© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
Public Files Contact · ATSC 3.0 FAQ
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Many CT homes do not have air conditioning. Here are some reasons why

Visitors rest at the Mount Aery Baptist Church Cooling Center Bridgeport, Connecticut July 20, 2022.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Visitors rest at the Mount Aery Baptist Church Cooling Center Bridgeport, Connecticut July 20, 2022.

Blistering summer temperatures are hitting Connecticut, causing many residents to turn up the air conditioning.

That is if they have one.

Many households in Connecticut don’t, according to federal data. That could be a problem as hot summers get hotter. Above average temperatures were projected across the Northeast in 2023, as well as this summer.

How widespread is central air conditioning in CT?

Not very.

One in three Connecticut homes has central air conditioning, according to a 2020 analysis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Almost one decade ago, the state was in a similar position. An American Housing Survey conducted in Hartford measured the primary cooling source for about 426 households in 2013. About 231 homes used at least one outside air conditioning unit as their primary method for cooling, data showed. In contrast, only around 170 homes reported having central air conditioning.

The remaining homes surveyed did not have any kind of air conditioning system.

Why don’t more homes have air conditioning?

Blame old housing stock, aging infrastructure and the high cost of power.

The demand for central air conditioning is usually low during the summer in New England compared to the rest of the nation. While energy use does spike during summer months, Connecticut’s overall electricity consumption is significantly lower than 45 other states, according to the EIA.

New York, New Jersey and all of New England rely on old power grids that are stretched to capacity, which makes the transmission of extra energy across state lines difficult.

But it’s not just a lack of modern electricity infrastructure that prevents Connecticut homes from enjoying central air conditioning. Cost could also play a role.

Connecticut consistently has some of the highest energy costs in the mainland U.S., according to the EIA. As a result, many residents simply may not be able to afford to cool their homes.

Where is this a problem?

People in cities often suffer the most.

The state’s high energy prices impact Connecticut's most vulnerable residents during summer heat waves, according to Gabrielle Dreyfus, the senior scientist at the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

“The hottest parts of the cities often tend to be where the poorest communities live, who have the largest struggle to get access to cooling,” Dreyfus said in a July 2020 episode of Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live. “We have great programs in Connecticut that help people [heat their homes] from October to April, but come April, we can all turn off their electricity. Over 400,000 households experience [utility shutoffs] here.”

Metropolitan areas, which often house more people of color than suburbs, typically also face higher heat indexes.

“The strong correlation between vulnerability to heat events and low income communities – this is especially important in our cities. ‘Urban heat islands’, it’s this phenomenon where our cities have a lot more dark pavements and buildings and parking lots that absorb heat,” Dreyfus said. “Hartford on average is two-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit hotter in the summer than surrounding areas, and up to 19 degrees hotter in some cases.”

This is especially concerning as climate change is set to cause more extreme temperatures across the globe. Earlier this year, all of New England saw the warmest January on record.

But, wait. Isn't air conditioning be bad for the environment, too?

More air conditioning access is a double-edged sword.

As air conditioning window units, popular in the New England region, cool homes inside, they push more hot air outside; not only does this contribute to the ‘urban heat island’ phenomenon, but it also contributes to climate change by way of emissions, Dreyfus said.

“It is exacerbated by people who have access to air conditioning, running more air conditioning which rejects heat into the environment. You actually get this vicious cycle where hotter cities run more air conditioning, which makes them hotter,” Dreyfus said.

Air conditioners and refrigerators can also cause pollution. That’s because they can be powered by synthetic gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are considered short-lived climate pollutants, which are contaminants that stay in the atmosphere for a shorter period of time than carbon dioxide, but have far higher potential to warm the atmosphere.

As temperatures rise and climate change-related weather events occur more regularly, public spaces like libraries may become more important for residents looking to cool off during heat waves, Dreyfus said.

For a list of cooling centers operating in Connecticut, visit 211ct.org.

This story, originally published in 2023, has been updated.

Kelsey Goldbach is a Digital Media Intern with Connecticut Public.

She is a fourth year student pursuing an undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Southern California. Recently, Kelsey was a part of the Dow Jones News Fund Digital Intern Class of 2023. She is a Connecticut native and spends her summers in Waterbury.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.