Air conditioners suck energy, what are sustainable alternatives?

The number of air conditioners in the Netherlands is booming. Almost every fifth household already has one. In more than half of the cases, it is also a mobile air conditioner: the most energy-intensive variant of the cooling system.

If such a mobile air conditioner is turned on for 24 hours on a hot day like this, it will consume as much power as your refrigerator does in 48 days, calculated Milieu Centraal. In short: A week’s air conditioning is almost equal to a year’s refrigerator.


In addition, according to Milieu Centraal, the installation of many air conditioners can release refrigerant that is extremely bad for the climate.

Fortunately, there are more sustainable alternatives.

A cheap and fairly sustainable way to cool a room? Yes, fans. And before you quickly scroll on for the other options: no, a fan should not just disperse hot air.

With a simple trick, you can create a kind of do-it-yourself air conditioning. Namely by placing frozen water bottles in front of the fan. As a result, cooler air is circulated.

Turn on air conditioning less quickly

But even without the frozen water bottles, thanks to fans, people are less likely to turn on their air conditioning. The wind in the house can raise the threshold where the temperature becomes uncomfortable, by three to four degrees according to research.

Another option: try to keep the sun out of your house in different ways, advises Joanne de Jongh from Milieu Centraal. “I see a lot of people putting up awnings and shade cloths. That’s a good idea. That way, the heat doesn’t come in.”

Sun protection can be even more advanced. The research institute TNO, for example, has developed smart windows together with a number of companies. These are windows that decide on their own whether heat is allowed to pass through or not based on the outside temperature.

“On cold days, sunlight is actually let in so that you do not have to burn as much. And in the summer it automatically switches to blocking the heat radiation from the sun. This means that the air conditioner should not be used or should be used less,” says TNO researcher Pascal Buskens.


Unlike the sun-repellent foil that is already for sale, the window also lets heat through in the winter. You also only need to replace the glass, not the whole frame.

Disadvantage: the smart windows will only be available on the market in a few years. And it requires an investment that pays for itself after seven years. “Like with solar panels,” says Buskens.

According to TNO, it should provide significant savings. “A household can save around 500 euros a year compared to the best double glazing on the market.”

If you can heat your house with a radiator, why not cool it with a radiator? Not a crazy thought.

Good news: it is possible, but you need a heat pump and special fans to ensure that the coolness is spread. There are also special radiators where the fans are already installed.

Underfloor heating but different

There is also a version of underfloor heating that cools. But because the heat rises, the heating pipes are not in the floor, but in the ceiling. “It’s actually sheets with pipes through them,” says Karstin Oenema from Technea, who sells ceiling cooling to companies. “And instead of hot water, cold water flows through it.”

The technique can be useful for large businesses or houses that are being renovated, but for many consumers it can be a bit pricey. The technique costs 150 to 160 euros per square meter. You will also need a heat pump.

Uses winter cold in summer

Another option: energy storage in the ground. Cold is then stored in the winter and used again in the summer to cool the house. And in the summer, heat is stored that is badly needed in the winter.

Advantage: it is very durable. Disadvantage: hot-cold storage (ATES) is often used by several (newly built) homes at the same time.

It is possible to install such a system on your own, but then your house must be suitable for it. You must also have a permit from the municipality and a heat pump.

Do you think the alternatives are too much trouble? If you absolutely want an air conditioner, choose one that is super economical, advises De Jongh from Milieu Centraal. One with energy label A ++.

Leave the mobile air conditioner and go for a ‘single split unit’, which consists of an indoor and outdoor unit.

Reheat air

“A mobile air conditioner has a hose that needs to be outside, so you need to open your window or your door so the heat still comes in.”

Finally, pay attention to the refrigerant, advises De Jongh. Choose an air conditioner that uses a natural refrigerant, such as – no matter how crazy it sounds – CO2. “Because CO2 in this case is up to two thousand times less powerful than the refrigerant used in many air conditioners.”

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