Life without air conditioning

OK, here’s an easy question. Why does the air conditioning always go out in August? The answer of course is because it’s the hottest month. I am writing this with a wet flannel on my head. This is not the latest fashion statement or a religious ritual, but an attempt at personal cooling, I must keep my brain working, otherwise mistakes will creep in. What matters more than anything is the correct placing of the fans. At night we sleep in the cross current of two fans. It’s breezy, but not too cool. I use a wet or ice-containing flannel to provide the cooling as the water evaporates.

Not many people know that air conditioning was another of those American inventions that allow people to pursue happiness. An American physician, John Gorre in Florida in 1842, was the first to use a compressor to produce ice and then flowed air over it in order to keep his patients cool. The idea came to him when people were passing out from the heat at one of his monthly lectures on health. The first compressor cycle as we know it today was developed in Buffalo, NY, by Willis Carrier in 1902, and his company is still making air conditioners as far as I know. Air conditioning has actually had a profound effect on human demography. It allowed the southern US to increase in population significantly by making life more bearable in the extreme heat. This in turn led to the civil rights movement and the emancipation of the whites. In fact in Israel, the contribution of air conditioning to the realization of the Zionist dream has not been adequately acknowledged.

When I called my ac man, he said he could not come because his mother had died and he was sitting shiva. I realized immediately that this was part of a fiendish plot. I was reduced to calling a friend to ask for a recommendation. I called the number he gave me and spoke to a friendly young man. He said he would come at 3 pm, but did not come until 5 pm (this is Israel), and since it was Friday (just before Shabbat) he could not help me. It seems there are two kinds of gas used, the old bad gas (maybe Freon or other FHCs) and the new environmentally friendly gas (maybe CO2). Which do you think my a-c uses? Of course, the one that is not available. He tried to find a supply but could not then, so he promised to come back on Sunday (a normal working day here) with a balloon of the stuff. So meanwhile, we are spending the weekend from hell.

Note that my a-c regularly loses its gas, obviously due to a leak. It always happens in August. Previous a-c engineers have told me that my a-c springs a leak due to corrosion of the pipes because we live so close to the sea. They then say that they will fill it for $100 but the gas will leak again and I will probably have to buy a whole new system because it’s too difficult to find such a leak among the miles of pipes. I bought this argument until the new guy told me that in most cases it’s because the connection isn’t tight enough and the gas leaks from the connector. So this seems like progress. He also told me that he will fill it, but he won’t charge me if the gas leaks again and the cost of the gas can go towards a repair or a new system if necessary. This also seems reasonable, and it seems that I have discovered an a-c scam. They tell you that there is a small pinhole that they can’t find and you need a whole new system, while in fact they’ve failed (deliberately?) to tighten the connector properly!

It has been said that civilization and even life itself is not possible in extremely hot climates without air conditioning. I can testify to that. My only concern at the moment is to stay cool. Nothing else matters.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.