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U.S. Cities That Lack Air Conditioning

Photo Credit: Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock

By David Heacock

As summers get hotter and extreme heat events become more common, it is increasingly uncomfortable to live without air conditioning. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the vast majority of American households do have air conditioning, but about 9% do not. Many of these households are located in cities with historically temperate climates, but climate change is expected to make extreme heat events not only more frequent but also more severe. Even areas with mild summers in the past, such as those in the Pacific Northwest, have already begun experiencing these changes.

Extreme weather events, such as heat waves and large storms, are more common today than they were in the past due to climate change. Data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows that the 1960s experienced an average of two heat waves per year. But by the 2010s, the average number of heat waves had tripled to six per year. Heat waves that affect locations with temperate climates can be especially dangerous since households are more likely to lack air conditioning. The Pacific Northwest had two extreme heat waves this summer, causing temperatures to rise to a sweltering 116℉ in Portland, OR and to 108℉ in Seattle.

Extreme heat events are a threat to public health, with more than 600 people per year killed by extreme heat. Poorer households and minority households are more likely to lack air conditioning, and are especially vulnerable during heat waves. In fact, data from the Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey shows that nearly 12% of households below the poverty threshold lack air conditioning. In comparison, only about 8% of households with incomes greater than 300% of the poverty threshold do not have air conditioning.

In addition to socioeconomic status and race, geographic location and local climate are also good predictors of household air conditioning status. Households in more temperate climates are less likely to have an air conditioner. The Census Bureau’s 2019 American Housing Survey includes data from 10 states. Of these states, households in California and Colorado are much more likely to not have air conditioning than the much warmer states of Texas and Florida. Nearly a quarter of California households (23.8%) lack air conditioning compared to just 1.1% of households in Florida and 1.6% of households in Texas.

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To find the metropolitan areas with the most residents lacking air conditioning, researchers at Filterbuy analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Zillow. The researchers ranked locations according to the percentage of households that lack air conditioning. Researchers also calculated the total number of households that lack air conditioning, the median home price, and the poverty rate.

The Census Bureau data only includes statistics from select states and metropolitan areas. Of these locations, here are the metros with the greatest share of households that lack air conditioning.

U.S. Metros With the Most Homes That Lack Air Conditioning

  1. Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

    Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, AZ

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 2.9%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 50,500
    • Median home price: $390,733
    • Poverty rate: 12.1%
  2. Photo Credit: doma / Shutterstock

    Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 3.0%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 26,000
    • Median home price: $228,977
    • Poverty rate: 11.3%
  3. Photo Credit: wonderlustpicstravel / Shutterstock

    Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 3.9%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 139,800
    • Median home price: $280,130
    • Poverty rate: 10.6%
  4. Photo Credit: Jon Bilous / Shutterstock

    Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 4.1%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 56,100
    • Median home price: $495,619
    • Poverty rate: 12.2%
  5. Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

    Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 5.7%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 36,500
    • Median home price: $247,952
    • Poverty rate: 11.8%
  6. Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

    Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 6.1%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 104,300
    • Median home price: $220,309
    • Poverty rate: 12.6%
  7. Photo Credit: Jason Sponseller / Shutterstock

    Pittsburgh, PA

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 6.2%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 65,300
    • Median home price: $196,897
    • Poverty rate: 10.9%
  8. Photo Credit: Victor Moussa / Shutterstock

    New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 7.9%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 579,300
    • Median home price: $552,607
    • Poverty rate: 11.6%
  9. Photo Credit: Travellaggio / Shutterstock

    Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 8.9%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 167,800
    • Median home price: $592,940
    • Poverty rate: 8.6%
  10. Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

    Cleveland-Elyria, OH

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 9.2%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 81,600
    • Median home price: $195,514
    • Poverty rate: 13.5%
  11. Photo Credit: Nicholas Courtney / Shutterstock

    Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 14.7%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 168,000
    • Median home price: $554,544
    • Poverty rate: 7.9%
  12. Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

    Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 19.1%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 844,000
    • Median home price: $831,593
    • Poverty rate: 12.4%
  13. Photo Credit: Bob Pool / Shutterstock

    Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 21.4%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 204,800
    • Median home price: $515,049
    • Poverty rate: 9.6%
  14. Photo Credit: f11photo / Shutterstock

    San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 52.7%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 902,200
    • Median home price: $1,324,433
    • Poverty rate: 8.2%
  15. Photo Credit: Checubus / Shutterstock

    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA

    • Percentage of households that lack air conditioning: 55.7%
    • Total number of households that lack air conditioning: 851,300
    • Median home price: $670,473
    • Poverty rate: 7.8%

Detailed Findings & Methodology

The metros with the most people lacking air conditioning are located in the temperate climates of the Pacific Northwest and California. At nearly 56% of households, the Seattle metro area ranks number one in the share of households without air conditioning. The Pacific Northwest heat waves of this past summer, worsened by lack of air conditioning, resulted in hundreds of deaths.

Similarly, a majority (52.7%) of households in the San Francisco metro area also lack air conditioning. Both Seattle and San Francisco have median home prices much higher than the national median of $​​298,933 and poverty rates lower than the national rate of 12.3%. However, their moderate climates mean that most older homes were built without air conditioning.

To find the locations with the most residents lacking air conditioning, researchers at Filterbuy analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Housing Survey and 2019 American Community Survey and Zillow’s Zillow Home Value Index. The researchers ranked locations according to the percentage of households that lack air conditioning. In the event of a tie, the metro with the higher total number of households that lack air conditioning was ranked higher. Researchers also calculated the median home price and the poverty rate.

The American Housing Survey only includes data from select states and metropolitan areas, and thus the analysis is limited to these select geographic areas.