How to deal with the worst air conditioners
In the late 1980s, air conditioner maker Davis was facing a growing number of complaints about faulty units, which some customers were reporting could cause overheating and other problems.
The company recalled more than 30 million units in the US.
But a few years later, Davis was back with a brand new product.
The brand new, more expensive Airmax unit came with a new feature called Air Conditioning Control, which allows users to set the air condition in a variety of ways.
Davis claims the feature has helped keep temperatures in the house from rising and helping reduce heat damage.
The Airmax system works by sending a signal to the home’s air conditioning unit to keep it in the optimal state for cool air to be delivered.
“It is basically a kind of thermostat that tells you when the air is cold and when it is warm,” says David Schoenbaum, a professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law who studies air conditionering.
But critics say the system is poorly designed and the company has no way to measure the effectiveness of the new technology.
“This is not a cooling device that tells the air to cool itself,” says Schoenmeier.
“We’re using it to tell us when the temperature is low.”
But as the company continues to make new Airmax units, the Airmax concept has also found its way into the air conditioning industry, where it has been promoted by manufacturers like GE and Intel and is being marketed by some companies like Philips and Johnson & Johnson.
The new AirMax is not the first technology to have its roots in air conditioning.
In the early 2000s, a device called a “breather” or “sink” used to regulate the flow of air in the home, says Mark Ehrlich, a researcher at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
In 2003, a new cooling device called the “cage” was developed.
The “caged” technology was designed to cool air coming out of a ventilator while preventing the ventilators from getting too hot and causing overheating.
But the cage concept did not last long, Ehrbach says.
“The cooling technology really was an engineering problem,” he says.
The Cage-Free Air Cooling System in a test chamber.
(Image credit: Philips) In 2008, GE introduced the first AirMax in the UK.
In 2011, Intel introduced a similar cooling device in the United States, called the Intel Core Cooler.
“There’s a lot of technology that’s been developed to try to get more efficient cooling, and the cage-free cooling system has proven to be a really good solution,” Ehrbaum says.
In a recent review of air conditioning systems, the International Energy Agency concluded that cage-Free systems “generally outperform cage-in-a-jar systems for cooling the ambient air to the point where it’s no longer a problem for people with respiratory diseases or people with heart conditions, and may even reduce their health risks.”
While the technology is still in its early stages, the idea that air condition air can be “cooled” has become increasingly popular in the past few years, says Eric Wertheim, a senior energy analyst with the consultancy Datalink.
Wertheimer believes air condition temperature control technology is getting a lot more attention than it has in the last several years.
“If you look at the trends in air condition technology and the energy that’s being put into it, it’s going to be one of the most significant innovations in the coming decades,” he adds.
Some experts are also concerned that air conditioning technology has reached a tipping point.
“Our society has gotten so used to having air conditioning on all our homes, and air conditioning is so ingrained in the way we live, we haven’t been paying much attention to this technology,” says Ehrbaums professor.
“I’m just very concerned about it.”
Air conditioner companies have come under fire before.
In 2009, a fire at a California plant caused more than $200 million in damages.
A fire at another plant in 2011 forced more than 10,000 people to evacuate their homes.
“For all of the things that people say are causing this to happen, they’ve not had to actually take a closer look,” Ersbach says, noting that many of the fires have occurred at home.
“You have the ability to heat up your home, you have the power to turn on your computer and set your thermostats and you have a thermostatic system that doesn’t have a problem.”
As more air conditioning products are introduced, companies have to take measures to protect their designs.
“Companies are having to be more creative,” says Wertmann.
“People have to look at this from a design point of view, not just from an environmental point of, let’s say, trying to protect your property.”
Air conditioning companies have been