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Temperatures in the region are expected to jump to the mid-90s in the next three days, and with humidity factored in, it'll feel like an oppressive 100 degrees. During heat waves like these, the appliance that helps many keep their cool is the air conditioner.
The cooling technology has certainly made life in the region more bearable. In the 1930s and 40s, after all, D.C. denizens were known to sit on the roofs of their homes in order to gain a respite from the heat in their houses; the federal government would send workers home when the city got too hot, and thousands of people died during the worst heat waves.
But now, a mere flick of a switch and adjustment of the thermostat has helped change that.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the percentage of American households benefiting from air conditioning jumped from 68 in 1993 to 87 in 2009. All told, 100 million households across the country use air conditioning, whether a central or window-mounted unit. Locally, some 3.2 million homes in D.C., Maryland, West Virginia, and Delaware had air conditioning units in 2009. In Virginia, the number stood at 2.8 million.
There is a downside: The additional electricity used to cool homes is producing the gases that are making the planet hotter, according to environmental activists.
The growth in the use of air-conditioning units has generally tracked with increasing demands on the electric grid. According to EIA, 19 percent of electricity used in homes goes towards powering air conditioning units; Pepco says that up to 30 percent of summertime residential electricity bills go to pay for cooling.
In 2012, the D.C. Council debated a bill that proponents said would have reduced electricity waste from air conditioning—business that kept their doors open while running their air conditioners would be fined. The bill did not move forward.
Pepco advises that residential customers take some simple steps to save money and electricity: have your air conditioner serviced by a professional, keep windows and doors closed, and keep your thermostat at 78 degrees, which the utility says is "reasonably comfortable."
For those without air conditioning, there are a number of cooling centers around the region.