Did the recent heat wave take a toll on your AC? Here’s what technicians are dealing with

D.C.’s blistering heat wave last week took a high toll on home air conditioning systems. Service technicians worked through the weekend and are putting in extra hours this week to restore service to homes that have lost cooling.

“We’re not as large as some of the other companies in the area. But for a medium-sized, family-owned company, we’ve gotten hundreds of calls, so I can imagine the bigger guys that are in multiple states are getting thousands,” said Stephen Nugent, operations manager of John Nugent & Sons, a Sterling, Virginia-based company providing air conditioning, heating, plumbing and electrical services.

Technicians said the extended days of severe heat forced units to run constantly and that can spell trouble for older equipment and units that have not been properly maintained or are low on refrigerant.

“The longer the machine runs, the higher the potential for failure. Also, if it’s not clean — the condensing coil outside particularly — if it hasn’t been maintained or cleaned for the season, then the machine is going to run probably between 15 and 30% hotter than it typically does,” said Ron Tolbert, president of Cool Breeze Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, serving the Gaithersburg, Maryland, area.

Tolbert’s firm has also been flooded with calls for AC repairs.

“We took, over the weekend, 300 calls. They’re coming in 24 hours, around the clock,” said Tolbert, speaking from the road, after temporarily vacating his desk job. He added that for the first time in eight years, he had to join his crews and go out to help with repairs.

When AC units failed and customers were left in homes with temperatures rising, they may have found it difficult to easily reach AC repair services this past weekend, and some showed gratitude when workers arrived.

“Customers are offering us cold drinks or offering us to sit down and have lunch. They’re just very grateful to have someone come,” Nugent said.

Before technicians respond to AC units knocked out of commission by the extreme heat, experts said there are some things you can do yourself.

“You want to check your breaker to make sure that the machine has power outside. You want to make sure that the outside unit is running and that warm air is coming out of the top of it. You want to make sure that your inside filter is clean. Those are the primary things you do before you even call a company,” Tolbert said.

The companies said they hope to be caught up with the extra repair work this week.

“I know everyone’s scrambling because, at the end of the day, everyone is just trying to get these customers cooling because you never know who it is. (It could be) a new parent with a young baby, it’s an elderly person who may have some health issues, whatever it is … every customer is important and we want to make sure they’re comfortable in their own home,” Nugent said.

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Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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