Posted by: Josh Lehner | July 20, 2018

Fun Friday: Air Conditioning

During recent heat waves I have seen social media posts on how hot a person’s home was at bedtime, or what the outside temperature is in the middle of the night. Personally, I certainly remember the last major heat wave where I didn’t have AC. We covered ourselves in wet towels to cool down and try to fall asleep. It was brutal. So, just as everyone does, I went searching for data on how many people actually have air conditioning here in Oregon. (Everyone does things like that, right?)

Well, a year ago in the New York Times, Emily Badger and Alan Blinder wrote “How Air-Conditioning Conquered America (Even the Pacific Northwest)” which highlights and details trends over time. (HT: David Beffert on Twitter). As they discuss, western states have lower levels of AC use than the rest of the country. Unfortunately we cannot get statewide or even county/regional data from Census about air conditioning. It looks like Census only asked about this in 1960, 1970, and 1980. You have to turn to third party data for those types of estimates.

That said, not all hope is lost in this data quest for information on air conditioning. The American Housing Survey asks about AC, but only really covers the biggest metropolitan areas of the country. In digging into those results, it is western metros that lead (?) the nation in their lack of air conditioning. Seattle ranks #1 among the 42 covered metros in terms of not having AC, while Portland ranks #3. However, Seattle and San Francisco truly are in another stratosphere than even Portland, LA, and Denver when it comes to the use, or lack thereof of AC. Now, given climates in these locations it makes sense that they rely on AC less than in the Midwest and South, and frankly other western metros like Las Vegas and Phoenix. However that is hardly reassuring to those who just lived through the latest heat wave.

Of course not all housing units are created equal. Whether or not your house or apartment has AC is in part a function of what type of housing unit you live in and when it was built. Unfortunately we cannot get a complete cross tabulation of this data from the AHS — the data is suppressed — but you can get an overall feel for the pattern of AC in the Portland area. Single family homes have higher AC usage, as do large apartment buildings (probably because a lot of these are newer construction). While the old Oregon specialty of quads and eight-plexes have low levels of AC use, at least in part because a lot of these were built in the 1960s and 1970s.

Update: In the comments (and via email) it was brought to my attention that the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) has great information on housing units in the NW, across Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. You can find their 2016-2017 report HERE. There is tons of great information in that report when it comes to not just air conditioning, but wall/ceiling insulation, heat source, finished/unfinished basements and so much more. As for air conditioning, among single family homes it looks like Montana is actually the lowest at 48% having AC, Washington clocks in at 52%, Oregon at 59%, and Idaho at 78%. Thanks for the heads up, and let me know if there are other great resources out there too.


  1. Hi Josh,

    I really like your blog. About the recent one on AC, here is a better source of data if you wanted to check it out: Residential Building Stock Assessment 2016 data. They also did one in 2012 roughly. It is publicly available and it includes information on penetration of AC, or heat pumps, smart devices like thermostats, etc. Here is the link to it:

    • Oh! Thanks Mersiha! Appreciate the link and information; great stuff. Will use as a resource in the future, I’m sure.

  2. And of course that power use spike would include air-conditioned workplaces and need to be adjusted for population growth.

  3. […] Source: Fun Friday: Air Conditioning | Oregon Office of Economic Analysis […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: