Tuesday, July 15, 2014

They Do Things Differently Here #1: Air Conditioning

There are many comforts that, while ubiquitous in the United States, are rare in the rest of the world.  My family has lived without air conditioning, for example, in Thailand, Fiji, Italy, England, and Brazil.  And while we technically had air conditioned meeting rooms for our English classes in Japan and Malaysia, it wasn't a system recognizable to Americans who are used to central air.  Individual high-tech, remote controlled room A/C units are the norm in Asia and other parts of the world, and only the most important rooms have those units.  

          The wall-mounted air conditioner in our Brazilian hotel room, viewed from below.
  The remote control for our A/C is actually in English!  Of course, it's also in Celsius - a challenge                                            for Americans used to Fahrenheit.
Additionally, energy is so expensive for the rest of the world that those units are only turned on when someone is actually using the room, much like turning off the lights when you leave a room in the US.

It may surprise you to learn that even developed countries such as Italy and England don't have air conditioning in every house or hotel.  One reason is the high cost of energy. According to shrinkthatfootprint.com, the cost of one kilowatt hour of energy in the US is 12 cents while in Italy the cost is 28 cents.  Imagine more than doubling your current yearly energy bill!  You'd cut back on the A/C, too, I think.  (Incidentally, here is a comparison graph of per person energy usage in several countries including the US, Italy, the UK, and Brazil.  Very interesting, I think.)

Another way that other countries cut back on energy use is a sort of master electrical switch in hotel rooms.  When you enter the room, there is a little box by the door into which you insert your key card. This turns on the power for that room.  The up side to this is that you don't misplace your key while you're in the room (it has to stay in the box to keep the power running).  The down sides are that A) you return after sightseeing to a room that is hot - or cold, depending on the season - and B) you can't charge devices while you're not in the room since the power goes off as soon as you remove your key to leave.  

                                      The key card box in our Brazilian hotel room.

We were surprised to return to the church in Natal, Brazil this year and see that they have installed FOUR A/C units in the church auditorium!  They only use them on Sunday mornings, so our LST reading sessions are still quite toasty.  But we welcome any relief from the heat. 

Two of the four new A/C units mounted above the fans at the Igreja Communidade de Christo in Natal, Brazil.

Doing without constant temperature control certainly helps us to appreciate the wonders of central heat and air when we're back home.  And anything that helps us to be more mindful of our consumption is a good thing.

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