Seattle loses title of least air-conditioned city after recent record-breaking summers

Aug 17, 2023, 9:12 AM

seattle A/C...

Air conditioner units sit in windows of an apartment building. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

After a series of heatwaves have stretched across the Puget Sound region over the past few summers, Seattle is no longer the least air-conditioned city in the U.S.

For the first time, more than 50% of residents in Seattle are using air conditioning (AC) as their primary cooling source. Of the 1.6 million housing units in the Seattle area, approximately 844,400 (53%) had a primary air conditioning source, with roughly 21% using central air and nearly 30% relying on room air conditioning, according to the most recent Census data.

Just five years ago, out of the 41 metros measured in the Census’ American Housing Survey, only one of every three housing units in the Seattle area was cooled by air conditioning, making it the least air-conditioned metro area in the nation. In 2018, the national average for houses equipped and primarily using AC was 89%.

More on Seattle heat: Seattle sees its hottest day of 2023 Tuesday; break from heat comes Friday

Now San Francisco, with approximately 45% of homes using AC,  is the least air-conditioned metro area, according to the most recent Census data.

AC use in Seattle has dramatically jumped over the last decade, as just 31% of Seattle-area housing units used AC in 2013, then 44% in 2019.

Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections data acquired by Crosscut showed in 2022 alone, Seattle received 8,435 applications for residential mechanical permits involving heat pumps. Electric heat pumps provide cooling as well as heating. Still, Seattle is tied with Detroit for the second-least amount of days actively using AC at 30.4 days on average. San Francisco averages just 3.4 days in comparison.

Phoenix uses the most AC in the country, followed by Miami, Houston, Atlanta, and Dallas. According to Forbes, Phoenix uses air conditioning more than 75% of the year.

Global temperatures reached never-before-seen heights in July, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. The month is now officially the hottest July on record since record-taking began in the 1800s. Last July was 0.4 F warmer than the previous record set in 2019, and 2.1 F hotter than the 20th-century average.

“Most records are set in terms of global temperature by a few hundredths of a degree,” Russell Vose, a climate expert at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, told NPR. “But this one, nearly half a degree Fahrenheit, was bigger than any other jump we’ve seen.”

With hot temperatures continuing to break records, longer and more active fire seasons are sprouting up alongside the drier conditions and droughts. The number of extreme wildfire events will increase up to 14% by 2030, according to the UN Environment Programme. By 2050, the increase will reportedly climb to 30%.

With Washington firefighters continuing their fight against the Sourdough Fire, some state representatives are fearing fire season will become a near year-round endeavor.

More on WA fires: Sourdough fire just 11% contained

“The ‘fire season’ has become extended in many parts of the country, and what was once limited to certain months of the year now encompasses an entire ‘fire year,'” Senator Joe Manchin, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said during a committee meeting earlier this year.

Each additional day of extreme summer heat was linked to an additional 0.07 deaths for every 100,000 adults in the U.S., according to The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute.

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Seattle loses title of least air-conditioned city after recent record-breaking summers