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Jewish World Review May 21, 2004 / 1 Sivan, 5764

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Whatever happened to spring? | Look, we've just gotten through one of the coldest winters on record. It is finally warm enough to wear short sleeves. It is May - the month so perfect they put Mother's Day in it.

So why is the AC blasting like Rush Limbaugh at a Planned Parenthood picnic?

It's ridiculous! It's a NyQuil plot! The buses are freezing, the office is arctic and my local supermarket doesn't need a meat freezer - we are all treated like shell steaks. I say to you, my blue-lipped comrades: It is time for us to take back spring. Let us demand a moratorium on air conditioning until the official start of summer, June 21.

Is that so much to ask? One brief window of windows actually open instead of grimly sealed shut, with frigid air blasting from ducts instead?

I am almost ready to accept that Americans can't live without air conditioning any more than they can live without ice in their already freezing Cokes. But why do we insist on chilling buildings when the air outside isn't even hot yet?

The answer, says Jay Farmerie, secretary for the Association of Water Technologies, is as simple as it is infuriating: "Air conditioning is not for people. It's for equipment."

Equipment can't appreciate the glory of a perfect spring day. That's why you never see a pregnant computer. Equipment can only appreciate a steady stream of humidity-free months and years, always hewing close to 72 degrees.

That doesn't even sound so bad - the AC set to 72. Except that to ensure it stays 72 inside, the AC kicks in as soon as it reaches 62 outside.

"The reason," explains Chet Vogel, a veteran New York engineer, "is that there will be heat gains [as the day wears on] from the lights and the people and the sun." Modern AC units are set to counter these factors by cooling down buildings hours - and sometimes even days - before things actually heat up. So the cold starts blasting when outside it is still cool. Or rainy. Or both.

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On buses and trains, this "cool first, ask questions later" feature is even more pronounced. The city's 46,000 buses get hauled in every spring to have their thermostats set for the rest of the season. From now on they will blast the same amount of AC every day until the fall.

"The driver has no control over the climate control system," says Charlie Seaton, a spokesman for the New York City Transit Authority. "It is designed to keep the bus at 75 degrees, plus or minus 5."

Minus 5 below, it feels like. Knowing that these numbing drafts will feel delightful one afternoon in August is hardly enough to warm the cockles of, well, any part of me.

Add to this the horrifying fact that AC generally creates air that is 50 degrees, and works most efficiently when blowing full blast, full-time, and you begin to wonder if we'll ever enjoy the real feel of spring again.

Hope so. Because knowing that our machines are happy is cold comfort.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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