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7550 France Ave. S.
Edina, MN

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In the 16th century sodium nitrate, or potassium nitrate, was added to water to lower its temperature and create a refrigerated bath. In Italy, this was used to chill wine and cakes.

By the turn of the 20th century, pollution and sewage began to appear in natural ice; and brewers especially complained of tainted ice. From this, a demand arose for modern refrigeration and ice-making machines.

Clarence Frank Birdseye II worked as an Assistant Naturalist for the USDA, and noticed the flash frozen fish the Alaskan Inuit caught tasted fresher than fish that were frozen slowly. Birdseye invented several machines for flash freezing, and the rest is frozen food history.


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Keepin' it Cool

We have an acquaintance who recently showed us the "air conditioner" he'd bought for his boat- an ice chest cover with a battery powered fan inset- "Yep," he said, "worked just fine." Proving that no measure is too desperate when it's this hot! What is the most efficient way to stay cool? The cheapest and easiest thing is just to move into the basement until the weather changes. But, if that solution holds no appeal, or the dog resents the intrusion on her space, there are other options.

The first patent for mechanical refrigeration was issued to Jacob Perkins in 1834.

Fans: The second cheapest cooling solution. A simple squirrel fan will speed the evaporation of human sweat, and can be used to force cooler basement air upstairs, but fans do not cool the air. Experts say the most efficient type of fans are ceiling fans, because they move a large column of air. However, this efficiency is lost if the blade size does not match its motor size, or the room size.

Third, a window air conditioning unit. This is pretty straighforward- open a window, place the unit on the sill, pull the window down; and plug the unit into a 20 amp outlet. The biggest drawback is the unlocked window that compromises home security. This chart from the DOE Energy Star web site shows the cooling BTU's required per square foot.

A quick calulator for finding the right size room air conditioner.

Area To Be Cooled (sq. ft.)

Capacity Needed(Btu/Hour)

100 to 150


150 to 250


250 to 300


300 to 350


350 to 400


400 to 450


Make adjustments for the following circumstances:

  • If the room is heavily shaded, reduce capacity by 10%.
  • If the room is very sunny, increase capacity by 10%.
  • If more than two people regularly occupy the room, add 600 BTUs for each additional person.
  • If the unit is used in a kitchen, increase capacity by 4,000 BTUs.
  • If you are mounting an air conditioner near the corner of a room, look for a unit that can send the airflow in the right direction.
  • Rooms that are connected by permanently open entryways wider than five feet ought to be considered as one room and their square footage should be combined.

Fourth: A split ductless system: This is a two part unit that can be installed in a home lacking ductwork. One part is the interior evaporator, mounted on a wall, the second part is an exterior condensor. These two parts are connected by wires for electricity and a tube for water. The SEER efficiencies for these units can be as high as 22, and they use an existing 20 amp circuit. They cool more evenly than a window unit, but the amps usage is similar.

Fifth, central air conditioning. Unfortunately, retrofitting an older Minnesota home with central air conditioning isn't as easy as we'd like. Frequently, the home will need to have its ducts reworked; or if the home has a boiler, then a complete duct system will need to be installed. Moreover, a central air unit demands a lot of electricity, and homes with an older 30 or 60 amp fuse panel may need an upgrade to a 100 amp circuit breaker panel. An electrician should be consulted for a detailed electrical load calculation.

Most importantly, your heating and cooling professional should compile a "load calculation" analysis for your home, even when replacing an existing AC unit. The heating and cooling load will change if you've added carpeting, insulation, added or removed a window or wall, or a shade tree has matured or been removed. As an example, a north facing window requires less cooling, but more heating.

Since 2006, new central air conditioning units must achieve a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) of 13 or greater. This year, tightened regulations on the refrigerant R-22 has made recharging an older system four times more expensive. Although it's sometimes possible to retrofit a central AC unit for the newer refrigerants, in some cases it is more cost effective to replace a unit that is ten or more years old.

References used for this article:

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