/ Home & Energy

Tempted to buy an air conditioner this year?

With most of Europe in the midst of a heatwave and the UK expected to follow suit, air conditioning would be a useful luxury. Are you tempted?

The 40°C heatwave in France looks set to break records this week, with temporary fountains installed and public pools staying open longer as people use different means to stay cool.

You’ll remember that this time last year temperatures were soaring in the UK – we discussed hosepipe bans and shared tips on keeping animals and pets cool in the extreme heat.

But staying cool would be a lot easier if our homes had air conditioning. As I write this, it’s 28°C in my flat – what I wouldn’t give for an integrated A/C unit!

Hoses, windows and decibels

With similar temperatures at night I decided to take that plunge and buy the closest thing possible – a portable air conditioner. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned.

My A/C buying plans went out the window when it came to the hose. Unfortunately the windows in my flat just aren’t right for a portable unit.

I exhausted all my options, but eventually had to settle on taking it back for a refund, which actually went very smoothly (thank you, Screwfix).

I have to admit, the noise it made would also have been an issue, especially at night. It was also a bit cumbersome for a ‘portable’ unit, but we live and learn.

Play it cool

If you’re currently sitting in a hot, stuffy house thinking about buying a portable air conditioner, my advice would be to take the time to assess the windows first.

If you live in a flat (a property type which would probably be most in need of cooling down!), it’s unlikely you’ll have the windows needed to vent the hose. They certainly come up a bit bigger than you’d expect.

But if you live in a house and have access to an external wall, could it be worth paying a bit more to get a fully integrated unit instead?

Fortunately we’ve put together a guide on buying the best air conditioner, which explains the different types, sizes and features, as well as how to set one up effectively.

We’ve also taken a first look at three models on the market

Are you considering buying an air conditioner? Is it worth it for the three or so months of British summer? Or are the soaring temperatures every year making one essential, like they are in other countries?

Comments

We have air conditioning for the upstairs, as we live in an inverted house which is West facing and during the summer months behaves very like a microwave.

The make we bought is the Mitsubishi inverter, and they’re wall mounted, split systems which we had installed by an excellent, one-man a/c firm. I should point out that the split systems by Mitsubishi and Toyota not only dehumidify but come with the necessary pipe work to route the water to an outside drain.

Air con might not seem cheap; expect to pay around £1000 per mounted unit fitted but, unless you’re a very accomplished DIYer it’s something best left to specialists.

In terms of what they do, both are essentially reversible heat pumps, so they cool in summer and warm in winter – for a fraction of the cost of a standard fan heater. The other huge advantage is that they dehumidify the air, so the place starts feeling cooler almost instantly. Fan speeds, direction, angle and temperature are all individually controllable with a nifty remote control. They’re all but silent inside and the same outside, where the separate compressor is housed. I expected a loud outside sound but there’s really nothing noticeable.

They use very little electricity and they’ve made a massive difference to our house. Wouldn’t be without them, now, especially as NASA tells us “Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year — from January through September, with the exception of June — were the warmest on record for those respective months.”

We had invested (around 15 years ago) in a portable a/c unit. It proved bulky, heavy, noisy and more or less useless.

I echo that. Mine was around £300 and is supposed to be one of the more powerful ones. It fails to cool a bedroom and might have contributed to the failure of a double glazed window, used for the exit pipe. It is noisy and the cold air from the outlet simply disappears into the room and vanishes. It also consumes quite a lot of electricity to make the refrigerant work and the fan blow. It is a bulky waste of money! I am tempted to buy one of those ice-cubey things for around £40. The two ice blocks go in the freezer and the fan is USB powered. It may not cool much, but it might cool a small space.

We also have a portable unit that was acquired second-hand. The exhaust pipe is not long enough to be of much use as the unit has to sit next to the window instead of well inside the room. We have only used it a few times later in the evening when the heat has become unbearable, and it might reduce the temperature 1˚ after about an hour if we can put up with the noise. We also need to block the window with a dust-sheet otherwise we swap heat for bugs. Although it doesn’t seem to do much, if you go outside and feel the expelled air, it is ‘HOT’.

The fans are doing a good job of moving air around at the moment and make you feel a bit cooler.

The fact that the outlet is hot suggests that the unit is working, but you will be pulling in warm air from the rest of the house and what has been absorbed by the structure. I would not have offered to help with an outdoor event tomorrow, and will be glad to get home if it is as hot as has been predicted. I find an extra shower is refreshing in hot weather.

The hot outlet also puts heat back into the room.

To help keep cool, you could have a bottle of water with a fine spray plus a piece of cardboard for a fan.🤓

I am very lucky – the ground floor of our house stays really cool. I have been tempted to get something for our son’s room which is south facing and can get really hot but decided it wasn’t really worth it for two weeks in a year!

I love the heat. I spend 9 months of the year trying to protect myself from cold. I love being free from the burden of multiple layers to keep warm. Shorts (knee length now) and tee shirt are cool and comfortable. I feel for the people who have to wear collar and tie and suit and have to commute into the city every day at this time. My home is surrounded by trees which help to keep it cool and reasonably comfortable. Aches and pains have all disappeared for the time being and the garden is looking beautiful. All I need now is to see a red admiral, a painted lady or a peacock flutter by to complete the picture
🙂

Maybe those who have to wear a collar, tie and suit should rebel. 🙂

I have been asking the men here why they don’t make a more of an effort and wear a tie and suit. 😉

Something about being cool not to wear them. 🙂

You won’t need a blazer tomorrow – the day will fulfil that role.

Jackets are useful – they have pockets to keep things in.

I never understood the use of a tie other than as decoration – and there are some very fine ties of which I have a few. But they can look ridiculous when they are so long they descend well below the top of the trousers. Cravats are largely out of fashion which is a shame, I think they look good, as do bow ties on some people.

In business I think looking smart is a sign of respect to the people you deal with. Turning up in sloppy clothes for a meeting or a visit to a client is, I suggest, impolite at the least. But maybe I’m old fashioned.

Wearing evening dress for an “occasion” is rather nice – feeling well turned out can add to the enjoyment.

So I support Abby’s sentiment in the appropriate situations.

I once had a portable air conditioner when I was living in a house. It was noisy, clumsy to set up, not particularly effective and the drip tray had to be emptied frequently. It could not be left on overnight.

I now live in a top-floor flat with built-in air conditioning in the ceilings of almost every room. I use it only in the bedroom at night for a few nights per year. It’s as quiet as in a hotel, very effective and I can leave it on at night using cheap Economy 10 (or 7) electricity. Even better, I discovered that the large extractor fan for the whole flat uses the building’s power supply, not mine. I’m looking forward to a peaceful cool night on Saturday night when rest of the country will be complaining about the heat.

I move around the house if it is becoming too warm. This year I might move from a south-facing bedroom to one that faces north, if we have another heatwave. I’m not interested in air conditioning but might buy a fan.

Living further north has its advantages and according to the BBC the temperature is 5°C cooler than in London.

Trouble is, by definition, it doesn’t cool it just blows. Agreed it’s a good kind of blow, but it should be at £300 plus. What effect does it have on your room? I don’t question your recommendation, I’m just surprised by it.

A fan does not directly cool but it increases the rate of evaporative cooling due to loss of sweat, in conjunction with a higher blood flow to the skin.

A gentle breeze – whether natural or from a fan – is pleasant in warm weather. The amount of power used by a fan is much smaller than any type of air conditioner, so there is an environmental benefit.

🙂 It has been suggested that those that buy expensive Dyson vacs are suckers. At least they give a five year guarantee on the mains-powered ones.

I’m not sure recommending, as Which?, a £300 fan is really on. Although it will go some way to adding to James Dyson’s Lincolnshire estate and his overseas manufacturing investment. I’d suggest there are plenty of fans on the market at far lower cost.

Although not identical to the AM07 this Which? Review is for what seems a very similar product:
Dyson Hot and Cool AM09
Which goes on to summarise
”……….But it doesn’t excel across the board enough to earn our Best Buy recommendation – in fact, you can pick up a Best Buy electric heater for less than a tenth of the price.”

It’s a personal recommendation from George, Malcolm, and he is probably not too concerned about the performance as a heater right now. 🙂

I waited until it cooled down to do some work in the garden and it has cooled down so much I started to get goose bumples.

@gmartin, George, sorry of you were miffed! My comment was a little tongue in cheek as I regard many of Dyson’s products as over-priced, and I’m also disappointed that a knighted businessman chooses not to manufacture in this country – something I believe we desperately need.


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If you have a fan with a broken blade, try getting another blade from your local recycling centre. There will likely be a lot of discarded fans this time of year.

Take with you: your broken blade, a small screwdriver to remove the casing screws, and a large screwdriver to remove the centre fixing.

We also have a useful tip in the locality but I have never seen any fans there. I think someone gets there early and cherry picks the junk for anything that could have a second life. It probably then, after a bit of cleaning, goes to a car boot sale of which there seem to be dozens this weekend.

Useful tip number 2 is to oil the bearings if a fan is noisy. I did this with a ceiling-mounted bathroom fan that sometimes emitted shrieking noises when switched on and it has worked quietly since.

Useful tip number 3 is to clean the fan blades if a fan is noisy. Then go to tip number 1 when you have been too heavy handed and broken the blade 😖

I don’t think the tip should let you take whole electrical items – elf’n safety?!? At least that is what the on-site shop said as they doesn’t sell electrical items.

But saying that….. one of our local tips put a lot of things aside……..

If something would otherwise be scrapped it does not matter if there is the odd casualty.

Our local recycling centre has a sign that indicates that usable items are sold but I don’t know whether this includes electrical goods.

I don’t really support air conditioning because, in my view, it is using electricity to shift hot air from one place to another [inside to outside] without extracting any value from it. If the hot air could be used to heat the water that would be beneficial, but just raising the temperature of the atmosphere seems counter-productive.

I believe sensible design and ventilation management is a better way of producing comfortable conditions. Our house stays cool because we keep the windows and curtains closed on the southerly aspects and ensure a cross-flow of air upstairs by selective opening of windows on the cooler sides of the house. Houses built with a deep plan, in courtyard style, and with thick walls are traditional forms in hot countries and should be introduced here. Outside blinds and shutters can also help.

Looser-fitting clothing also helps but a lot of people seem to prefer tight-fitting garments which look uncomfortable. I wear suits about two or three times a week and have some linen ones for the hotter times. I feel alright wearing a tie, especially during periods of relative inactivity like sitting in a meeting, but I am helping at a car boot sale tomorrow and will probably dress casual remembering to take a hat [and a few spare caps for those who forget]. Finding some shade and keeping out of the van will be my priorities.

That’s more or less what we used to do, John. But with four in the house (back then) the infernal heat production from washing machines, oven, cleaning, TV and so on unable to escape during the day, and with the need for opaque curtains in the West and South-facing aspects it became impossible to keep the temperatures below 85F, hence the need for air conditioning.

Another problem, is that our house is extremely well insulated, so with any heat wave at all, the heat built up and didn’t escape. Adding to that the fact that we live upstairs didn’t help (nowhere for the heat to rise) so it did really make the options limited.

It reached 29C yesterday outside, and we were basking inside at a comfortable 22C. Any inherent guilt soon dissolved in frequent glasses of iced lemonade.

For lots of existing property some form of air conditioning is a good idea, if not a necessity. Most houses were built during times when really hot days were a rarity, most people were out at work all day, and the general attitude was that you just had to put up with it. Sweating was not so socially unacceptable either.

Now we all have showers, refrigerators, cool boxes, fans, air conditioning units [even in our motor cars], and relaxed dress styles and cool fabrics, yet we can’t stop complaining when the mercury rises above 24 degrees. Bring back the kaftans and sandals of the 1960’s.

When I came home yesterday, the temperature had reached 24°C, so I opened windows and doors until late in the evening. At least round here the mini-heatwave seems to have ended and today is warm with a cool breeze.

Here’s a way it was done in Iran according to https://engineering.stackexchange.com/questions/14/how-are-passive-houses-made-in-very-hot-regions-like-saudi-arabia .I remember seeing wind tower houses in Jeddah.

They have the wind tower system at the Zion Canyon National Park visitor centre in Utah. It was incredible to walk from 30 degree plus heat into the visitor centre. Somehow there was a different quality to air as well. It wasn’t quite as drying as air conditioning can be.

Eve says:
29 June 2019

Those saying portable air cons don’t cool the room enough, they do if you buy the right btu to suit the room size. You need at least 12000 btu for a medium sized room. I have a 14000 btu one that makes a 15ft x 13ft room cold enough to hang meat in within 15 mins.
I also have a proper installed mini split in the bedroom. Pricey at £2300 for a mitsubishi heavy industries 3.5kw professionally installed but worth every penny and looked after will last 10-15yrs. Whisper quiet and cheaper to run than portables.

lancer62 says:
29 June 2019

I to join the debate that mobile units including for myself are not worth it unless you have access to an external wall where you can have an aperture for the pipe to go as I consider that is the best place to expel the air. Unfortunately I am in the same position where my windows are quite large but only have a narrow (12″/30cm) opening window at the top and would have to have a pipe around 9′ long plus for it to be of any use. I have over the last 2 years and still considering a built in unit and would only require one unit inside at the top of the stairs as that would then flow into the bedroom where most of us would want the air to be cool to have a good nights sleep.

I stay in Scotland, which comes with its own natural air conditioning. 🙂