Heat wave likely to spur air conditioner sales

Sales of air conditioning units have been “through the roof” at Poirier appliance store, said Sales Manager Jimmy Tieso.

“And we’re only going to see them go up this week with the expected heat wave,” he added.

Unlike some items, Tieso said production of AC units has, for the most part, kept up with demand.

“The only thing that’s been more of an issue with the air conditioners is some of the special orders – the higher BTU units,” Tieso said.

And while inflation has hit the price of air conditioners, Tieso said it’s not that bad of a sting.

“You might see like twenty, thirty bucks a unit or so, but not extravagant compared to some of the other things,” he said.

Where consumers might feel the sting more is in the cost to run air conditioning units this summer. While the government predicts New Englanders will use 5 percent less electricity this July compared with last – that electricity will cost nearly 9 percent more. The latest estimate puts the cost of electricity for July 2022 at $490. That’s more than the overall U.S. estimate of $464, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But current estimates are dependent on weather – and with forecasters predicting at least three days of 90-degree temperatures or higher, costs could go up even more.

Tieso said keeping costs down, while cooling adequately, first requires purchasing an AC unit appropriate to the size of the room. So before heading to the appliance store, know the dimensions of the space to be cooled – taking special note of whether the rooms have higher-than-average ceilings.

Buying a unit that’s too small will obviously mean the air conditioner will work hard – and wear out – trying to keep a big space cool.

But you can also buy a unit that’s too large, Tieso said. For example, buying a large unit to cool an entire floor would only work if the spaces were relatively open to each other. Otherwise, the large unit would be overkill, as it would mostly cool the immediate, closed-off space it’s put in.

At this point, about 90 percent of U.S. households have air conditioning – and that proportion is expected to rise, said Renee Obringer, PhD, an assistant professor of energy and mineral engineering at Penn State University.

Last year, Obringer co-authored a study that looked at the impact that current air conditioning – and future air conditioning – might have on the electrical grid. The answer was sobering.

“The electricity that is going into cooling houses is also increasing as we get more of these hot days,” Obringer said. “Unfortunately in a lot of places around this country, the grid is a little bit older. It hasn’t been developed to take on these very extreme loads.”

That could translate into the kind of thing Californians occasionally see: blackouts.

And that would mean hours – even days – when few in a given area would have access to air-conditioned home spaces.

Obringer said such a situation would be especially tough on lower-income Americans.

“Everybody’s air conditioning, the costs are going up,” she said. “But what research has shown is that families that are lower income, perhaps living in a district that used to be segregated or redlined, actually have poorer quality homes.”

Which means those homes will heat up more – and take more air conditioning to cool down.

And that means the cost to poorer families could go beyond dollars and cents.

“Lower-income families tend to let their house get hotter before they turn on the air conditioner to try to save money,” Obringer added. “That can exacerbate existing health impacts.”

Obringer said one answer is to develop air conditioners that are even more efficient than the ones available today.

“We estimate that, probably on average, air conditioners need to increase about 8 percent efficiency,” she said.

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