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COLD, HARD FACTS ON COOLING DOWN : SOME STRATEGIES TO BEAT THE HEAT IN VALLEY HOMES.

Byline: Lori Moody Daily News Staff Writer

For more than three decades, Harry Bachrach, 73, and his wife, Cecelia, 63, managed to exist without air conditioning in their Studio City home.

Last year was their breaking point. Harry Bachrach's health had worsened - he suffered a heart attack - and the last thing he and his wife wanted to deal with was unbearable indoor heat.

So the couple finally splurged on central air conditioning.

``We're not used to it yet,'' Harry Bachrach said. ``I'm sure by the end of this summer, we'll say `How come we didn't put it in earlier?' ''

Central air and window units, ceiling fans and portable blowers. If you're like most San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valley homeowners, you're starting to feel the heat about making a cool choice for this summer.

``Different people have different resistances to the heat,'' said John Krigger, author of ``Your Home Cooling Energy Guide'' (Saturn Resource Management; $12.50). ``It's a very personal and individual type of thing.''

Whatever your decision may be, make it soon. While early spring and fall are the best times to consider a cooling system because contractors aren't so busy, sweltering temperatures have already prompted homeowners to storm local home stores and AC companies for short- and long-term solutions.

There may be other reasons to make such cool investments.

``For the most part, to sell a house in Southern California, you have to have central air conditioning,'' said Bob Wiseman, owner of Canoga Park Heating & Air Conditioning. ``One of the things why people are afraid of moving into the San Fernando Valley is the heat.''

Maximum conditions: Twenty-five years ago, 10 percent of U.S. homes had central air conditioning. Today, 44 percent have central air, according to the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute, a nonprofit manufacturers' group.

Sounds like they're on to something.

Peggy Hurdle, who has lived in her West Hills home for 23 years, would never go back to a life in the Valley without central air conditioning.

``We did not have it in our former house in Sepulveda and it was terrible,'' she said. ``When I was pregnant, I had to stay with my mother for a time.''

Anyone planning to stay put in their homes for more than five years - and who simply hates the Valley heat - may want to invest in a central air system that has a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) of 10 or higher, according to ``Your Home Cooling Energy Guide.'' The SEER can range from 10 to 16-1/2, and the higher it goes, the costlier it gets.

``I use five years as a breaking point,'' Wiseman said. ``After a few years, you're going to make back the difference in energy savings. It's worthwhile to make the investment up front because you will get better equipment and energy savings.''

A central air system that uses existing ductwork and electrical panels - and doesn't require asbestos removal - can cost $3,600 to $4,000, Wiseman said.

``The biggest market is the retrofit market, taking a house without air conditioning and converting it to a house with central air conditioning,'' Wiseman said. ``Still, today in the San Fernando Valley, there are probably more homes without air conditioning than with air conditioning.''

Costs can escalate if asbestos was used in the insulation around the duct work. It has to be removed by a licensed company for an additional $1,000 or less.

``Unfortunately in the San Fernando Valley, any home built before 1968 I would give a 90 percent chance they have asbestos,'' Wiseman said.

Older homes also generally require the upgrading of electrical panels.

Those lucky enough to have central air in the first place may want an upgrade. Hurdle, for instance, recently upgraded hers to a more efficient model with zone control.

``We can heat or air condition one floor or both, so we hope that it will reduce our energy bill,'' she said.

GenPerally, to determine what size air conditioner you need, figure on 1 ton of cooling capacity per 400 to 500 square feet of space, Wiseman said. If a system is too small, it will not cool the house properly. If it is too large, it will cool too quickly before shutting off.

``You have this hot-cold, hot-cold feeling,'' Wiseman said. ``The best is when you size it correctly so a system will cycle from 10 minutes up to an hour.''

Whatever you do, find a contractor to determine what system will best fit your needs. And if you're thinking about costly systems, get multiple bids, Wiseman said.

``You never want to go on one person's advice,'' he said. ``I see a lot of people who are very disappointed when they just take the lower price.''

Beyond that, consider whether central air is truly your best defense for the summer, said Krigger of ``Your Home Cooling Energy Guide.'' Central air can waste a lot of energy, particularly when it has not been properly installed or routinely maintained.

Homeowners should look at other ways to reduce the summer heat, which can not only make them feel more comfortable but also cut down on their cooling costs.

``Your main problem is solar energy heating the house,'' he said. ``The more (homeowners) can block it out, the less they'll need air conditioning and the cooler they'll be.''

Trickle-down effect: Evaporative or swamp coolers, which are often found in older homes, provide a cheaper way to cool your home. The unit cools air by forcing it through a water-soaked absorbent pad.

There are some negatives. Evaporative coolers use about 16 percent of the electricity of air conditioners but use from 5 to 15 gallons of water per day, according to the Department of Water and Power.

``They work by increasing the humidity,'' Wiseman said. ``It's nothing more complicated than that. On very dry days, they work. On humid days, they're worthless.''

Goldie Druyun, 83, of Van Nuys is giving up her swamp cooler - the second installed in her home -P for a central air-conditioning unit.

``The time has come, I want something for when we have these hot, humid days,'' she said. ``(Central air conditioning) is almost three times as much,'' she said. ``I figure at my age, I'm entitled to something cooler.''

Replacing a swamp cooler can cost $1,000. Installing a new one, including duct work, could cost $2,200 to $2,500.

If you've got the know-how, Home Depot in Canoga Park currently has two roof-mounted models, costing $232 and $359. Most customers buy them to replace old units.

``You really need a certain amount of expertise (to install them),'' said Home Depot store manager Dennis Rydgren.

Pump up the volume: A heat pump, which is a heating and cooling unit in one, is another option for homeowners.

In the summer, the system gathers heat from the air inside your home and carries it outside. The process is reversed in the winter by extracting heat from outside air through a refrigeration cycle and bringing it inside. The devices are popular on the East Coast.

``(In this area), they are a good alternative where there is no natural gas,'' said Wiseman of Canoga Park Heating & Air Conditioning.

But let the buyer beware: A heat pump costs about the same as a central air conditioner.

``What you save on the installation is nothing compared to the electric bills,'' said Wiseman, who sells and install such systems.

There is some relief on costs. Southern California Edison Co., which serves Ventura County and most of Los Angeles County, except for Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale, is offering a $185 rebate to customers who replace their old heat pumps with new, energy efficient models.

The program applies to new systems purchased by Nov. 30 and installed by Dec. 31. Residents must call Edison before buying the unit.

It came in through the window: Room air conditioners continue to be a popular, less-expensive alternative to central air. About 31 percent of households in the U.S. have such units, said AlaPne Mackay of the Chicago-based Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, an industry trade group.

These self-contained units generally are easy to install - stick in the window and close in place, according to Home Depot's Rydgren. Brackets are included to support the weight. The store has window air conditioners ranging from $227 to $500 and installation kits are included.

Room air conditioners carry an Energy Efficiency Rating (EER). Given our soaring Valley temps, its best to select one with an EER over 10.

Units delivering 5,000 to 6,000 BTUs(British thermal units) per hour can cool a small bedroom or study, according to Consumer Reports. Each additional 50 to 100 square feet would require an additional 1,000 BTUs of capacity.

For assistance, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers provides a low-cost worksheet to figure out what type of system will work best for you.

The size of the unit is based on a number of factors, including the number of people living in the home, other electrical equipment in use, the number of windows and exposure to heat.

Fan the heat: Ceiling fans are popular among homeowners looking to circulate air, keep cool at night or to take the place of air-conditioning units, said Marc Coria, manager of Olde Tyme Ceiling Fan Co. in Woodland Hills. Olde Tyme's ceiling fans range from about $109 to $800, but some can be found for as little as $24.95 at Kmart.

They can be used year-round. In the winter, ceiling fans equipped with reverse switches can take hot air and pull it down from the ceiling. Bedrooms are the most common areas for ceiling fans, followed by dining and living rooms.

``The main thing in picking a ceiling fan is to make sure you can get parts and service on it, because it is mechanical and can break down,'' Coria said.

Check the warranty on the motor and the degree of blade pitch, which determines how much air is moved. Ceiling fans should not wobble when installed.

As for the size, Coria recommends a P42-inch fan for rooms that are 10 feet by 10 feet and a 52-inch unit for rooms that are 12-by-12.

``If your room is too small and has a low ceiling, like 7 feet, I would not recommend hanging a fan because you wouldn't be able to get it close enough to the ceiling,'' Coria said.

If that's not enough ...: Portable fans remain the most expeditious solution to tepid temperatures.

Kmart in Northridge sells a variety, from 7-inch fans for $9.97 and 20-inch box fans for $19.99 to dual window fans for $49.95.

``I cannot keep the counter full,'' said Dave Opfer, appliance manager at the discount store. ``They're selling faster than we can put them out. It's cheaper than running your air conditioner.''

Indeed. The DWP figures a circulating fan costs 1 cent an hour to run, compared with a 3-ton central air conditioner, which can cost 55 cents per hour to run.

Oscillating fans, floor fans and other air-circulating fans can be effective when used alone or in combination with an air conditioner, Krigger said.

``You can turn the thermostat up 4 degrees and have the same level of comfort with fans,'' he said.

Portable fans can be used to draw in cool night air. A ``wind-chill effect'' can be created by installing ceiling fans and portable fans in every room.

When money's tight: So what's the cheapest method of keeping cool?

Open the windows, according to the DWP. Just doing that can save $20 a year in a typical single-family home.

Open at least two windows - one to let the cool air in and the other to let the warm air out. Make sure any interior doors that might block the air movement are open. The window for the outgoing air should be higher than the window for the incoming cooler air because warm air rises.

Heat-busting help Southern California Edison customers interested in more information about the heat pump rebate can call (800) 736-4777 (English) or (800) 669-4144 (Spanish).

To order John T. Krigger's ``Your Home Cooling Energy Guide,'' call (800) 735-0577.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers can be reached at 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, Ill. 60606 or (312) 984-5800. The Cooling Load Estimate form is available by sending 35 cents and a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

The Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute can be reached by writing 4301 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 425, Arlington, Va. 22203, or by calling (703) 524-8800. The fax number is (703) 528-3816.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos, Drawing, 3 Boxes

Photo: (1--Cover--Color) KEEPING YOURCOOL

No need to stay in your icebox this summer. With the right air-conditioning system, you can survive the heat.

Photo illustration by David Crane/Daily News

(2) Ross Sperry of Canoga Park Heating & AirP Conditioning and West Hills homeowner Peggy Hurdle discuss her new air-conditioning unit. Installing a central-air system can top $4,000, experts say.

Bob Halvorsen/Daily News

Drawing: no caption (Penguin on block of ice)

Tim Goheen/Knight-Ridder

Box: (1) Fit to Be Cool

N.Y. Times News Service

(2) Building a `tight' house

Knight-Ridder Tribune News/NEIL C. PINCHIN

(3) Heat-busting help (See Text)
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 18, 1996
Words:2203
Previous Article:FIGHT BACK : `NO PAYMENTS, NO INTEREST' IS `NO PROBLEM' (IF YOU'RE CAREFUL).
Next Article:HANDYMAN : AIR CONDITIONING DOESN'T REQUIRE FURNACE.


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