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.