Air Conditioning: US vs Singapore & Philippines

Living in the US, I got accustomed to central air conditioning.  Besides the fact that it’s generally cooler in the US than it is in Singapore, the idea of having your air conditioner on all day long is culturally acceptable in most parts of the country.  The air conditioner is simply set to maintain a certain temperature.  It’s a set and forget type of deal, and some even have timers that will automatically disable it during the hours when no one is in the house.  When someone is in the house though, it’s on, and that’s just normal.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that the same air conditioning usage patterns aren’t only uncommon, but are seen as socially unacceptable, or at the least unusual or a waste of money, in Asia?  Doesn’t make sense right?  Especially since it’s so much hotter here.  Besides that, houses in the US are built with insulation in mind.  The buildings I’ve been in here in Singapore and in the Philippines seem to be plain cinder block and plaster, with no sort of insulation at all.  That means the buildings build up heat during the day and then maintain it through the majority of the night. The place I’m living now stays at an average of 33 C (91.4 F) all day long, and all night long too.  We’ve even come in at 1 AM, having left the window cracked all day, and seen that it still read 32 C on the temperature gauge on the AC remote.

A typical family in Singapore (based on what I’ve seen) will only turn on the air conditioner at night, after they’ve showered, when they’re about to get in bed.  During the rest of the day and evening, they simply leave the windows open and use a lot of fans.  Also, the air conditioners here aren’t central, with vents in each room.  They’re either window mounted units, or they’re the type that mount outside and have smaller ‘control’ units inside the bedrooms.

That’s another thing I wanted to mention.  The air conditioners in Singapore are typically only located in bedrooms.  From what I’ve seen myself, and heard from my wife, it’s basically the same in the Philippines, if the family even owns an air conditioner at all.  The difference there, though, is that most parts of the Philippines are a lot cooler than Singapore.

At my last place, I would run the air conditioner almost non-stop.  I wasn’t acclimated to the weather here and it was just so damn hot all the time that it seemed impractical to open the windows.  Plus, the air conditioner provided with the room was a piece of shit (see the photo below). Who wants to sit in their own house sweating like they’re in a sauna?  Not to mention that high temperatures can’t be good for electronics.

(This POS, tiny AC was meant to cool a master’s bedroom. Even blasting on maximum, with the temperature set to the minimum, the room would rarely cool below 30 C (86 F))

Another thing to note is that I read on Jonna Wibelius blog, SHE in China, that in China they only turn on the air conditioners during certain seasons.  It reminded me of the way they did it in schools in the US.  I remember days when it was incredibly hot, but the scheduled day for the air conditioners to be turned on hadn’t arrived yet.  The same with the heaters.

I’m constantly finding new things that amaze me about the differences between Asian and American culture, what is and isn’t considered socially acceptable, and the way people live here.

7 thoughts on “Air Conditioning: US vs Singapore & Philippines”

  1. I have lived in the Philippines for years. I don’t really use the A/C in the bedroom too much (partly because I have slat windows and no real insulation), but I’m gonna have a central cooling system installed in the house. Mainly because I have a library of books and I’m constantly fighting mildew on the pages. They really need a more suitable temperature control. Of course this means I have to replace the slat windows and install insulation in the ceiling. This will be fun!


    1. How’s the project going? Did you ever get the a/c installed? I worried about owning books while I was living in the Philippines for just that reason. Plus, books were a lot pricier in the Philippines than they were in the US. These days, most of what I buy is digital so I guess it wouldn’t matter, but I’d still want to have a/c installed. I’m too used to Northeastern US temperatures these days!


  2. Before I read this post, I think Singaporeans are heavy users of air conditioner, it seems I am wrong, as Americans even rely on the air-conditioning? The air conditioner in my flat is central, but with environmental awareness, I only use the air conditioner when it is really necessary. Otherwise the electrical fan will just do the work.Americans are huge consumers of energy, they drive big cars, they seldom use public transportation, They live a very luxurious life style, don’t they?With the shortage of energy looming, why not go green and use air conditioner as little as you can?BTW, I think the air conditioner in my office building is set too cool and making me almost catch a cold. lol


    1. Since you wrote in I hope you’ve noticed the rise in so-called “intelligent thermostats” in the US. Those don’t maintain the same cool temperature the whole day, wasting energy when nobody is at home. You set those with variable temperatures that correspond to times and days that you are at home, sleeping, waking-up, leaving, and finally returned home. Energy-wise it’s a way to have your cake and eat it too. I bought mine in 2003 and just moved-with and installed it in all the different apartments I lived in through the years, until I gave it to my brother to use at his house before I left the US.
      Electricity in the US, while costing variably depending on the region, is still cheaper than in Europe or Southeast Asia, that’s why turning On the Air-Cons isn’t seen as some sort of luxury. Central Air-Con Systems built into a house or apartment make more sense when you consider the same systems double as Heaters in the Winter.


  3. Ha! Back in Hawaii I briefly rented a house from a filipino couple (they turned their garage into a large studio and lived in THAT while I got the house). Anyway, there was only one a/c, outside mount, and it worked pretty well but I rarely ever, ever used it. When time came to pay the electric I was shocked at how much my share of the bill was (something like 80 bucks) and used the a/c only in dire situations.Here in Italy you'll find a/c's in the big cities but not so much the more you get out into the country. A plus is that the older homes were built with thick stone or cement block which keeps things cool if you close the shades all day long.


  4. I see good arising from not using soooo much AC. Those countries have it figured out. No AC no fat people. I bought an Infared Sauna to help with weight loss and it has helped a lot. Maybe we should just sweat and save electricity.


  5. Well, I had the same experience like you… Fans are more common that air cons. But what was more shocking and annoying for me was the aircons in shopping malls. When you walk down the Orchard road in shorts and t-shirt and you enter a shopping mall, it's so chilli cold sometimes, that I couldn't bear it and had to go out. Once outside, It was too hot again and I went in. And so back and forth and back and forth. Why don't they have the air con tuned to 21 degrees instead of 16! It's like a climate shock! Such a huge difference. Ok, those rich businessmen, who come in suits, park their Mercedeses in the mall garage and the go in: it's pleasant for those. For the rest is just annoying. (Sorry for the rant) 😛


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