Update June 29: The name of Robert Champe has been changed to correct an incorrect spelling.
Air conditioning is a hot commodity this summer, and folks from the southern tip of Greene County to the northernmost region of Washington are placing AC service and installing calls en masse.
“Our bookings go all the way to the middle of July,” said Robert Champe, president of the Washington-based Shearer Heating, Cooling and Refrigeration, which also services parts of Greene County. “We purchased another company up in McMurray called Valley Heating Air Conditioning, and they’re booked all the way to August.”
Champe said that last month, Shearer recorded a 60% increase in service calls over May 2020.
“Last year, we hit a record amount of installs,” Champe said. “We’re on the same track as we were last year on installs.”
Jason Kowalski, founder and co-owner of Kowalski Heating, Cooling and Plumbing in Canonsburg, said he, too, has noticed an uptick in business this year.
“We are as busy or busier than we were last year, across the board,” Kowalski said. “We’re seeing more volume commercially, and residential sales are up.”
Though increased demand for air-conditioning units and service during summer’s first heat wave is no anomaly, this year’s wait times are certainly not the norm.
“It’s difficult to get what I call garden variety parts, stuff that should just be readily available,” said Mark Pacilla, president of McVehil Plumbing, Heating, Cooling in Washington. “You might have to wait for a part… two or three days.”
A manufacturer recently told Pacilla it would take between 26 and 30 weeks (five months) for a commercial unit to arrive at McVehil, which means the customer would have AC in time for next summer.
“They said it like, you should be just fine with that,” Pacilla laughed.
While companies wait for parts, customers wait for service. That can be frustrating to folks whose air conditioning isn’t working, or to people seeking respite from this summer’s scorching temperatures.
Also frustrating: Prices, fueled by inflation, are rising along with the temperature.
“Costs are up. Operating costs are up, insurance costs. Gasoline costs, as everybody knows,” said Kowalski. “The prices of things are going up, but the margins aren’t necessarily going up.”
Champe said prices began creeping upward at the start of COVID, and have remained higher than usual. Pacilla said the price of maintenance items has risen significantly over the last six months, with equipment costs increasing 10 to 30%.
“We’re trying to keep prices as low as we can,” Pacilla said. “I hate to get on a high horse: This affects a lot of people, the cost of something going up. There are people that just can’t afford it.”
Champe said he has, reluctantly, raised prices – he has his employees to think about – but is trying to offset costs to customers in other ways.
“We’re doing different things, recharging systems that are purchased. We’re kind of doing that as a courtesy because of the wait time,” said Champe. “We’re taking a bit of a hit on using the refrigerant keeping them up and running.”
He also offers ductless air conditioning, and this year noticed an uptick in demand for the sleek, modernized version of the clunky window unit. Ductless air conditioners help save on costs by cooling only those spaces homeowners use often.
“A lot of our homes have a hot second floor, where it doesn’t make sense to put a bigger unit downstairs, so ductless is perfect,” Champe said. “You save energy … by shutting it off when you’re not in the room.”
Whether you’ve got ductless, traditional or no air conditioning, Champe and Pacilla offered a few tips for beating the heat this summer.
“They always say to turn up your thermostat, which is true, but the whole point is to be comfortable,” said Champe. “The more you can control your humidity in the house, the more comfortable you’ll be.”
Champe said things get sticky when the humidity reaches 60% indoors. Dehumidifiers are a good investment, especially this summer, with high humidity part of the forecast.
“If you look at the weather report and it’s going to be a cool night … by all means, open the windows,” Champe said. “Window coverings help too. Efficient equipment.”
Pacilla agreed that efficient, and well-maintained, equipment is key to keeping cool.
“The biggest thing is maintenance,” he said. “Keep things clean. Keep the outdoor unit clean. Keep the indoor unit clean. Half of our service calls in the summertime are things that haven’t been rinsed off. Everyone wants to forego maintenance because of the cost. That shortens the life of the equipment.”