Air Conditioning Essential As Heat-related Illnesses Rise

by | Aug 9, 2022 | Aging in Place, Communities, Energy Cooperatives

Climate change isn’t doing our infrastructure any favors as heat waves melt roofs, roadways and airport runways, burst water mains, kink railway ties and crack bridge supports.

The heat also is making us sick.

More than 700 people in the U.S. die each year of preventable heat-related illness, according to the Centers of Disease Control.

Not only are people – especially those who are most vulnerable, including children, the elderly, those with circulatory or pulmonary disorders and those without housing – being impacted with heat-related illnesses, more of us are simply getting sicker.

Doctors have seen a correlation between longer heat waves and intensifying heat-related illness, partially attributing the more serious illnesses to warmer nights that don’t allow the temperature to drop to a healthier level. They also reported seeing more heat-related illness not associated with typical causes like working, exercising or spending more time in the sun.

There is little done at a community level to address these concerns. Municipalities may open cooling centers, but they may be limited in scope, size or duration. Some public officials are encouraging their residents to go to shopping malls or other air conditioned public venues to avoid the heat.

There’s good reason officials urge residents to go to public spaces equipped with air conditioning. Heat-related deaths dropped by 80 percent between 1960 and 2004 as the number of homes with home air conditioning increased to 85 percent, according to a study conducted by Tulane and Carnegie Mellon universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Air conditioning can be a literal lifesaver.

In a study, it was found that among those self-reporting heat-related illnesses, one-third did not have working air conditioning, with those without air conditioning almost four times more likely to have experienced symptoms of heat exhaustion. The study also found that low-income households were more than three times as likely to not have working air conditioning.

Carol R. of Mason, Ill., would have fallen through the cracks if it hadn’t been for her energy co-operative, Southwestern Electric Cooperative.

She and her husband were older adults with a fixed income, and her husband suffered from a chronic pulmonary health problem. Additionally, they were often caretakers for their young grandchildren.

Her heat pump failed at the very beginning of the summer and she was without air conditioning. The estimated cost to repair the heat pump was more than $3,100, and the unit was less than a decade old. The cost to fix the heat pump represented a significant portion of their annual income.

“I was searching to find the money to replace it on Social Security,” she said.

Carol was doing more strenuous chores around the house early in the morning to beat the heat, but she knew that, for the sake of her husband and grandchildren, she needed to get the heat pump fixed.

“I don’t have any air,” she said. “Outside, it’s 95 degrees, and it’s 83 degrees in the house, and I’ve got six fans running – four in the living room, one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, and we’ve got a dehumidifier running so we’re not dying.”

So, she reached out to Southwestern to find out if there was anything the co-op could do to assist, and the utility had an answer for her.

“They reached out and said, ‘we have this partner, HomeServe,’ she said.

HomeServe is a leading provider of emergency home repair plans, and, as part of our partnerships with utility providers, the HomeServe Cares Foundation provides pro-bono emergency repairs for qualifying homeowners. Southwestern helped make a connection between Carol and the Foundation, and the Foundation agreed to take on the repair for Carol.

“Oh my gosh, it was just intense, intense relief,” she said.

To learn how HomeServe can help you protect your most vulnerable members, contact us.

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