Today’s post is a few hours late thanks to a household emergency. Over the weekend our home’s central air conditioner died. It happened late Friday night. By early morning Saturday it was 86 degrees inside our house. Opening windows would have done little good as Saturday’s temperatures were expected to near 100 degrees with high humidity. In fact, it was so bad there was a Heat Advisory issued for the entire weekend.
It quickly became apparent we would not be able to occupy the house during the heat of the day, and may not be able to occupy it at all – who can sleep in a muggy 90-degree house!
For all I’ve considered regarding preparedness, I suddenly realized I was ill-prepared to handle a loss of cooling. We have propane and other heat sources to specifically serve as a backup for loss of heat in the winter, but nothing to prepare for loss of cooling in the summer.
We considered the idea of staying in a hotel for a couple days, but worried about our dog being home alone in the heat. After contacting a number of air conditioning repair company’s emergency lines, I learned they only had skeleton crews on staff, and they had many calls ahead of us. It would likely be Monday before anyone could get to our problem unit. If they did manage to get to us, it would cost an arm and a leg (don’t these things always seem to happen on the weekend!).
I’ve performed a few AC repairs over the years. There was the time I had to unclog the air conditioner drain line, and I did manage to install a programmable themostat, but this was beyond my level of expertise as all the standard troubleshooting failed to resolve the problem.
For the cost of a couple nights at a hotel, I bought a window air conditioning unit to place in our master bedroom window – a place where we could all congregate in the heat of the day. They are easy enough to install and take down that I can store it and only install if we have problems with our central air conditioning unit. And since I only needed to cool a single room, there was no need to spend many hundreds of dollars on a much larger window unit.
Of course, this plan only works in the event it is just your central air conditioning unit that died, not that you’ve lost power to your home. Actually, this is a more likely scenario considering the strain a dangerous heat wave can put on power grids. The next step in ultimate preparation would be to have a generator available powerful enough to run your AC, or to install a whole-house standby generator that would automatically kick on in the event you lose power.
Backup power sources are expensive (permanent, whole-house backup generators can run a few thousand dollars, while portable units are a little cheaper, but often don’t produce enough wattage to operate everything in your home). Even higher on the price range you can find solar power generators, which might be worth a look considering other types of generators require some type of fuel to operate (gasoline for smaller units and propane for large, standby models). Depending on the emergency, getting additional fuel could be a challenge.
The Home Depot website offers an interactive tool to give you an idea what size generator you might need depending on the number of appliances and electronics you’d like to run in a power outage.
If you live a cooler climate, or at least a less humid climate, you can probably get by for a couple days without air conditioning by visiting a library or catching a matinee in the middle of the day and using a window fan to draw in cooler air in the evenings and early morning. Others might get by with misting fans, or by setting up a homemade air conditioner (running a fan over an open cooler filled with ice).
However, if you live in a hot, humid climate zone, occupying a house with no air conditioning can be downright dangerous. This is particularly true for the very young and the very old, as kids and the elderly are more susceptible to heat exhaustion.
This experience over the weekend is really part of a larger theme – how to prepare for “alternative” emergencies. By alternative, I mean outside of your everyday financial emergency like a costly hospital stay or expensive car repairs.
How can we better prepare for other types of emergencies? How can we diversify our emergency “fund” by investing in other forms of emergency preparedness? It’s something I plan to write more about in the next day or two, but for now I’m off to get back in front of that air conditioner!