After a few hot days in a row, Columbia’s air conditioning technicians can start to feel like 911 dispatchers.
When maintenance waiting lists reach double or triple their normal size, customers calling in will invent health problems in an effort to make their repair a priority, technicians said.
“It’s amazing how many people have heart conditions when it gets hot enough outside,” said Gary Ledbetter, service manager for Brunner Heating and Air.
Ledbetter said he’s seen a 30 to 40 percent increase in service calls this week, and he expects it to get busier if the weather remains hot.
“We are almost to a point where we are only going to be taking emergency calls and health-related issues,” Ledbetter said.
Most Columbian’s air conditioners aren’t designed to handle more than 95-degree weather, several technicians said. They can only make a building about 20 to 25 degrees cooler than outdoor temperatures. So when it climbs to 100 degrees, as it has this week, most air conditioners can cool a house only to 75 degrees.
Ledbetter said he gets about 10 calls a day from people whose air conditioners are working but can’t handle the heat.
Keeping up with broken air conditioners has meant long hours for technicians throughout the city.
By 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, 20-year-old J.C. Morris, who owns Tiger Heating and Cooling with his brother Jared had already visited five houses. He expected to fix four or five more before quitting sometime around 9 p.m.
While his customers are cooking in their houses, J.C. Morris spends his days outside, where most air conditioning units are. He doesn’t get the benefit of his labor.
“Once it starts cooling in the house, I gotta leave,” he said.
Other Columbia air conditioning technicians are experiencing similar increases in calls.
In a typical week, Columbia Heating and Cooling receives 20 to 30 calls for air conditioning repairs. This week, it has been fixing that many each day. But that isn’t always the case.
“Sometimes it can be a hundred degrees and the phone won’t ring at all,” said owner-operator Clarence Morris, a brother of J.C. and Jared. “It can be really sporadic.”
This is make-it or break-it time for the heating and cooling industry, which relies on hot summer days for up to 70 percent of its annual revenue.
“Last summer, three other heating and cooling companies went out of business because it was a comparatively mild summer,” Clarence Morris said.