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Heat wave pushing repair, electric companies to the limit

Aug 28, 2023Aug 28, 2023

Most days, Butcher Air Conditioning in Broussard gets 30-40 calls a day. Lately it’s not unusual to get more than 150 calls in a single day.

For much of June, Lafayette and the rest of south Louisiana was locked in a heat wave. Average heat indexes reached 109.4 degrees, according to the website. Heat indexes reached 111 degrees the last weekend of the month and 107 degrees for the week of July Fourth, according to the National Weather Service.

The blazing summer of 2023 means air-conditioning and energy companies are working extra hard during this peak time in the year when employment preservation, energy conservation and cooling education proves to be essential.

Butcher Air Conditioning president Bobby Butcher said one of the company’s main priorities for is his employees. Although the company tries to get everyone the same-day service, the influx of calls leads workers to staying later than usual.

Read more: Here's why Entergy bills are unlikely to mimic 2022 summer, despite current heat wave

“The biggest worry you have is that your employees don't get hurt, dehydrated or sick,” he said. “And we're fortunate enough to have enough employees that we can respond fast, but it's a challenge out there.”

The company keeps in touch with employees consistently while they are on a job, however, with heat indexes this high, sometimes at least one worker would call out at least once a week because of potential overheating.

Most service workers are working alone, while installations, replacements and insulation usually require two people, and they would have to endure extreme temperatures reaching 135 degrees.

“If they seem as though they're starting to feel weak, we either get them to go to the doctor and get an IV or send them home and get some rest,” Butcher said.

Homeowners are advised by these companies to do certain actions to help conserve energy and ensure an affordable air-filled experience.

To prolong the life of air-conditioning systems and help prevent expensive repairs, companies encourage people to consider the 20-degree rule. Homeowners should never set the thermostat more than 20 degrees cooler than the outside air.

One national company explained it this way: “Once you have a greater than 20-degree difference between the weather outside and your temperature setting, the air-conditioner has a hard time keeping up.”

Mary Laurent, communications coordinator with SLEMCO, said the company has seen more kilowatt-hours being purchased by their customers lately to keep cool. However, Laurent expressed the importance of prioritizing when it comes to using expenses for air and air maintenance when the air conditioner is overused versus using it for other necessities.

“It's really a balance of trying to help people minimize the summertime increases,” Laurent said. “You have to kind of balance where you set that thermostat based on what your priorities are.”

Read more: Where to cool off during the heat wave in Lafayette Parish for little to no cost

Some actions include changing the filters and cleaning the coils of the unit to reduce breakdown and costs of operation, letting your air conditioner run and just running it up one to two more degrees instead of turning it off completely, trimming trees and plants that are crowding the unit and having enough insulation. Also, shading rooms and making sure that doors and windows are sealed properly to ensure air is not escaping from the home.

Other utility and energy companies have shared some of the same solutions during this peak in the year when most electricity and energy is used.

“It's something that we prepare for all year long because we can see peak demand in summer as well as winter,” Heidi Tweedel, business and marketing analyst for Lafayette Utilities System [LUS], said.

According to Tweedel, LUS customers have seen increased bills because of lower thermostat settings.

“People don't realize that the lower you set your AC, the harder it's [the air conditioner] going to have to run because of how hot it is outside,” Tweedel said.

Tweedel also suggested people should use their ceiling fans and set the blades to go counterclockwise to create a downdraft that could make people feel four degrees cooler.

LUS customers can go to their online account to see how much energy they are using and to find the lawn watering schedule the company has in place to conserve water during this period of intense heat.

Turning off the faucet when it’s not being used, taking shorter showers instead of baths and waiting to have a full load before running the dishes or doing laundry are forms of water conservation, which can be beneficial in the heat.

According to Tweedel, with the LUS’ constant system supervision, homeowners should still do their part in helping the company not get overloaded with requests during an already busy time in the year.

“The more energy we use, the more it goes on to the system,” Tweedel said. “So while we are monitoring and making sure that everything is up to date, if one person says ‘Hey, let me bump up the thermostat a little bit’, that helps with peak demand.”

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