Even though I’ve had the keys to my Build-To-Order (BTO) flat for more than two years now, I never had an air conditioning system installed in my house.
It wouldn’t be an issue I thought with hubris. We had the renovators cover the entire floor of the house in a concrete finish, which I thought would be great for keeping the surroundings cool. Balmy nights were fixed by getting a portable air cooler — the ones where you can stuff ice into a compartment to blow the cold air out.
That was before the pandemic though. Once the global lockdown climate kicked in, it was not fun working a 9am to 7pm job in my home office covered in sweaty pyjamas (the default work-from-home attire), bereft of a cool, bearable environment. I had to shift the workspace to the dinner table, where I relied on an actual industrial fan to keep things comfortable enough to function.
Requesting for an emergency air-conditioning system installation wasn’t possible either. The circuit breaker rules only allowed for essential services to be carried out, and even as much as I was slowly withering from the Singapore heat and humidity each day, the air-con companies just couldn’t do anything.
So when Close Comfort arrived in Singapore, it was a windfall in both figurative and literal sense.
Now, air conditioning is a complicated technology. You can probably spend hours learning how it all works with all its refrigerant vapours, heating elements and coolants, but the basic premise is this: a machine draws in air from its surroundings, removing heat and moisture in the process and blows the cooled air back out into an enclosed space.
But installing traditional air conditioning systems is a pretty laborious process — there are multiple units to position, pipes and hoses to arrange, window kits to affix, among other mysteries. What Australian engineering professor James Trevelyan figured out in 2007 was that there is a way to develop an energy-efficient way to cool the surroundings: a personal air conditioner.
Years later in 2016, the first Close Comfort units went on sale. It claims to be able to create a cool microclimate while also offering a 75 per cent reduction in electricity consumption. The bold claim? It only costs 50 cents for the unit to run for eight hours.
Though it looks like a regular air cooler, it really is a mini air-conditioning unit that’s meant to cool an individual, not rooms. The intention here is to only cool your direct zone — in particular, your head and shoulders — by producing cold air that is a good 10°C lower than surrounding temperatures. Good enough for me and my damp pyjamas.
Unlike other portable air conditioning units, you don’t have to mess around with window exhaust hoses. Surprisingly, it was all plug-and-play out of the box. It was as simple as plugging it to an outlet, lifting the cold air and warm air cover, and let the Close Comfort unit do its thing. Nearby standing and ceiling fans are advised to be turned off.
And it really does work. Cool, air-conditioned air blows out of the vent straight at you while the warm air gets blasted out of the back. So good for anyone sitting in front of the unit, but pretty muggy for anyone facing its back. Sorry, wife.
I’ll say this: it’s effective only at close range. Close Comfort proclaims that the unit can still work great in rooms and the outdoors (like balconies or event spaces) but as far as my testing went, the cooled air wafting out has a very narrow trajectory. It’s originally designed that way anyway — intended to cool a person directly, not a room.
In other words, you’ll have to sit right in front of the machine to get the full effect. Placing it in my living room in an attempt to get chilly air flowing during Netflix binge sessions did nothing substantial. It did cause my house guests to demand taking turns to sit in front of the machine, though.
Close Comfort says that it’s great for sleeping, but again, it did very little in terms of cooling when placed next to the bed. The company does, however, recommend that you use its optional “igloo tent” to trap the cold air in while you sleep, but I can’t imagine keeping that contraption on every night. Keeps mosquitoes out though.
Still, it was the best solution on hand without using (or in my case, even having) an air conditioning system at home. It proved to be pretty excellent when I was sitting in front of the stream, with the unit propped up on a chair to blast the cold air right onto my hands and face. Essentially, Close Comfort's personal air conditioner was how I survived during the blistering, intense days covering the General Election and going hard in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare late into the night.
One would, however, have to consider if $629 is alright for something that’s only effective for one person. Is that the amount of money you’re willing to drop for a chillier personal microclimate? Or would a much cheaper industrial fan be a worthier investment to keep everyone cool at the same time? The Close Comfort is a novel concept that’s cost-saving in the long run for sure, but the price of entry might be a little steep for many these days.