Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Another Hot Summer in Santa Barbara:
The summer of 2014 had to have been one of the hottest Santa Barbara summers in recent memory, especially the early summer months of May and June when temperatures are usually moderated by a morning layer of cool gray fog. It must have also been a record setting summer for the sale and installation of all types of ceiling fans and portable air conditioners, as central air conditioning is not as common in Santa Barbara homes as in most other southern California communities. By mid summer I had already lost track of how many ceiling fans and AC units we had installed and I thought that “beating the heat” might be a good topic for this week’s column as we enter into the summer of 2015.
If you are having trouble falling asleep at night while waiting for your house to cool off after a hot summer day, a ceiling fan may be a relatively inexpensive way to move a little cool air around the bedroom and help you to drift off to slumber. A basic ceiling fan can be purchased for around $150 or so and like portable heaters at the start of winter, they are often heavily discounted and advertised at the first sign of hot weather. However like everything else we buy, you usually get what you pay for and you may not be completely happy with an inexpensive ceiling fan because it will tend to be quite a lot noisier than a more expensive model.
Step number one in installing a new ceiling fan is finding a suitable ceiling location which usually is in the center of the bedroom but sometimes in a larger bedroom the fan may be centered over the bed. If the fan is going to be installed where there is currently an existing ceiling light with a wall switch then this is typically the easiest installation scenario. In most cases the electrical box in your ceiling that supports your ceiling light will not safely support the weight of a ceiling fan and stabilize it as it spins. However if there is reasonable attic access, a piece of wood blocking can be fastened between the ceiling joists that an electrical box rated to support a ceiling fan can be screwed to, providing the rigidity needed to support the fan. If there is not attic access as in the case of where a second story living area is above the room, then a ceiling fan retrofit expanding brace can be used that fits into the ceiling opening and has threaded arms that expand outward against the ceiling joists giving a solid mount. A remote control wall switch comes with many fans or may be sold as an accessory that is installed in the wall box of the old wall switch that was used for the ceiling light, and allows the fan to be turned on and off and also controls the fan speed without requiring additional wiring.
If the ceiling fan is being installed in a room that was not originally wired for a ceiling light then attic access will be required, otherwise the job will require quite a lot of drywall repair to provide electrical service to the new location. In most newer homes there will be electrical service available in the attic that an electrician can use to provide power for the new fan and installing the new support box will be an easy task while working in the attic. Your ceiling fan will need a hand held remote control for operation or your electrician can wire a new wall switch but this will require drywall repair and touch up painting as a new wire will have to be brought to the location of the new wall switch.
Sometimes a ceiling fan just isn’t enough to cool off a bedroom and a small air conditioner may be the solution. This type of air conditioner comes in three basic styles: window mounted, wall mounted and portable. The window mounted unit sits on the window sill and when ordering be sure that the unit will fit your window style which usually is a either a vertical slider (sash) or a horizontal slider. A wall mounted unit is almost identical to the window style but an opening is cut in the exterior wall, a metal box is mounted securely in the opening and the air condition is slid into this metal box. The portable a/c unit simple rolls on casters to where it is needed and usually has two flexible ducts that need to be fitted to a window opening to allow for outside air to cool the unit. The noisy part of any air conditioner is the compressor which is on the outside of the house for a window or wall mounted unit but is inside your home with a portable unit so that the compressor noise is more noticeable. With all three of the different styles it is important to make sure that a safe power supply is available and that the air conditioner does not overload the electrical circuit that it is plugged into. Check the manufacturer’s specifications for required amperage and confirm that the power outlet that you use has the needed amperage rated circuit breaker. It is not a good idea to use an extension cord for any type of appliance so it will be important that the electrical outlet is nearby.
If you are considering central air conditioning or one of the new duct-less or “split” units then you will need the services of a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) contractor. A central air conditioning system consists of two parts with the chilling unit installed in tandem with your existing forced air furnace and the heat exchanger fan placed outside the house on a small concrete pad. The chilled air is then delivered throughout the house via the existing ducts. The duct less units are relatively new to the game but they too are a two part system that utilize an outside heat exchanger but the chiller unit mounts onto an interior wall using it’s own internal fan to circulate the chilled air. If you have wanted central air conditioning but your home relies on electric radiant heat in the ceilings rather than a forced air gas furnace, then a duct-less a/c system may be the way to go.
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259