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Sunday, December 28, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 7/24/2011

Thank goodness for air conditioning

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
BLADE COLUMNIST

You have to wonder if the cost of repairing the car's air conditioner would have been the same in January as it was in July. But driving in an incubator is no time to question the mechanic but be thankful the problem can be fixed.

For four insufferable weeks I debated whether I could survive without an air conditioner. After all, my grandparents never knew the comfort of artificially cooled air in summer. I don't think anyone ever figured out how to cool a buggy. Nor did my parents know the pleasure of air conditioning in their cars or houses during Michigan's hottest months. They and millions of others had to suffer the heat, so why couldn't I be like them?

Such self-pity lasted into July's heat wave, during which time I was sure I almost fainted driving when it was in the 90s, even with the windows open. I parked the car in the shade when possible, kept ice-cold bottled water in a cooler in the front seat, rode with other people when invited, and stayed home more than is my habit. A freeon refill didn't help.

The truth is I failed to make it without air conditioning in the car until cooler weather in the fall. I am spoiled, and on blistering days I run from the air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned car and scamper into an air-conditioned restaurant or store.

Finally giving in to the realization that I am not as tough as my ancestors and that it's only money, I took the advice of a friend and took the car to a garage in Monclova. When I was told the fix would cost $800, I said what they probably expected: "I'll think about it." An hour later I relented and said, "Go for it."

The mechanic explained it was the heating, ventilating, air-conditioning controller that had gone awry. The part cost $649.98; the remainder was labor. Inasmuch as Mercurys are being discontinued I suppose it was lucky to get the part. That brings me to Gladys, my pet car. She is also on the endangered list. Oldsmobiles are no longer being made. Her air conditioner has been out for two years, and mechanics say the cost of getting it fixed would be prohibitive. But I love Gladys.

Packard Motor Co. was the first company to add air conditioning to a car in the 1940s at an additional charge of $275. By 1969 more than half of the cars manufactured in the United States were equipped with air conditioning.

Industry and the medical profession are credited for the development and advancement in commercial air conditioning. The term was coined by a North Carolina textile manufacturer who noticed the cooling system improved the textile fibers. That was in 1906, but back in the 1830s Dr. John Gorrie devised a system that blew air over buckets of ice to soothe patients with malaria and yellow fever at a Florida hospital.

The first home air conditioners, invented by John Carrier in 1902, were called Apparatus for Treating Air. The operation of the home air conditioner is said to take more energy than anything else. There are ways to cut back. Just raising the thermostat is easy. Ceiling fans also help.

Facts you hate to hear on hot days include that each degree below 78 uses 3 to 4 per cent more energy. Fact No. 2: if the air conditioner runs 20 minutes each hour to keep the house at 70 degrees, it will run eight hours every day.

That's my style. Come next month's bill, I may be sorry, but what price can we put on comfort? The experience with the car was a valuable lesson.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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