Air conditioners can keep people safe during summer, and there are ways to use them and still conserve energy.

Few of us can make it through the summer without turning on the air conditioner, yet some people who are concerned about the environment and conserving energy may try to limit their use. But doing so on very hot days can be challenging and potentially even deadly.

An emerging concern for Canadians is the health risks from extreme heat events, often called “heat waves”. A study released by Toronto Public Health and Environment Canada predicts heat-related deaths will climb to about 240 persons per year by 2050 as a consequence of extreme heat events that involve high temperatures and sometimes high humidity.

According to Health Canada, heat illnesses can affect you quickly, and can lead to long-term health problems and even death. Reducing energy consumption during summer is a noble pursuit, but people should not jeopardize their health in an effort to conserve energy. Air conditioners might not be the most eco-friendly appliances, but there are ways to run them without wasting energy.

1. Use a window air conditioner or a zoned system overnight. Central air conditioners are more efficient than room air conditioners, which are typically installed in windows. But, central air conditioning systems may be cooling empty rooms. Homeowners who can afford to install a zoned system may rest easier knowing they are only paying to cool certain parts of their homes overnight. Zoned systems come

equipped with programmable thermostats that you can adjust when you go to bed, ensuring that you won’t be cooling empty living rooms and basements.

2. Have units serviced before the hot weather begins. Well-maintained central air conditioners will work more efficiently. Routine maintenance of your system will ensure that it isn’t working harder, and therefore consuming more energy than necessary to cool your home.

3. Let fans and air conditioners work together to circulate cool air throughout your home. Hydro One claims that using a ceiling fan allows you to raise your thermostat by 4°C without affecting comfort. Set blades to run in a counter-clockwise direction to circulate cool air downwards. While fans don’t actually lower the temperature of a room, they make it feel cooler by taking a bite out of the humidity. By running fans and air conditioners at the same, air conditioners won’t have to be run as long or as hard as if no fans were turned on.

4. Conserve energy in other ways. Because the dangers of heat stroke and heat exhaustion are so considerable, individuals should never keep their air conditioners turned off on hot days simply to conserve energy. Finding alternatives to conserve energy can be just as effective and won’t put your health at risk. Unplug appliances that are not being used and prepare cold meals so ovens that can make home interiors feel hotter won’t need to be turned on. Take advantage of longer daylight hours in summer and keep lights off until the sun goes down. These are safe ways to conserve energy on hot days.