Metro Vancouver resident Jim Bugg, 52, thought he was being smart by planning a few days ahead.
Tuesday morning, when meteorologists forecasted a weekend heat wave in most of B.C., Bugg headed over to his local Best Buy store to buy an air conditioner. He says it was the only store in the area that showed any inventory left online.
"When it gets above 30 here, it gets a bit oppressive," Bugg said. "And I just knew [this weekend] wasn't going to be a pretty sight."
When Bugg walked in, there were 40 air conditioners at the front of the store. As he spoke with a sales associate, he watched as each of the units was plucked away over the next 30 minutes.
Luckily, he managed to grab two just in time — one for himself, and one for his neighbour.
Meteorologists expect temperatures in the Fraser Valley, where Bugg lives, to hit the high 30s this weekend. In the Interior, temperatures are expected to exceed 40 C.
As temperatures rise year after year because of climate change, a growing number of people like Bugg are deciding it's time to cave and buy their first air conditioner. According to a BC Hydro study last year, air conditioner use has tripled since 2001 to reach 34 per cent of homes in B.C.
Those who waited too long to buy an air conditioner this year may be out of luck this weekend. A quick search online shows little to no stock available at stores across the Lower Mainland.
'They go pretty quick'
Jason Wiersma, a store leader at Best Buy in Langley, says demand for air conditioners has doubled year over year since he started working at the store four years ago.
Wiersma says new units do come in throughout the week, but they don't last long.
"They go pretty quick," Wiersma said. "I think people are waiting in the parking lot for them."
For anyone still holding out hope they'll be able to find an air conditioner before the summer is over, Wiersma suggests checking regularly online and ordering a unit for quick pickup or delivery.
The most popular models are portable air conditioners, he says, because they're the most convenient and easiest to install. They typically cost between $300 and $700. However, BC Hydro warns that they are also inefficient and cost more to operate than traditional window models.
Central AC sales also rising
But it's not just the cheaper models that are driving sales.
Roy Da Silva, operations manager at Pro Ace Heating and Air Conditioning in Burnaby, says demand for central air conditioning, which costs thousands of dollars, has risen 60 per cent compared to last year.
"Five or six or seven years ago, people would tough it out because they'd always be kind of warm over the August long weekend, so to speak, for a couple of weeks," Da Silva said. "But now the heat spells are coming at a much more quicker, earlier and longer period."
Da Silva says this year potential customers starting inquiring about purchasing a unit in May. Over the span of a seven-minute interview on Thursday, Da Silva got four phone calls from potential customers.
Extreme heat a health hazard
Kate Weinberger, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health, says the temperatures in B.C. may not look as extreme as they are in other parts of Canada and the U.S., but they're still considered dangerous.
"I think we need to take this really seriously from a health perspective," she said. "The fact that not a lot of people in Metro Vancouver have air conditioning is going to be potentially problematic during this heat event."
Weinberger says this weekend's heat wave is extra concerning because temperatures aren't expected to cool much at night and it's relatively early in the season for a heat wave of this magnitude. Both those factors, she says, can contribute to higher risk of death.
Those who are most at risk include seniors, infants and children, and people with pre-existing health conditions.
Contributing to climate change
Despite the benefits of air conditioners, however, many energy experts point out that most cooling technology uses a lot of energy and can make heat waves worse in the long term by contributing to climate change.
This June, a record-breaking heat wave in the Western U.S. dropped water levels in the reservoir caused by the Hoover Dam to their lowest levels ever.
For those in B.C. who don't have the luxury of air conditioning — because they missed out or because they don't want to further contribute to climate change — there are ways to keep cool at home.
Here are a few tips from BC Hydro:
Open windows at night when it's cooler and close them during the day to keep out hot air.
Keep the blinds down to block out the sun.
Use a ceiling fan, which uses the tenth of the energy of an air conditioner.
Use fewer large appliances: hang your laundry to dry and fire up the barbecue instead of the oven.
Take short, cool showers.