After a Deadly Heat Wave, Air Conditioning Is Hot in Seattle

Triple-digit temperatures led to a spike in demand across the region.,


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Less than half of Seattle homes have air conditioning. After a deadly heat wave, ‘everybody’ wants it.

Workers installing an air conditioning unit in Seattle last week.Credit…Grant Hindsley for The New York Times

By Hallie Golden

July 28, 2021, 2:00 p.m. ET

LYNNWOOD, Wash. — Inside the attic of a one-story gray house in a Seattle suburb last week, Jeff Bryson gingerly strapped copper piping across the rafters while wearing a white face mask and a headlamp. The temperature was about 110 degrees in the tight space, which was covered in insulation dust. His work was meant to cool the rest of the home.

It’s one of many similar jobs that the small, family-owned company Mr. Bryson works for has taken in recent weeks, working its way through a seemingly never-ending list of clients who are eager for air conditioning after a punishing heat wave killed hundreds of people across the Pacific Northwest last month.

From the kitchen below, Bruce Davis Sr., president of the company, said the business has been getting six to 10 phone calls an hour about air conditioning.

Mr. Davis has lived in the Seattle area since sixth grade. After watching the summers get increasingly hotter and winters get colder over the last two decades, he said, he didn’t consider the heat wave surprising. Instead, he described it as a natural progression caused by climate change.

“I see that this will become the new norm, these extremes and things like this,” he said. “It will become more and more common.”

Seattle has long been known for its moderate summers, with triple-digit temperatures virtually unheard-of and air conditioning a rarity. In 2019, only 44 percent of homes had central air, The Seattle Times reported — although that was up from a third about half a decade before.

But in the wake of scorching heat, which led to the deaths of at least 30 people in King County as Seattle temperatures hit a record 108 degrees, interest in cooling is rising.

“Everybody wants air conditioning in Seattle now,” said Jeff Simonson, the owner of a family business in Kent, Wash. “That was not the case 10 years ago. We would starve in the summertime, and just wait for winter to hit. It’s just the opposite now.”

Spencer Cannon, 29, a firefighter and paramedic who lives in the suburban Lynnwood house where Mr. Bryson was working last week, was among those for whom the recent heat wave was the last straw.

Growing up in the area, Mr. Cannon said, he never had air conditioning. But in recent years, with two large dogs, he had started struggling with the heat.

“I definitely feel like now, during the summers, A.C. is a necessity,” he said, “and will continue to be.”

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