Air conditioner exchange helps low-income Columbians

Monday, June 2, 2008 | 6:24 p.m. CDT; updated 1:43 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Nick Meyer, right, carries a new air conditioner to Benita Nichols' car while Alex Koenig, center, carries away her old unit during the Window Air Conditioner Exchange Program at the Boone County Family Resource Center on Monday. The program allows low-income individuals and families to exchange old window air conditioner units for more efficient models.

COLUMBIA — For the third summer in a row, an air conditioner exchange program will allow low-income Columbia residents to exchange broken or inefficient window air conditioners for new ones. Nineteen air conditioners were exchanged Monday.

The program, a partnership of Central Missouri Community Action of Boone County and Columbia Water and Light, plans to provide 100 high-efficiency window air conditioners. It will continue through the summer until all units are gone.

If you go

What: Window Air Conditioner Exchange Program When: By appointment Where: 400 Wilkes Blvd. (off Providence Road by Hickman High School) Who: People whose income is 150 percent below poverty, or lower (For one person, a yearly income of $15,600 or less, for two people $21,000 or less, for a family of three $26,400 or less, and for a family of four $31,800 or less) What to bring: A city electric bill, to show address Proof of previous month’s income, such as a pay stub Identification, ideally a Social Security Card and picture ID A broken or inefficient window air conditioning unit

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The exchange started at 8 a.m., but a few Columbia residents waited in line early to make sure they received a new unit.

For Glen Parey, whose window air conditioner is only six months old but not working properly, the exchange was especially important.

“It’s the only form of cooling I have, no fans or anything,” said Parey, who had been standing in line since 7 a.m. “This air conditioner exchange means a lot to me.”

Benita Nichols and Elizabeth Mclain arrived at 7:30 a.m. to trade in their old window air conditioners for new units.

“Hopefully, it’s very efficient,” Mclain said.

Nichols agreed. “That’s what they keep saying, energy efficiency,” she said.

Kenneth Brantley’s air conditioner is two or three years old and “just quit working,” he said. By 9 a.m., Brantley had been approved for a new air conditioner and had arranged for its installation.

“It’ll help a lot,” he said. “It’s already hot; it’s already needed.”

Columbia Water and Light handed out three compact fluorescent light bulbs with each new air conditioner.

“Not only do they save energy, they use 25 percent of the energy of incandescent bulbs, but they also produce less heat,” Terry Freeman of Columbia Water and Light said..

Freeman said the department plans to continue offering the window air conditioner exchange next summer.

“Some air conditioners we exchange out are 20, 15 years old,” Adam Tipton of Central Missouri Community Action of Boone County said. “Even if the units are working, they are running utility bills up.”

Columbia Water and Light donated the air conditioners, which have an energy efficiency ratio of 10.8. An energy efficiency ratio is a measure of an air conditioner’s spatial cooling capacity divided by how much energy it uses. Units with higher ratios are more efficient, and the average window unit has a rating of six. At current energy rates, the average home would save $50 to $100 each summer using the new air conditioners. Each new unit can cool 350 square feet, which is about the size of one large bedroom.

The program helps decrease energy demands during the peaks in the summer season, and it helps people on fixed or lower incomes keep their utility bills down, Columbia Water and Light spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said.

This year the exchange was held on the first day that Central Missouri Community Action of Boone County could offer utility assistance for summer electric bills.

“We decided to move the program to where people already are,” Tipton said of holding the exchange on the first day of summer assistance. “We want to offer as many services at once to keep it so they don’t have to keep coming back, especially as the price of gas goes up.”

To qualify for the air conditioner exchange program, a person must have an income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty line, and he or she must have an old window air conditioning unit to exchange. For one person, a yearly income at 150 percent of the poverty line would be $15,600 or less; a family of four would have to have an income of $31,800 or less. Others receiving priority for the air conditioners include those with children younger than 5 and people who are elderly.

Last summer, the program traded 97 air conditioners, up from 56 the year before. The first year, the program wasn’t offered until August, which Tipton suggested might account for the low participation.

“The first day is usually pretty slow,” Alex Koenig of Columbia Water and Light said. “We’ve got 30 in the truck, and we hope to move all of them today.”

Koenig’s prediction proved to be true, though Tipton expects the pace to pick up in the next week.

“I think today went well, but it will improve in the days to come,” he said. “A lot of people learned about the program today.”

In the next few days, Tipton anticipates that many more exchanges will take place after people who were receiving summer utility assistance learned about the opportunity to get a new air conditioner.

Employees of Columbia Water and Light, such as Koenig, were on hand Monday to help carry units to and from cars. Recipients are expected to install their own new air conditioners, but if they are unable to install the units themselves, arrangements for help can be made through Central Missouri Community Action of Boone County.

Next week, a missionary group will visit Columbia to help people with installation and weatherization.

Low-income residents also had the opportunity to seek assistance Monday through several other programs, including Head Start, the Volunteer Income Tax Program, Circles, Missouri Building Assets, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Weatherization. Weatherization, a program that offers materials and information to make homes more energy efficient, had a limited number of kits available to give away to those who qualified.


Here are some tips for keeping homes cool and energy efficient:

  • Close the blinds on sunny days
  • Use natural light
  • Keep unnecessary lights off
  • Turn air conditioning up a few degrees while sleeping or out
  • Use an automatic thermostat
  • Insulate to keep cool air in
  • Consider Energy Star-rated appliances when shopping

For other energy saving tips, go to Columbia Water & Light.

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