Thanks to an extended heat wave over much of the United States, the hvac industry for the first six months shipped slightly more unitary products — 3,688,481 — than it did for the entire year of 1986, when shipments totaled 3,555,630.

This sizzling performance puts the industry on a pace to exceed last year’s record of 6.2 million shipments.

In June, shipments (including heat pumps) totaled 872,843, an all-time high and 8% better than the same period last year.

Also hot were shipments of room air conditioners, which topped out at just under 5 million units. This performance equals the output for the entire year of 1989 and is 47% higher than the same period last year.

Weather factor

The hot, humid weather that attacked the Northeast made headlines, and put hvacr service technicians in the spotlight.

In market after market, TV crews visited contractors’ offices and followed the service techs to the jobsite.

In states like Vermont and New Hampshire, where the average highs in mid-summer don’t even reach 80ÞF, this year’s temperatures put them into the 90s. On some days the temperature even reached triple digits.

Cooling degree-days typically total less than 500. Saturation of any type of residential air conditioning here — central or room unit — is less than 20%.

Contractors to the rescue

Vermont contractor Greg Kristiansen, KSG Climate Control, reported a 60% hike in his sales, attributed to the heat. This included a lot of add-on units, as well as a bulge in the commercial sector (motels, restaurants, and other tourist-related businesses).

One of Kristiansen’s customers, whose 6,000-sq-ft house he keeps warm in the winter, demanded a central system, even though he uses it only one week in the summer.

“I’ve got it [a/c] in my office and I’ve got it in my car, dammit, and I want it in my house,” said the customer.

Nearby in Maine, contractor Dan Thayer said he reaped the rewards of preventive maintenance and service contracts with his commercial customers. This meant there was no frantic bulge in emergency calls.

“We look on heat waves as a chance to add to our market share,” he said.

“It sounds unbelievable, but we didn’t have to wash a single condenser coil during the heat wave. We had done all of that in March,” he said.

Staying on top of customer demand is vital, he said, because manufacturers seem to be unable to get equipment like air handlers to the field within eight weeks — six weeks if they get an 18% premium.

“They’ve done a better job on the residential split systems,” he conceded.

Boston distributor Stephen Torrice, S.G. Torrice Co., reported June and July sales of unitary product up a whopping 68%, which accounts for the lion’s share of his first-half business. Business has been “incredible — the first hot summer we’ve had since 1995,” he said.

Given three mild summers, hvac equipment hasn’t been “stressed,” and this has affected service and maintenance calls, he added.

Sales volume has also been sparked by a burst of new single-family housing in the Boston market.