There is a perfect storm setting up a health crisis we often don’t think about, excessive heat. Rising temperatures over longer periods of time, higher costs for electricity, equipment inflation and continued shortages, grid issues and rising interest rates are combining to make keeping cool extremely difficult for many.

1,577 Americans died of heat related illness in 2021[1] while 228 people died in the states of Washington and Oregon alone in last year’s July heat wave.[2] As I write this blog there are over 100 million people under heat alerts or warnings including 28 states here in the U.S. Consistent heat waves, heat domes and extreme droughts are now a part of our reality while running an air conditioner is getting exceptionally more expensive.

  • The cost of an air conditioning unit has skyrocketed in the last few years and shows no signs of slowing down. See image [3]
  • Supply chain issues have also continued to be a major problem in even getting new units to customers and are expected to decrease another 40% as we go into 2023. This only exacerbates the rise in cost to both the installer and the consumer.
  • The cost of refrigerant (commonly referred to by its trade name, Freon) has seen major increases over the last several years. In 2000 it was as low as $15 a pound, where today it is going to cost the consumer an average of $50 – $80 per/lb for R401A and $90-$150 per/lb for R22. Noteworthy, R22 is no longer being manufactured. Refrigerant is a chemical compound that is only made by the few companies that hold the patents to these refrigerants. Just as monopolies are apparent in makers of pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals, refrigerants are no different.
  • Even if inflation hasn’t forced many to dip into their savings accounts (if they even have them) it definitely has affected how much we are able to save each month. If you have to replace your air conditioner and don’t have the savings to cover the cost you are left with two options. Be hot or finance the new a/c. Because the increase in interest rates, the real cost is getting higher. According to CNET; with a $5,525 credit card balance paid off with minimum monthly payments will take 58 years and cost you $24,750 in interest at 20%. With just a 1% interest rate increase, which is likely, it would take 76 years and cost $34,400.
  • Power reliability is in question. The hotter it gets the more electricity we use. There are currently serious concerns with both the infrastructure that brings us that power being stable and the sources of that power being available. In the southwest, the rapid water loss from Lake Powell, Lake Mead and Glen Canyon Damn is already causing decreases in power production with predictions for possible dead pool in the near future which is the point in which water can no longer be released. No water for drinking or creating electricity. Non-renewable energy sources are not only getting more expensive but continue to add to the cause of global warming itself. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are a MUCH more sustainable means of creating power, but still require natural and mined resources.
  • There are no federal incentives for energy efficient products, although some power companies have incentive programs. What few federal income tax credits were available ended in 2021. Air Conditioner efficiency is based on SEER rating which currently ranges from 13 (will be 14 in 2023) to 26. lists the current cost to replace (installed) the least efficient option, a 13-14 SEER unit at $2,500-$6000 and the most efficient, a 22-26 SEER unit at $6,000 – $11,000.
  • Big houses create big energy uses. The average square footage of a home built between 1900 & 1920 was 700-1200 square feet, whereas the average home of the 1960’s was around 1,500 square feet.[4] 2022 brings us a current average of 2,537 sf.[5] Your own cost is going to vary by the efficiency of your cooling system, how low you set your thermostat, how insulated your home is and how many square feet you are cooling. The larger the home, the more energy you’re going to use. Already, the current heat wave is expected to increase energy bills at least 20% making super-sized homes even more expensive to cool. Evergy power company in Kansas City shows the region experienced 9% increase in temperature in June of 2022 compared to June of 2021. An interesting note- when the average home size was 1,500 sf, the average family size was 3.67 persons. In 2020, the average family size was 3.13 persons.

Are profits coming before people part of the massive increase in the manufacturers cost of equipment and refrigerant? Whether a corporation makes lunch meat, blue jeans or air conditioners, profits over people is the name of the game (greenwashing just makes you feel better about it).

Is it the responsibility of the federal government to find a way to make cooling our homes more affordable? That’s an ongoing debate of the role of government that will exist as long as our government does.

There is no perfect solution here, however moving toward solutions will require all of us equally embracing better technology and lifestyle changes. Having more efficient equipment, more efficient homes, smaller homes, and learning to live with a few more degrees inside when it’s really hot outside all create a good start.

The cost of high electric bills or even a new air conditioner now has to be part of that kitchen table budget conversation all homeowners all having. For those who have no options, providing safe public places for people to cool off during severe heat waves is immediately necessary. I’ll spare you the dystopian future scenario, however it only looks hotter.

Audrey L Elder

Meaningful Living



[3] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Producer Price Index by Industry: HVAC and Commercial Refrigeration Equipment [PCU3334133341], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis;, July 20, 2022.


[5] NAHB National Association of Home Builders