Do Air Conditioners Contribute to Climate Change?

With the worst of the summer heat just on the horizon, we can expect air conditioners throughout the U.S. to soon start working overtime. Our reliance on air conditioning causes a yearly spike in energy consumption, which in turn causes an increase in the release of carbon dioxide. Is it possible to effectively manage our carbon footprint while staying cool? Forest Founders is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping reduce our collective carbon footprint by restoring and preserving global forests. To learn how you can contribute your resources and services, please visit our signup page.

The short answer is: Yes – air conditioners contribute to climate change. But there are still ways to reduce your emissions. Here’s what you need to know about air conditioning and climate.

Air conditioners are commonly associated with the release of hydrofluorocarbons – industrially produced chemical compounds that are used in refrigeration. These are highly concentrated greenhouse gasses that are even more environmentally damaging than carbon dioxide (CO2), and their use is currently being limited in numerous states throughout the U.S., though the efforts to prohibit the use of hydrofluorocarbons in air refrigeration are mainly focused on large-scale commercial enterprises.

While hydrofluorocarbons only make up a fraction of the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gasses, they are nonetheless responsible for trapping thousands of times more heat than CO2. But there are two pieces of good news for those of us who use household air conditioners:

  1. Hydrofluorocarbons in household air conditioners don’t release hydrofluorocarbons into the environment if they are properly maintained
  2. There are newer air conditioning units that don’t use hydrofluorocarbons at all.

Unfortunately, there is also a bit of bad news. While properly maintained (and properly disposed of) air conditioning units do not release hydrofluorocarbons into the atmosphere, they do use tremendous amounts of energy. Approximately 6 percent of all residential energy consumption in the U.S. is attributed to air conditioning, which releases approximately 100 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.

Can’t live without A/C? Here’s how to reduce your A/C emissions.

If you want to reduce your energy consumption and carbon output this summer, consider replacing your old air conditioning unit with a hydrofluorocarbon-free model, and make sure to dispose of your old unit in accordance with the environmental and sanitation laws and guidelines of your state. If you simply throw out your old air conditioning unit, it could wind up in a landfill, leak hydrofluorocarbon and cause massive environmental damage.

Here are a few tips for keeping your A/C usage as eco-friendly as possible:

  1. Opt for A/C units that use two-stage compressors that reduce energy use by compressing less when the temperature drops.
  2. Find an A/C system with a thermostat that can be programmed to automatically turn off when no one is at home.
  3. Make sure your A/C unit is large enough to effectively cool your whole space – a unit that is too small will only waste huge amounts of energy.
  4. Make sure your home is properly air sealed and weather stripped. If your home has air leaks, your A/C won’t cool your space efficiently.

If you want to eliminate air conditioning entirely, here are a few tips for staying cool.

  • Take cold baths and showers.
  • Keep your curtains and blinds closed during the day.
  • Use a box fan, which uses roughly one-tenth of the energy of a mid-sized window air conditioning unit.

To learn more about Forest Founders’ mission to combat the climate crisis, please visit our information page.