How air conditioning alternatives support your journey to better buildings

For decades, air conditioning has been the go-to solution for keeping homes and offices at a liveable temperature. But traditional A/C isn’t the only way of keeping rooms cool, and it comes with several limitations too. If you’re looking to make your buildings more comfortable and appealing to residents, air conditioning alternatives can play a big part in achieving that goal.

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The problem with air conditioning systems for homes and offices

Mounting a cheap air conditioning unit to the walls of a building provides a quick and reliable way of giving inhabitants control over temperature. While A/C is very convenient, it does have several drawbacks:

  • Not eco-friendly: A relatively high percentage of CO2 emissions can be attributed to air-conditioning. As the general public is increasingly concerned about this issue, it makes sense to provide your customers with an alternative.
  • Require lots of maintenance: Air conditioners need to be regularly serviced to remain efficient, yet most homeowners forego proper maintenance.
  • Health issues: Poorly maintained air conditioning units have been linked to asthma problems and an increase in allergies.
  • Expensive: Air conditioning systems eat up a lot of energy and can be a big cost for your customers in terms of utility bills.

3 alternative air conditioning technologies

If you are looking for new ways of keeping your developments cool without relying on traditional A/C systems, the following three air conditioning alternatives can be used as inspiration.

1. Surface cooling techniques

What is it?

Surface cooling is an increasingly popular alternative air conditioning technology. It involves the use of cool water being sent through pipes in the walls and floors of a room. Similar to underfloor heating (but using cool water instead of hot water), this method is just as effective as conventional air-conditioners for cooling a space.

How does it work?

Pipes are integrated into the wall. They then circulate cold water at around 16° C which cools the surfaces. Thanks to the heat exchange effect, any surplus heat inside a room is drawn from the environment to the cooling surfaces. The result is a pleasantly cool indoor climate.

Is it effective?

2011 study did a side-by-side comparison of radiant cooling and forced air cooling. After two years, the researchers concluded that surface cooling systems used 34% less energy compared to variable air volume systems.

Furthermore, the energy conservation rate in surface cooled environments is better than with conventional air-conditioners. Each additional degree of room temperature saves 10% on energy costs. While an air conditioner has to be cooled down to 23°C on hot days, you will feel perfectly comfortable at 26°C with a surface cooling system. This saves up to 30% of energy costs.

What are the benefits?

  • Rooms remain free of drafts
  • Minimises the potential danger of bacteria
  • The approach is noiseless
  • Can integrate with underfloor heating systems, thereby saving money
  • More aesthetically pleasing (no need for units attached to the external wall)

2. District cooling

What is it?

District cooling is a popular air conditioning alternative that uses a variety of techniques to provide cooling to entire neighbourhoods. Chilled water is delivered to buildings that need to be cooled (including the use of seawater) from a central source.

At present, mainly large-scale buildings such as hospitals, public buildings or hotels are supplied with district cooling. However, many governments are working hard to offer this technology in the private customer sector in the future. When planning and developing new real estate projects, this alternative to air-conditioners is definitely worth looking into.

How does it work?

A central chiller plant cools water for the neighbourhood (at scale, this is much cheaper than every building chilling its own water). This is then pumped to individual buildings. Cool water can be used in building-wide cooling systems – including surface cooling techniques.

Is it effective?

Yes, compared to conventional air conditioning systems, this type of cooling produces about 50% less CO2 and can lower individual electricity bills by 35%.

Take the Helsinki district cooling system, for example. Surplus energy from the city’s power generating unit is used to run absorption refrigerators for cooling purposes during hot summer days. This cool water is then used across the city to cool homes. The adoption of district cooling is estimated to reduce the consumption of electricity for cooling purposes by as much as 90% in the Finnish capital.

What are the benefits?

  • Reduces energy bills
  • Benefit from economies of scale
  • Discrete and silent
  • Means individual buildings do not need an on-site chiller, therefore saving space
  • Less maintenance for residents
  • Less energy-intensive than individual air conditioning systems for homes

3. Thermal heat pumps

What is it?

Heat pumps are a way of taking heat from one place, compressing it and transferring it to another environment. They are often used as a low-cost way of heating homes but are also effective at cooling buildings too.

How does it work?

Heat pumps come in various forms depending on where they get the energy from (surrounding air, the ground, solar panels, etc.). The basic principle is that they absorb heat from one area and transfer it to a liquid form which is compressed, thereby raising the liquid’s temperature. This energy is transferred and can either be used to heat a home by bringing in energy from outside or cool a home by transferring warmth inside to the outside world.

Is it effective?

Yes, in certain circumstances. Heat pumps are inefficient in poorly insulated old buildings with radiators that require high flow temperatures. But utilized in new buildings, it’s a completely different story. Heat pumps work efficiently in modern, well-insulated properties.

What are the benefits?

  • Much lower energy usage than A/C systems
  • Can save as much as £1,300 per year on energy bills
  • Release less humidity
  • Minimal maintenance

Air conditioning alternatives for residential real estate

Until now, the air conditioner alternatives described above have rarely been used in private residential properties. However, given their growing use in commercial real estate buildings, care facilities, office buildings, etc., it is only a matter of time before they’ll be more widespread in residential real estate too.

If you’re looking for alternative air conditioning technology that will save your residents money, enhance the eco-friendly reputation of your buildings, and make assets more aesthetically pleasing, these solutions are definitely worth investigating.

Introducing air-conditioning alternatives in our projects can be a challenge, especially if subcontractors are not familiar with how to install them. And this is where project management apps like PlanRadar help by improving communication among stakeholders. Learn more here.

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