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Many Mountain West Homes Lack Air Conditioning

Air conditioners on a building.
Sami Sarkis
Getty Images
Air conditioners on a building.

Heat waves, like the one felt across the West this week, are expected to happen more frequently and to last longer because of climate change. But a lot of homes in the region don’t have air conditioning.

According to federal data, more than 20 percent of homes in the Mountain West do not use air conditioning.

Grace Rink leads Denver's Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency. Rink said back when many of the older homes were built in her city, there wasn't a great need for cooling.

"Times have changed. The climate has changed. And now people do need air conditioning in their home to stay comfortable, and in many cases, frankly, just to stay safe," she said.

This week, Denver released a plan to get air conditioning into more homes. According to the city, most of the homes that do not have A/C are older homes and most homes in low-income communities.

A major part of the plan includes getting residents to replace gas-powered furnaces and hot water heaters with electric heating and cooling. Rink said the idea is to get A/C to more homes, but not at the cost of the environment.

Through a ballot initiative last November, a sales tax was created to raise money for the Climate Protection Fund. One of the allowable uses of the fund is energy efficiency in buildings and homes. Rink said that will help families and small businesses who aren’t able to afford the transition on their own.

"We simply cannot leave them to the forces of the market to be left on their own to make this transition. We as a government agency simply have to help them," she said.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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