Top Image: Marisse Caine / RICE File Photo
In the relentless sauna that is Singapore’s climate, air-conditioners have long been our trusty sidekicks.
According to the Department of Statistics, these cooling comrades are ubiquitous in our tropical landscape, with a whopping 80 percent of Singapore households owning air-conditioners. And from the National Environment Agency’s household electricity consumption profile, air-conditioning adds up to about 24 percent of the average household electricity consumption.
As an AC fanatic myself, I’ll confess that when the weather gets uncomfortably sticky, my instinctual go-to move involves reaching for that sleek, white remote to grant me that instant relief.
But while we’re all too eager to jab haphazardly at the controls for that optimal gust of cool air, how many of us are actually squeezing the maximum coolness out of our air-conditioners?
For a nation of AC users, we’re actually quite rubbish at using the machines, as I learned from several air-conditioner servicemen.
The Secrets to Air Flow
I’m guilty of not opening my windows throughout the day. Kevin from Aircon Astiquer tells me this is a cardinal sin among air-conditioner users.
“The most important thing to do is to regularly cross-ventilate your room. Opening your windows to ensure consistent airflow is important.”
Without proper ventilation, Kevin warns, the air in your room becomes a breeding ground for pollutants. The concentration of air pollutants increases over time when a room is sealed off from fresh outdoor air.
At this point, I’m sheepishly glancing at my tightly sealed windows, pondering the questionable air quality I’ve been inhaling. Evidently accustomed to these realisations, Kevin quickly dives into the repercussions of my window-shy lifestyle.
Continuous indoor air circulation with high pollutant levels can adversely affect the air-conditioning system. Indoor pollutants can collect and accumulate on the air-conditioner’s filters and coils. And recycling the same air can lead to the growth of mould and bacteria.
For newer estates, where units are closely placed, this problem is particularly prevalent. “For BTOs and newer units, clients often prioritise their privacy by closing the windows and drawing the curtains. But without exchanging indoor and outdoor air, pollutants linger and circulate into air-conditioners.”
“Over time, the buildup can reduce the system’s efficiency by restricting airflow and heat exchange. The air-conditioner will have to work harder to achieve the desired cooling, but this increases energy consumption and causes wear and tear on the system.”
The Scented Nightmare
Apparently, this problem is even more salient for perfume enthusiasts and cooking aficionados.
“The pollutants that get released are way more harmful. Think about all the cooking odours, smoke, and grease particles that are up in the air!”
For those who revel in scented delights like candles and sprays, Kevin from Hykool says, fumes and vapours from these products can stealthily accumulate within the unit after just a few uses.
When mixed with the inherent moisture in the air-conditioning system, an unfavourable olfactory surprise might await you the next time you switch on your air-conditioners.
Kevin adds that a common practice among his clients—closing the kitchen door while opening the kitchen windows—has a fatal flaw. While the window allows airflow, the enclosed kitchen door traps a whirlwind of dirt and pollutants. Open that door, and you’ll unleash a storm of polluted air into adjacent rooms.
Essential Art of Fan Speeds
We’ve all been there: the perpetual quest for the elusive sweet spot between fan speed and temperature settings. Raise that fan speed a tad too high, and you’re suddenly marooned in an icebox. Nudge the temperature just a smidge, and the coolness of the room immediately slips through your fingers.
But, this struggle extends beyond mere comfort. According to Eric from iAircon.sg, the seemingly innocent choices we make in temperature might secretly sabotage our air-conditioners.
“Many users opt for a low or silent fan speed as they consider the sound to be a bother. However, this leads to a significant drop in the cooling efficiency.”
Eric shares that when settings are lowered to muffle the fan’s irksome drone, users end up compensating by lowering their temperature settings, unknowingly sending their power consumption through the roof.
With a low fan speed, the thermostat may linger at around 20 or 21 degrees celcius. In contrast, a higher fan speed allows for settings between 23°C to 25°C, resulting in quicker room cooling and improved energy efficiency.
The fans might spin a little louder. But at the very least, it won’t muffle the audible groans from your wallet’s struggle against a colossal electricity bill.
Kevin from Hykool concurs. For temperatures set below 27 degrees, he recommends a fan speed of 3 to 4 bars. Anything less, and you would be playing a risky game with the air-conditioner’s insulation.
“This constitutes most of the reasons behind our leaking and condensation issues along the pipe route, false ceiling, or box up”.
When the insulation is worn out, the only way out is to replace it—a costly solution that may not be universally covered by warranties.
Instead, for users who find the fan speed to be too cooling, adjusting the fins or louvres in the air-conditioner units is the safer alternative.
Decoding Our Cooling Conundrum
Mastering the art of the ideal air-conditioner temperature can be trickier than you think. We’ve reached the point where achieving the perfect breeze even requires the intervention of third-party equipment.
For those who find their air-conditioners too strong, wind deflectors strategically placed on air-conditioner outlets redirect cold air away from its users.
However, this solution opens a whole other can of worms: The air-conditioner is now not cold enough, and users run it at much lower temperatures.
Aside from the drain on your energy consumption, this practice also contributes to drier indoor air and future servicing issues.
Consistently running at temperatures fit for the Arctic causes the internal components of your air-conditioners to become unnecessarily cold. This births condensation issues and future bacteria growth.
“Some users also choose to deflect the air towards the ceiling. But when the cold air comes into contact with the surface area of the ceiling, it can lead to condensation.”
Kevin goes on to lament that this is the culprit behind some of his client’s ceiling mould issues.
In an attempt to dispel the confusion surrounding air-conditioner temperature settings, Kevin lays down the law to me.
“Fan speed should be cranked up to the highest setting—the higher, the better. Temperature settings should be at around 25°C.”
Forget about 23°C and below being too chilly; he warns that anything lower than 18°C is simply asking for trouble.
Singapore has been cheekily called the air-conditioned nation because of our obsession with those chunky white boxes on our walls. However, our love for AC doesn’t always translate into proper care for them.
Perhaps it’s time we start paying our air-conditioners the same attention they’ve paid us on those sweltering hot afternoons. Which, in Singapore, is every day.