New Hampshire Rivers Council.

“Feeding into that has never felt right to me,” she said. She also questioned how healthy it is to move abruptly from cold to hot.

It appears she is in the minority.

According to the U.S. Energy Department, 44% of households in the Northeast had central air; 58% had window units. The fact that the two percentages exceed 100 means that some families had both central and window units, the Energy Department said.

The Energy Department does not keep state by state tallies. But in 2013, a consultant working with Eversource predicted that a quarter of its New Hampshire residential customers would have central air by 2020.

About 48% would have window units by then, according to Cadmus, which studied the effect of HVAC systems on the New Hampshire electrical system for the Public Utilities Commission.

Manchester resident Ben Plante has central air conditioning. He had it installed in his Brennan Street home when his wife was alive, and he froze every summer after that, he said.

Now the 89-year-old has ceiling fans in his bedroom and living room. He keeps his windows closed, and his house is cooler inside than out, he said Friday around noon. If it gets too hot, he has a TV room in his finished basement.

He acknowledged he might run the central air if it gets too hot this weekend, but only to keep it operational.

“I have no objections. I don’t hate it. I just don’t need it,” he said.

Jim Pierce, a retired floor installer, said he used to run two window units in his six-room home. But he didn’t like walking from a frigid room to a sweltering room. “It’s like hitting a brick wall,” the Manchester resident said.

So he took out the units and does his best to stay cool, although he said it will be brutal this weekend.

Delfuoco touts the health benefits of an AC-free life. You drink water, you sweat, which she said is good for one’s skin.

While a physician didn’t disagree that sweating is a beneficial way to reduce body heat, he said going AC-free is not healthy for everyone. Old people and the very young have difficulty regulating their body temperature.

The chronically ill are often on medications that prevent their body from naturally cooling down.

And children 10 and younger need to be supervised to make sure they stay hydrated, stay out of the sun and don’t overexert themselves, said Dr. Alan Flanigan, the medical director of the emergency room at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.

“I wouldn’t say it’s healthy or unhealthy, but air conditioning is inherently more comfortable for some,” Flanigan said. He said the one health concern about any air conditioner is whether the filter is clean.

According to the CDC, heat waves are one of the leading causes of extreme-weather death. Heat killed an average of 618 people a year in the first decade of this century.

People without AC said there is a trick to keeping their houses cool.

Tremblay opens her windows at night and has shade trees to cool the house, as does Plante. During the day, they use curtains, shades, window tinting or blinds to block direct sun while strategically using windows and fans to encourage breezes.

“You’ve got to keep the sun’s rays out, and you’ve got to keep the air circulating,” Delfuoco said.

Meanwhile, she hydrates and makes sure she sweats, which she said is a key. Another tip: don’t cook. Cooking both heats up the house and creates a hot meal, which raises the body temperature needlessly.

Tremblay said women’s clothing makes it easier for women to stay cool, with sleeveless tops and skirts or simple cotton dresses.

Another benefit of no AC — sleeping with open windows and hearing the owls, raccoons, loons and crickets, she said.

In Claremont, Nick Koloski said he works in air conditioning at the Time-Out Americana Grill and Escape Factory, which he and his family run.

But he doesn’t turn it on in his car, and he relies on fans at home. A volunteer and on-call firefighter, he also is used to heat.

“I do run into burning buildings with hot layers on when given the chance,” he wrote in an email.

He’s had several window AC units over the years. He thinks he might use them, but then he gives them away to elderly people who can’t afford AC.

His hot home does have some social drawbacks. An ex-girlfriend called his fans unnecessary wind.

“It might actually be one of the reasons we called it quits,” he wrote. “Family and friends have no tolerance for my nonsense.”

Saturday, December 14, 2019
Friday, December 13, 2019