Of the estimated 144 million U.S. homes, those unequipped with at least one air conditioning unit are few and far between. America's obsession with AC has been steadily growing with 97% of new homes now depending on it. The irony of using AC to keep us cool while simultaneously heating up the planet is not going unnoticed.
While the United States boasts the largest installed air conditioning capacity, the global air conditioning market is predicted to grow. Other regions have also witnessed a surge in air conditioning adoption, and as economies grow and living standards improve, the demand for AC in these regions is skyrocketing.
India is the fifth largest economy in the world with a population of 1.4 billion but only 5% of homes are equipped with AC. Could you imagine the impact if they matched the U.S. rate of 90%? Considering the growth predictions for AC use in Asia, we might not need to wait long to find out.
In the following analysis, we’ll explore the most recent data on the percentage of homes with AC worldwide. Take a look at the map below to see how the U.S. compares to other countries for residential AC installations.
The Presence of Air Conditioning in Homes Across the World
To compare air conditioner usage in the U.S. to the rest of the world, we gathered the latest available data from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
|Location||Percentage of households equipped with AC|
|2. United States||90%|
|4. Saudi Arabia||63%|
|10. South Africa||6%|
What do these percentages mean?
The percentages shown in the map and table above highlight the rates of homes with air conditioning installed. Therefore, Japan is the country that most relies on air conditioning with 91% of homes having some sort of unit to keep them cool. The U.S. follows closely behind, with 90% of residential AC installed across the nation. Korea also harbors a love for AC at home, with 86% of the country’s homes equipped with air conditioning, while other notable countries include Saudi Arabia (63%) and China (60%).
How citizens keep cool in hotter temperatures depends on where they live in the world. Only one in every ten homes in the whole of Europe has air conditioning, meaning there are huge cultural differences at play as well as varying climates.
Putting residential AC use into perspective
These percentages tell only one story. While it’s clear that Japan and the U.S. lead the way in terms of reliance on AC use at home, it’s China and its vastly bigger population who have more units installed. 60% of Chinese homes use air conditioners, but that is 569 million units compared to the U.S. total of 374 million.
At the other end of the spectrum, India only has 5% of its homes equipped with AC, yet that amounts to 27 million units. If India were to mimic the 90% reliance that the U.S. has on residential AC, that number would grow to 1194.3 million AC units.
The U.S. vs the Rest of the World
Culture and location can play a big part in the percentages shown above.The factors affecting the presence of air conditioning in different countries usually include things like building infrastructure, climate conditions, costs, and the availability and accessibility of air conditioning technology. This means that more developed countries tend to have a higher presence of AC in homes.
For example, the weather in Japan can be extreme, with cold winters and hot and humid summers, it’s almost impossible to go without AC there. Yet AC is not standard in lower middle-income countries such as India and Indonesia, despite their warm climates.
However, not everything is about how many households have AC. Other aspects like how many units there are per home, types of systems, or even the use that is made of these systems impacts the overall picture. For example, unlike Americans who prefer central units, Japanese households often use several split systems which are usually more energy-efficient and have a more mindful mindset towards energy consumption, with the Government recommending the average cooling temperature to be set at 82ºF through their Cool Biz campaign (opens in Japanese).
For comparison, the U.S. Department of Energy previously recommended setting summertime thermostats to 78°F during at-home hours and 82°F at night. Although they later clarified this was an illustrative example emphasizing the importance of increasing the temperature by around 4°F at night and 7°F when away from home, Americans don’t seem to follow their advice. According to the EIA, most people set the thermostat at 74º when the house is empty, and 70°F when we are at home.
Despite Europe being such a developed region, just 10% of homes have AC installed in this area of the world. This mainly comes down to two factors: One is the energy costs associated with cooling the home. Even before the war in Ukraine sparked an energy crisis across the continent, European electricity rates were more than double those of the U.S. averages. Another factor contributing to Europe having such a low percentage of homes with AC installed is culture. There is a reluctance from both citizens and governments to embrace AC. Also, Europeans’ climate change awareness may be holding them back from cooling their homes with a system that requires so much energy consumption.
The Future of Global Air Conditioning Use
The United States' obsession with air conditioning is just one facet of a global trend that is projected to surge in the upcoming decades. As living standards improve and temperatures continue to rise, the number of units installed in buildings worldwide is estimated to reach a staggering 5.6 billion by 2050, marking a significant increase from the current estimate of approximately 2 billion units.
The increasing global demand by both the U.S. and Asia for air conditioning has become a notable oversight in the current energy debate. However, implementing stricter efficiency standards for cooling systems by governments could have a significant impact on reducing the need for new power plants, lowering emissions, and decreasing overall costs. Rebates and tax deductions, AC use regulation or encouraging improvement of the overall energy efficiency in homes, are just other measurements that can contribute.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government recently asked Korean residents to contribute to a power-saving campaign aiming to have each household save 1 kilowatt of energy per hour every day. This can supposedly be achieved by adjusting the thermostat to around 79 degrees Fahrenheit.
Global Cooling Is Contributing to Global Warming
While air conditioning offers practicality, comfort, and relief from extreme temperatures, it is crucial to consider the environmental implications of this widespread adoption. The energy consumption associated with air conditioning poses challenges in terms of sustainability and carbon emissions. Therefore, finding a balance between comfort and sustainability is paramount for the future.
To address these concerns, scientists and researchers are actively developing more environmentally friendly air conditioning solutions. These innovations aim to reduce energy consumption, minimize environmental impact, and enhance overall efficiency. By focusing on the development of energy-efficient AC units, the industry can make significant strides in mitigating the environmental consequences of the global AC obsession.
Adam Graham is an industry analyst at Fixr.com. He analyzes and writes about the real estate and home construction industries, covering a range of associated topics. He has been featured in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens and The Boston Globe and has written for various outlets including the National Association of Realtors, and Insurance News Net Magazine.