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Vermonters greet hotter summers with more A/C

A sign along a roadway reads "Ace Hardware and Marine. Fans and AC's in stock now."
April McCullum
Vermont Public
Air conditioners and fans are advertised in Colchester as the region prepares for hot weather on Saturday, May 18, 2024.

Some Vermonters pride themselves on getting by without air conditioning, but data shows most Vermont homes rely on it as summers get hotter.

Two-thirds of Vermonters use air conditioning or heat pumps (which can be used to cool air) at home, according to a 2020 survey by the federal Energy Information Administration. The most common methods are an individual A/C unit or ductless heat pump.

In New England as a whole, the share of households using A/C has increased 72% since 1991, when summers were, on average, 0.92 F cooler than they are now. (Historical data is not available for individual states.)

And the numbers have likely increased in the four years since the data was collected, with Efficiency Vermont, a nonprofit energy efficiency utility that offers rebates for energy-efficient appliances, reporting over 11,000 heat pumps installed in the last year alone.

Anecdotally, there’s been a greater demand for indoor cooling over the past couple of years, said Matthew Smith, public relations manager at Efficiency Vermont. There are two groups: people looking to install an A/C unit or heat pump for cooling, and people who are looking to electrify their heating, finding themselves using the cooling functions much more often than they expected.

The latter group is common enough that the utility now warns customers they may end up spending more on electricity annually.

“We often tell customers that, even if they save on their heating bill with efficient heating via heat pumps in the winter, people enjoy the benefits of cooling from their heat pump so much that their electricity use could actually go up in the summer if they never had AC before,” Smith said.

Vermont’s temperatures have trended upward over the past few decades, with considerable variability between years, said Pete Banacos, science and operations officer at the National Weather Service in Burlington. For example, while Burlington generally has eight days a year where the maximum recorded temperature is above 90 F, in 2020 the city broke a record with 20 days over 90 F.

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Corey Dockser is Vermont Public’s first data journalist, a role combining programming and journalism to produce stories that would otherwise go unheard. His work ranges from complex interactive visualizations to simple web scraping and data cleaning. Corey graduated from Northeastern University in 2022 with a BS in data science and journalism. He previously worked at The Buffalo News in Buffalo, New York as a Dow Jones News Fund Data Journalism intern, and at The Boston Globe.
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