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As climate change fans hotter and longer heat waves, breaking record temperatures and leaving dozens dead, the poorest Americans often suffer the hottest days with the fewest defenses. Centralized air, once a luxury, is now more a matter of survival.
Especially in cities like Denver, Portland and Seattle, which are accustomed to cooler summers, the barrage of heat has highlighted that low-income households, renters and people of color are far more likely to face grueling temperatures without central cooling. Many have window units that can offer respite, but running them nonstop balloons energy bills.
While billions in federal funding have been allocated to subsidize utility costs and cooling systems, experts say they often only support a fraction of the most vulnerable families and some still require prohibitive upfront costs. Installing a centralized heat pump, which offers heating and cooling, can easily reach $25,000.
As temperatures rise, so too does the cost of cooling. In Denver’s Globeville neighborhood, most residents are low-income and people of color living in stretches of concrete and asphalt that hold heat like a cast iron skillet. They can face much hotter surface temperatures than those living in Denver’s wealthy neighborhoods such as a place called Country Club, where mansions pocket a sea of vegetation that shades and cools the area, according to an analysis by American Forests, a group that partly advocates for tree equity in cities.
About 10% of the U.S. population have neither central air conditioning nor a window unit, a disparity compounded for marginalized groups, according to a study by the Brookings Institution. Less than 4% of Detroit’s white households don’t have air conditioning, for example, while that’s 15% for Black households.
In the federal Inflation Reduction Act, billions were set aside for tax credits and rebates to help families install energy-efficient cooling systems like heat pumps — some of those are yet to be available. The Inflation Reduction Act will also offer rebates — point of sale discounts — to install systems like a heat pump, which are more energy efficient and can both heat and cool a home.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.