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AC Units Break as Heat Wave Drags on

By Rachel Lewis Hilburn


07-26-11 – By now, most people have heard the warnings about over-exertion and the importance of staying inside during the extreme heat wave. But, as WHQR's Rachel Lewis Hilburn reports, just because the heat is abating slightly - high temperatures are still causing a surge in air conditioning system breakdowns.

Jimmy Williams, owner of O'Brien Service Company in Wilmington says his technicians are working longer hours and more days to keep up with demand.

He explains that even though temperatures aren't hitting the 100-degree mark every day, when they're over 91 degrees, it's beyond what many units in the area are designed to withstand.

"The Wilmington area is designed to maintain an indoor temperature in a residence of 75 degrees when the outside temperature is 91 degrees."

So if southeastern North Carolina is consistently above 91 degrees, most air conditioning units have to run harder by running longer. But, Williams says, with proper maintenance - both professional and at-home upkeep - homeowners can lengthen the life of their systems and avoid preventable breakdowns.

"Let's not close registers off. Let's not block return accesses or air flows Protecting your air flow is important to save energy and help it perform at its highest level."

Changing the air filter, not just cleaning it, is a major factor in keeping air-conditioning units running efficiently, according to Williams.

Another Wilmington group, dedicated to making homes safer and more livable for those in need, says it's also seeing a surge in requests for air conditioning assistance.

Jeannie Cariker Skane, executive director of the Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry, which largely services the disabled and the elderly, says she counts her organization lucky to see an accompanying rise in air conditioner donations.

"Right now, we're receiving a lot of calls from people whose air conditioning has gone out and they just don't have the funds to repair it because this heat is such a burden on some of those older systems."

Some good news related to the withering heat: the most sensitive groups seem to be heeding the warnings and staying inside. New Hanover Regional Medical Center reports no measurable increase in heat-related illnesses.

And staff at Lake Shore Commons, a local senior-living facility, say their extra precautions seem to be working, such as providing extra water and monitoring those who venture outside.

Progress Energy has a rebate program to encourage energy-efficient home improvements.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? If so, we'd like to hear from you. Please email the WHQR News Team.