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Sunday August 9, 2015

The great air-con debate in Spain


Does air-con guarantee a good night's sleep?

An American visitor to my golden valley expressed incredulity yesterday when I told him that I had been relying on electric fans rather than air conditioning during this hot and humid summer in Majorca. In some frustration he recounted how at least two hotels he’d recently stayed at in Spain still resolutely relied on ceiling fans when it was obvious that air conditioning was the only way to deal with temperatures cruising 40C.

Frankly I wasn’t surprised by his reaction. The United States is the biggest guzzler of energy when it comes to air conditioning, using more than any other country. In fact according to the US Energy Information Administration, 87 per cent of homes are equipped with the cooling units and let’s not even mention cars. India and China are joining the race and there has been a marked rise in consumer purchases than in previous years.

Of course air-con has come a long way since Willis Carrier, an American citizen, invented the concept back in 1902 using ice and fans. Now Americans can expect buses, trains, cars, offices, homes and public buildings to provide a cool atmosphere regardless of the temperature outside. In truth there have been times when I’ve shivered with the chill in American supermarkets and offices, preferring a more ambient temperature. On a recent visit to London I even wished I’d brought a jumper along to Waitrose given its cool demeanour. Fans of air-con will insist that research has shown its many benefits not least getting a good night’s sleep, helping workers to function more efficiently and preventing deaths from heat strokes. All the same in Europe I’m not sure we should become reliant on it.

In Spain although air-con is used widely during the hot summer months, it isn’t the norm to rely on it in day to day life. Most of my Majorcan friends do not use it at night in their bedrooms, usually preferring ceiling or electric fans and open windows. There is another factor why air-con is used sparingly here and that is the ruinous cost of electricity. One sizzling summer I used air conditioning in my office most days and my eyes nearly popped out when the electricity bill plopped on the mat in September. Never again.

One of the best things about not bothering with air-con – at least in rural Majorca– is that on a clear night with the stars winking up in the dark sky, the sounds of the Soller valley are heavenly. First there are my musical frogs quacking like ducks and frolicking about in the pond beyond my window, the hissing of cicadas on their way to bed and last but not least the cry of the Scops owl. On a breezy night the tangy scents of rosemary and lavender waft through the bedroom window prompting the sweetest dreams. So much as at times I might toss and turn on hot summer nights and curse the unrelenting heat, the attraction of pure air still outweighs the benefits of air-con for me. Therefore I shan’t be joining the cool set yet.





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