In America’s least air-conditioned cities, brutal heat changes some people’s minds

In Boise, Idaho, where the temperature topped 97 for a stretch of 14 out of 15 days this month, Sarah O’Keefe refuses to give in. With the mercury repeatedly soaring into triple digits, she started waking up hours earlier, added afternoon siestas to her routine and installed a sprinkler to cool her hot metal roof. The AC stays off.

In Edmonton, Alberta — nobody’s idea of a sweltering summer spot — Ellen Campbell no longer mocks neighbors who own air conditioners, but she’s not about to buy one herself. When highs topped 90 degrees for a few days before returning to the more ordinary 60s, she checked her grandkids and herself into a local hotel for the AC and the pool. But she will not buy her own AC unit. That’s not the kind of place where she lives.

In Portland, Ore., however, the heat finally got to Vivek Shandas. He’s lived in the Pacific Northwest for 21 years and had resisted buying an air conditioner until this summer.

“This thing broke us,” he said. After highs hit 108, 112 and 116 degrees on successive days last month, he bought a portable unit, put it in his bedroom and crowded in with his spouse, 11-year-old child and two dogs. The bedroom never got down below 87 degrees, but the AC bought them some sleep.