PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland is known for its cool, overcast skies and drizzle. So, when summer heat hits, residents crank up the air conditioning.
“Every year, there’s more and more air conditioning,” said Kim Tidyman, service technician at Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning. “I think it’s becoming a necessity.”
Air conditioning ownership has surged in Portland over the past decade, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey. As of 2019, the most recent data available, 78% of all Portland homes have air conditioning, an increase from 41% in 2011.
So, why the dramatic increase? For one, it’s gotten hotter.
“It’s definitely the weather,” Tidyman explained. “The climate has changed in Portland.”
Another factor could be newcomers relocating to Portland from other parts of the country where air conditioning is the norm.
“We’ve had a lot of sales with people coming up from California and that is always one of their first questions, ‘Is there is air conditioning?'” explained Portland realtor Darryl Bodle II.
Most new construction does not include air conditioning, although many buyers are opting to upgrade, explained Bodle. Additionally, existing homeowners have installed central air, window units or portable air conditioning units.
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Population experts warn that there is disparity in the numbers. U.S. Census data suggests that White and Asian households are more likely to have air conditioning than Black households.
“Renters are far less likely to have access to AC,” explained Ethan Sharygin, director of Portland State University’s Population Research Center.
“Owners are more likely to invest in central AC because that’s something that can increase their home equity,” Sharygin continued. “As for renters, that’s going to be a sunk cost.”
Despite the fact that nearly 8 of 10 Portland homes have air conditioning, there are still nearly 200,000 households without it.
For some, air conditioning is a necessity that keeps people from experiencing heat stroke, heat exhaustion or other heat-related illnesses. Last summer’s record heat wave killed more than 70 people in Multnomah County. Most of those people didn’t have working air conditioning.
Over the weekend, the Oregon Health Authority teamed up with community groups to deliver 500 air conditioning units to those in need. Officials hope to get 3,000 units distributed by the end of summer.
All this air conditioning also requires greater energy.
For decades, Portland General Electric was a winter-peaking utility — meaning customers used the most energy in winter. Last year, that changed. PGE customers set a new record for energy demand during the summer heat wave on June 27, 2021, with 4,230 megawatts. PGE customers surpassed that record the following day with 4,441 megawatts net system load.
On Tuesday, PGE reported the third highest record for energy demand with 4,241 megawatts net system load as Portland temperatures pushed above 100 degrees. For comparison, energy demand for the April 11 snowstorm peaked at 3,141 megawatts.
Nationwide, 91% of homes have air conditioning, based on 2019 U.S. Census data. 80.9% of homes in sunny Los Angeles have air conditioning. These days, rainy Portland isn’t far behind.