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Question of the Week: Why do you keep your home as cool (or not) as you do?

2008 June 9

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

It’s getting hot! Air conditioning makes our homes much more comfortable during hot weather, but a million air conditioners running at once have environmental impacts. A programmable thermostat helps reduce the impacts by cooling only when you need it.

Why do you keep your home as cool (or not) as you do?

Follow-up: Summary of the comments submitted for this blog entry.


En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

¡Se están calentando los días! El aire acondicionado hace los hogares más confortable durante el temporada de calor, pero el tener un millón de unidades de aire acondicionado funcionando a la vez tiene impactos ambientales. Un termostato programable ayuda a reducir los impactos al refrescar la temperatura sólo cuando realmente lo necesita.

¿Por qué enfría su casa (o no la enfría) de la manera que lo hace?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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115 Responses leave one →
  1. Michelle V. permalink
    June 9, 2008

    We will be installing ceiling fans in bedrooms to help. Our poorly designed heating and cooling system on our 6 year ol new home does not cool the house evenly. WE do not ahve two zones and we have an open floor plan. Bad choice that we are paying for in heating and cooling. The master bedroom is 5 plus degrees off from the rest of the house. At this point in our life, sleep is more critical than the extra cost for cooling. Though in winter we do not increase the heat, we just deal with the cold. Our thermostat is set at 75 in summer and 65 in winter. I am still hot at night with the 75 degree setting and wake frequently. Hoping the ceiling fan helps.

  2. Kevin from Western NY permalink
    June 9, 2008

    Daytime temp is set for 74, and the night (after 10:30) is set for 77. Tried 78, but we would wake up half way through the night, unable to fall back asleep. If the outside temp gets up over 90 then we adjust these temps higher.

  3. Sue permalink
    June 9, 2008

    We set our thermostat at 80′ here in Florida. With the humidity as high as it gets in Florida, removing some of that from the air is as important as cooling the temperature. Probably it is more important. When we lived in Minnesota, we did not have a/c and did just fine without.

  4. phaley permalink
    June 9, 2008

    It’s different on whether it’s humid or just hot. Fans help out quite a bit with heat but not much with the humidity.

    I find that if I let my house heat up, it can take hours running all the window a/c full blast until it cools down and dries out the air. However, if I leave the living room window a/c on with all the blinds down, it isn’t so bad when I get home. The I can turn on the bedroom a/c to cool them off while we are in the living room and kitchen.

    Also, although me and my two teenagers work and go to school our cat and dog are home so it can’t get too hot for them.

  5. Stephanie B permalink
    June 9, 2008

    Our home has an open floor plan and a full basement. Since building in 2000, we have installed ceiling fans in the main living areas (living room & dining room) and a whole house fan in the ceiling at the top of the stairwell leading to the basement. This allows for the cooler air in the basement to be circulated up the stairs and into the living area. We also use cross breezes by opening all windows in the bedrooms. We have also added a ceiling fan to the master suite.

  6. Lynne permalink
    June 9, 2008

    I’m still old school…no AC. We use ceiling fans and jump in the pool when it gets to hot. Our basement stays nice and cool so that’s an option too. Michigan weather is so up and down, and if it’s to cool in the house we won’t want to go swimming.

  7. Farnarkelling Abit permalink
    June 9, 2008

    Adjusting the thermostat to not control the temperature when nobody is around does save energy. Here’s the reason…

    Heat energy travels from higher temperature materials, to lower temperature areas. The greater the temperature difference, the greater the amount of energy that moves across. Insulation slows the rate of travel of this heat. This hopefully make sense to you.

    Here’s an analogy…
    There are two tanks – one tank is “outside” and the other “inside”
    Water level = temperature, Water volume = energy

    Connect them with a pipe (The walls) allowing water (energy) to flow from the higher to lower tank. The outside level is 90 inches (=degrees) high, with inside 70 inches.

    If you allow them to come to the same level – no water flows.

    Then when you are wanting to occupy the inside, you pump water outside to get to 70 inches again (Via your “AC pump”) Water will begin to flow back inside as soon as there is a level difference.

    Hopefully you will now see why letting the temperature rise to outside will reduce your cost – the rate of heating will slow down and may stop as inside temps rise to match outside.

    Your cooling cost is directly related to the amount of heat energy that comes into the house. If you slow/stop that for a portion of the day – you don’t have to pay to remove the it.

  8. June 9, 2008

    Summer setpoint is 72F if it is warm enough or humid enough to run the AC. Sometimes the setpoint is to make the system run to remove humidity. If we set it higher the house is too humid. I wish the system had enough capacity to keep the house at 68F without running all the time.

    Winter setpoint is 64F when we are home, down to 58 to 60F at night or when we are out. Setpoint changes to 68F when we have visitors that start to ice over.

  9. Michelle permalink
    June 9, 2008

    I am in Mississippi so it is hot and humid here. I keep it on 75 degrees. There are lots of shade so it doesn’t have to run a lot as long as it is less than 95 degrees. Then, I will even put on 78 when I am leaving the house. (Not sure if it is good or not when it has to cool it all down, but sometimes I have been known to turn off when I leave for work.)

    The good side of this heat is I live in the country & can do a clothes line. However, my crazy dogs will pull off clothes if I’m not careful :).

    I get cold in the usual 70 that most folks keep here.

  10. Cool (Or Not) permalink
    June 9, 2008

    We’re on our third day of 100+ degree days, so this is a timely one!

    We use fans and ceiling fans.

    We also have small, energy efficient window units in two of our most used rooms. We use those to cool and turn up the thermostat for the rest of the house.

    Cool baths are also nice. It’s always cooler when you get out of the tub!

  11. Linda permalink
    June 9, 2008

    I only use a window air conditioner during the night or ceiling fan. On cool nights I leave window open. Otherwise use attic fan and have windows open during the day. If raining, I use fans to cool the house. I do not have central airconditioning. In winter I keep the temperature set at 65 at night and 68 during the day if I am home. I keep the bedroom cool at night in summer so I sleep better. Main reason I do not use much ari conditioning is to save electricity.

  12. Abigail permalink
    June 9, 2008

    I pulled the curtains more closed than usual to help keep the indoors cooler, but I live in the south and it gets hot here. It has already been in the mid 90’s (today is 94). We have a programmable thermostat that turns the air down during the times we aren’t home and helps to save money. When we are home we usually keep it around 78. If we are going to have a lot of people over we lower it to account for body heat warming the space. We keep it just cool enough to be comfortable because we don’t want high bills and don’t want to put a huge strain on the power company and lose power from everyone running it high, which has happened in the past and the neighborhood “went out” recently as well for about 30 minutes. The low tonight is suppose to be 70, if we are still awake we may turn the air off and open the windows, but I’m not comfortable leaving the windows open all night for safety reasons.

  13. John permalink
    June 9, 2008

    I turn on the AC, and move the settings up or down when my wife asks me to. She has been paying the gas and electric bills for about 4 years now. This is after I told her I was going to have it disconnected and taken out of my name, since every time I came home from work all the lights in the house were on, the heat or AC was on with windows and doors open, and there were 3-4 TV sets on, most of the time with no one home! It is truely amazing how conservative one can be when one pays the bill! It also helps to surcharge kids with a “fine or tax” for wasting energy. BUT, I do NOT want the government fining or taxing me (any more than they already do!) to forcibly alter my energy consumption patters, economics works just fine thank you!! Programable thermostats are great, and do save energy. Humidity causes discomfort in the summer. The key is to have your AC sized properly for your home and weather zone to run often to keep humidity in check. I replaced my central AC last summer and dropped the unit size a ton (12,000 Btu/Hr) in size. Works much better and saves energy, especially with higher set indoor temperatures 77-78F. On the 3-5 hottest days of the year it gets a little hotter in my house during the day, but humidity is sill controlled, so who cares.

  14. Mary permalink
    June 9, 2008

    I am in Florida. We keep our thermostat at 76 during the summer; at 78 during summer nights; and at 70 during the winter. To help cool our home we have ceiling fans in all the rooms are kept on to circulate the air and when it is really humid a humidifier to help.

  15. Jerry W permalink
    June 9, 2008

    Living in Central Texas, AC is a fact of life. We keep our AC turned up pretty high (85-90) while at work (62-65 during our short, warm winters) and we’re still comfortable when we get home because we use the rather elaborate programmable thermostat to our advantage. One can also set “vacation” schedules and the schedule for each weekend day – or any other day, for that matter, can be set independently of other days and hours).

    When we built a custom house a couple yrs ago, we researched energy efficiency and other building techniques and tips – (check out – the best “building” Web site I’ve ever encountered – or the DOE “Building America” Web site for invaluable information and links) – because this house has to last through retirement. We added radiant brrriers, we got windows for southern exposures (low E2 glass with a 33 winter heat loss and 34 – a very low solar heat gain coefficient while still having plenty of light – a necessity since we have over 40 windows in a 3000 sq ft house).

    Without a doubt, the most expensive upgrade was the HVAC, but so far, it has been a great system. We got a 16 SEER – (under ideal conditions) – variable speed, zoned system (computerized dampers and remote sensors control the temperature of each room or area with the aid of a sophisticated programmable thermostat with remote sensors and satellite “override” thermostats. With this thermostat, one can program each day differently, including separate settings for Saturdays and Sundays; one can program the system for vacations, too. If one works at home, one could set the office temp and/or humidity to a different setting from the rest of the house. We added a bacteriostatic prefilter and a HEPA filter to control dust and microorganisms. Both have helped our allergies. We also used individual mini-room-return air ducts on the bedrooms so one can close any bedroom’s door and continue to maintain the temperature. One can also add a fresh air vent and set it to take in more fresh air (to reduce indoor pollution) We waited to do this to see if we needed it; turns out we’re fine without it, but retrofits are more expensive. A humidifier or dehumidifier (depending on climate) can be added, too (we didn’t, but should have, and probably will do soon).

    Now, for those of you who want the information: 2.5 yrs ago, this system cost us $16,000 + (3X the cost of a single 14-SEER unit). The point for us was to prepare for higher energy costs in our retirement (or sooner, as it turns out) and to have more control over our HVAC since we have almost opposite brain temp. set points. Oh yes, I would suggest that you add surge protectors all around the thing (not expensive). We have a whole house surge protector, but it was useless when the system took an almost-direct hit that took out half the circuit boards (luckily still under warranty at the time).

    I hope this has geen helpful info about how much more one can get out of an AC even if one has to sacrifice something to get such a system.

    Jerry W

  16. Anonymous permalink
    June 9, 2008

    My suggestion is to not have Spanish in this email. You should have either all English or all Spanish. English is the language of the US., not spanish… thanks…

  17. Jeanne permalink
    June 9, 2008

    My family lives in the hottest spot of the nation, in the middle of the Mohave Desert. The temperature outside has reached above 125 degrees on my front porch, in the shade. The evaporative cooler uses less electricity, but more water. Evaporative coolers (swampers) are how we cool our home 10± months a year. The Air Conditioners are only used when the humidity rises too high, parts of July, August and parts of September. The energy difference is tremendous, thus it’s best to cool with the swampers when possible. Due to the rise in electric rates, we will be increasing our temperature by 2 degrees on our air conditioner this year.

  18. Elizabeth permalink
    June 9, 2008

    I was born and raised in central Maine. When I lived there we never had to turn on air conditioning during the summer. It was always the perfect temperature. In the winter we had a wood stove, so we rarely had to turn on the electrical heating system. I moved to Atlanta about a year and a half ago. During the summer, the air conditioner is on most of the time. During the winter, the heat is on most of the time. I wanna move back to Maine!!!!

  19. Victor permalink
    June 9, 2008

    I usually keep my apartment thermostat turned off all year because the enire building is heated 24/7. In the summer, I use a fan with my shades pulled down because an air conditioner is very costly, and known to guzzle energy. However, in the winter, I use either a sweater or a blanket to conserve as much as possible.

  20. G.J.Wirth - Bahamas permalink
    June 9, 2008

    Be practical….. windows facing westerly have them tinted. If you are buyilding avoid windows on the west side of the house. Waterheater use a time-switch or a simple on-off switch. A/C is great but remember turn it off and look at the meter then turn it on and get a shock. Keep the temp at a mean 75 degrees.A bedroom only needs a quyick blast on high cool. Make sure you have ceiling fans, Turn the A/C off after the blast, 15-20 minutes, close the door and unless it really gets warm only then turn the A/C on Low cool not high cool. I am not sold on solar energy as an alternative source owing to the cost of installation. If you have central A/C make sure your windows are air tight. When designing a new home position your home where you can max the natural breezes, create shade around your home.

  21. Karen permalink
    June 9, 2008

    I keep my house between 80-82 F. That temperature is tolerable and recommended by my utility company as an optimal temperature for power savings.

  22. Bill D permalink
    June 9, 2008

    We are in Southern California and rarely used the heater or A/C, except on extremely hot or cold days. However, we now have someone home 24×7, who has MS. We upgraded both the furnace and the A/C and installed a programmable thermostat last winter. The A/C is set at 78 and the furnace is generally set at 70-72 during the day and 68-69 during the evening.

  23. June 9, 2008

    I keep my home pretty warm. I don’t turn the air on in the day time because I am working in the day time and no one is home then. When I get back from work, I open windows, but by then, it starts to get cool anyway. I only turn the ac on when it is extremely hot and I am home which is rare. We usually go out to the mall and use their ac to cool us off!

  24. Rachel permalink
    June 9, 2008

    I live in upstate NY and it’s not even summer yet. It’s been almost 100 degrees. When it is around 80 or so we just keep the windows and fans on at night to get teh cool in and then when morning comes we shut everything real tight and close most of the shades to keep the cool indoors. Right now we have to have the AC or it would be unbarable. Around 74.

  25. sharon permalink
    June 9, 2008

    I close off all rooms in my house and only cool the room(s) I am working or resting in.

  26. June 9, 2008

    We rent a house and we have an air conditioner but we have never used it. I didn’t grow up with air conditioning and never have cared for it very much. I don’t like the shock of going from hot to cold and I love the smells of spring and summer. I also don’t want to pay huge energy bills in the summer, all I need is a couple of fans and I am good to go. Saving energy is not the reason why I dislike air conditioners, it is simply a positive byproduct. Hot and cold weather doesn’t affect me as much as most people.

  27. webdoyenne permalink
    June 9, 2008

    78 when I’m here, 82 when I’m not. If it gets too hot…it becomes obvious that there are cats in the house. ;-}

  28. robin permalink
    June 10, 2008

    I try to keep my A.C. at 78 as it seems to take less of a toll on my heat pump. I do however use ceiling fans to keep the air moving and a few box fans to move the cooler air around the floor.

  29. Jean Rhodes, Ph D permalink
    June 10, 2008

    82 if it is over 90 outside. Otherwise the house cools nicely at night and stays cool. If it is hot at night I sleep downstairs. Every family member (except the bunny) has a fan they can move from room to room if needed. 55 in winter – 3 sweaters and shoes are a must. If I am chilly, I walk a few laps around the downstairs.

  30. Monica permalink
    June 10, 2008

    I have an old house with hot water baseboard heat and no housewide AC. Most of the windows are sliders so AC units are not convenient. I have one small unit in my son’s bedroom window (traditional window) and I just bought a floor model that will fit the slider window in my bedroom. I basically use them only for sleeping or an occasional cool off during the day but close the doors.

  31. Ginger Jordan-Hillier permalink
    June 10, 2008

    Efficient Air Conditioners and programmable thermostats are a good ideas to save energy. But not everyone needs an Air Conditioner and the accompanying increase in your electric bill to be comfortable. If you live in parts of the country where those really hot muggy days are not a constant but are occasional consider other strategies for beating the heat or reducing the use of your AC. Take advantage of natural conditions that cool down at night by opening all windows; running a fan (that will use a lot less energy) to blow out hot air and draw in cool air. In the morning close up your house and close curtains especially those on sunny windows. When landscaping consider the benefits of trees that provide shade and cooler temperatures. The shade trees in my yard make a huge difference. Decidious trees in northern tier areas contribute to cooler temps in the summer but with their leaves off in winter let the sunlight stream through.

    When the kids were little we’d open up the house; put the fans on; pack their pajamas and go to the beach in the evening. No one get’s sunburned. The beach isn’t as busy. By the the time we got back to the house the kids were cool from swimming; were half asleep in the jammies; the house had started to cool down and we all slept quite well.

  32. Bill permalink
    June 10, 2008

    In the Phoenix, AZ area it is difficult to survive the summer (June-September) without some type of cooling. Yesterday it was 102 degrees F. We have a programmable thermostat and use time of day electricity rates (9pm to 9am is cheaper) which have a peaking rate. Or house is kept at 83 degrees F. After 9 pm the thermostat resets to 80 degrees until 9am than back to 83. Our water heater has a programable timer to shut it off which helps shave the electricity peaking rate.

  33. Anonymous permalink
    June 10, 2008

    I do program my thermostats and they are never set below 78 degrees.

  34. Davi permalink
    June 10, 2008

    My A/C is on 75 currently and we are sleeping in our basement bedroom in order to save electricity and cooling costs. This teaches my children about conservation and contributing to the environment rather than only taking away. In the winter we do the reverse keeping the heat lower and wearing warmer clothes/pajamas to help conserve. Hopefully it will mean less power usage and less brown out time for our area. I hope others will do the same!

  35. Trotter permalink
    June 10, 2008

    In the interest of conserving energy (and my money) I’ve in the past have only used AC when it was really hot in the house, 80 F degrees or more in NJ. I have an indoor outdoor temperature guage and use it to monitor when to open the windows or not. I also use my programable thermostat to turn the air on and off depending on when I will be home or not and use ceiling fans.

    However, with the birth of my son who is an infant now, I’ve had to keep the house at a constant cool temperature (73F). He has eczema issues so heat can aggravate his dry skin.

    Thus health and comfort reasons are the driving reason for my use of AC.

  36. Diana Byrd permalink
    June 10, 2008

    I’m sure our household is unusual for Texas. The thermostat is set at 82 degrees with ceiling fans turned on when we are in a room.

  37. Eddie H permalink
    June 10, 2008

    If there was no A/c no one would live in the Deserts during the Summer. That’s a fact. Evaporative cooling works well here in the Palm Springs area until late July/August. Then the A/C on until Thanksgiving (or thereabouts). My home is all electric and with a new 14 SEER my bill average monthly is $228. Thats with the thermostat set @ 77. I am giving myself advise because I need to seal the door jams and windows which allow a higher setting and a lower bill.

  38. Anonymous permalink
    June 10, 2008

    I keep my AC on during the day very low. I have a dog that feels the heat and she is a little older.

  39. Tony Pirondini permalink
    June 10, 2008

    Living in the Central Valley near Sacramento, summer days average 95°F in July & August, with nightly lows in the upper 50’s to lower 60’s.

    I set my thermostats at 80°F/82°F (1st/2nd floor) and have installed fans in most rooms, and in all bedrooms. It’s warm, but you get used to it with fans on, especially when it’s 95-105°F outside.

  40. Pam LaBine permalink
    June 10, 2008

    We keep our home as cool as our basement because we don’t do air conditioning. Circulating the basement air works well and makes you keep the basement clean.
    Air conditioning allows people to live in places they normally wouldn’t.

  41. Martha permalink
    June 10, 2008

    In northeast Oklahoma the humidity makes 90-degree days feel like 105 so by this time of the summer we set the programmable thermostat to 78. Ceiling fans keep the air moving.

    When we have guests, we turn the thermostat down temporarily since most people are accustomed to restaurant and office settings of 70.

  42. BillC permalink
    June 11, 2008

    We live in the East Bay (San Francisco Bay Area) where our days are warm and we live in a 20 year old house that is well insulated and has a tile roof. We have programmable thermostats that I installed years ago. We also have ceiling fans in the three rooms that we use most. We replaced the original double pane windows several years ago. We use a pellet stove to heat in the winter, although we have upstairs forced air furnace and AC and same downstairs. The house is 3000 SQ. FT. We rarely use either AC unit because we open the windows at night and close up in the morning. The house retains the pleasant day temp and then we open when the evening cools again. We recognize that we reside in a great area and we simply take advantage of nature as much as possible.

  43. Tim T. permalink
    June 11, 2008

    I have not yet fired up the A/C in my home. This time of year it is still possible to cool the house down to 70 or below in the early mornings by practicing “Texas cooling”…..that is opening all windows in the early AM (5 or so) and then closing the house up again before the heat of the day begins to build. My home has a basement and keeping the door between the upstairs and downstairs closed keeps the (finished) basement below 80 even on hot days. When I come home from work the upstairs portion is usually around 75-85 depending on the day. When I do turn the A/C on (within the next few weeks, certainly) I keep the thermostat set for 78-80 and it’s comfortable as it keeps our lovely Nebraska humidity at bay. I would really like to set it lower, but the extra expense on the electric bill is a good reason not to.

  44. Tamara permalink
    June 12, 2008

    Growing up in the deep South without A/C I learned early to adapt to hot temperatures in the summer. Now, although my house is heated and cooled with geothermal-based HVAC, I want to teach my son that he doesn’t have to be 70 degrees year-round. We utilize ceiling fans, open windows, cool showers, and appropriate clothing daily. It’s the little things we do everyday that help teach him to become a wise steward of the resources.

  45. Josh permalink
    June 13, 2008

    This is a great analogy! I realize the unit won’t be running all day (thus saving money). However, won’t it cost more to once again reduce the inside temp than it would have by just leaving the temp the same all day? Seems to me that each evening you have to cool not only the air in the house but also remove the heat and humidity that has accumulated all day in the walls and ceilings and furniture.
    I would very much appreciate your opinion on this matter becuase your above thesis is, by far, the most exact of anything I’ve read so far.
    Thanks in advance, JH

  46. John m mccoy permalink
    June 15, 2008

    Have program thermostats. I live in Indiana just turn on my a/c last week. Set day at 74 deg at night 72. Have multiply speed fan it is on all the time. This is for electronic air filter

  47. Diane permalink
    June 16, 2008

    We have one window AC unit and run it only when it’s very hot. We have a German Sheppard dog so to keep him from overheating, we’ll have the air on during the day when one of us is home. We never have it on overnight and use ceiling fans and open windows instead. When the AC is on, I put an oscillating fan in front of it to help spread the cool air around. We have room-darkening shade, so to help keep the temp down on the really oppressive days, the shades are pulled down to keep the sun out. Every little bit helps both the environment and the pocketbook!

    During the winter, we keep the house around 58 overnight and when we’re not home and 62-64 when we’re home. We all like it cool; and if it’s really chilly, we put on another layer. Sometimes these New England winters can get downright freezing so then I’ll nudge up the thermostat a degree or two!

  48. S. Cameron permalink
    June 16, 2008

    Living in the Desert, many people think that we cannot grow grass or maintain trees. We have planted deciduous trees to shade the southern exposure and have planted grass for the reflective heat value. We keep the evaporative cooler on from April to July and then again from the end of September to November. Even though have upgraded the AC to a 14 seer our bill exceeds $200 a month during the AC use months. However the evaporative cooler months are around $65. The house is never cooler than 78 degrees with the AC and yes we have a programmable thermostat. In addition to the upgrade we replaced the windows with low e double pane and blew in an R-39 in the attic. All of the doors were replaced with energy wise doors. Let’s face it the desert is hot. Not much you can do in an old house (1944 which is old for Phoenix standards) without a basement.

  49. Anonymous permalink
    June 16, 2008

    We live in a dry climate that is hot in the summer (Colorado). We have not AC, but have wished we did for a few days each summer. We looked into a slim wall-mounted evaporative cooler, but did not find a dealer locally and didn’t know how to find a contractor that can install that equipment. They all seem to just want to install big AC systems. We are moving now and will have an attic, so first thing will be to install a whole-house fan. The house we are moving into has an old heat pump in the wall that is used for cooling rather than heating, and it seems to work great.

  50. Janet permalink
    June 16, 2008

    I’m in NW Missouri and have spent most of my life without AC. I prefer it that way. I like to feel the breeze through the windows. The only time I will turn on the AC is if the dogs and cats are getting too hot, but the cats usually find the coolest place in the house and the dogs like to lay outside in the cool dirt next to the house – or they lay in their wading pool! What I can’t stand is going in stores and feeling the need to have a coat on because the temp is so low!

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