08/02/06 — 99 and counting

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99 and counting

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on August 2, 2006 1:48 PM

Tom McClure only made it through half of his exercise routine Tueday at Herman Park. After 30 minutes in "what felt like 150 degrees," he wrapped his sweat-soaked shirt around his head and headed for his car.

"I can't do this today," he said. "This is probably the only time working out is worse for me than going home and sitting on the couch."

This week's heat wave has prompted many Wayne County residents to seek drastic measures to keep cool. The rest can only hope their air conditioners remain faithful.

At 6:30 this morning, temperatures were already nearing 80 degrees. It actually was a sharp contrast to this week's weather pattern.

Cars were backed up with air conditioners running while Lacy Medlin took orders at the S&J Hawaiian Shaved Ice on Cashwell Drive yesterday afternoon.

"It's been a lot more busy the past couple days," he said.

The stand normally sells between 250 and 300 cups of shaved ice a day, Brooke Radford said as she prepared the treats that were being ordered Tuesday afternoon. They had sold 275 Monday, she said. And by the Tuesday's end, they expected to exceed that.

Sarah Barwick gassed up her car wearing a towel-draped bathing suit, her hair still wet. She had been staying cool in the pool at a friend's house. Otherwise, the two of them stayed inside where there was air conditioning.

Her father, Lawrence Barwick, doesn't have the same luxury. He farms.

How is he staying cool?

"He hasn't been staying cool," his daughter said.

Despite the temperature reaching 100 degrees on Tuesday, Ralph Robertson of East Carolina Roofing said he and his co-workers were still outside working. In spite of having started at 6 a.m., by the time they wrapped up after lunchtime, Robertson said the heat still had an effect on their productivity.

"After doing this for so many years, you get used to the heat. We've got one guy that's only been doing this for about a month, and there was a lot of complaining," Robertson said.

To prevent roofers from cramping up and becoming dehydrated, Robertson said water and salt pills are available to employees.

Some contractors, though, opted against going outside in the intense heat.

"It's so unbearable outside that we just decided not to do any contracts this week," Jimmy Creech of Creech and Sons Roofing and Home Improvement said. "We'll keep an eye on the weather. Hopefully, it'll cool down, and we can get back to work."

Meanwhile, the heat is affecting more than people. It is also knocking out air conditioners, said David Cooke of Herring Heating and Air Conditioning.

"We're very busy. The phone doesn't stop," he said this morning between service calls. "The heat is knocking out capacitors. We're having to put a lot of Freon into units."

A unit that's about a pound low on Freon gas might do fine in 90-degree weather, he said. But the same unit can overheat its compressor when the temperature reaches 100.

A lot of customers didn't get the coils cleaned in a routine maintenance call at the beginning of the season, he said, and their coils were dirty when the hot weather hit.

"We're having to wash the outdoor coils and cool (the system) back down," he said. "Grass and dirt stop up the coils, and the heat outside makes the compressor even hotter."

He said beginning in March people should have their air conditioners checked and get the coils cleaned.

"In May, the heat is here, and it's too late. They've got problems."

But people don't think about it as long as it's working, "not until it knocks off."

A routine cleaning could cost $90 for one system.

But if the same unit stops working because it overheated, not only do you have to suffer through the heat until someone comes to service it, but the compressor might have to be replaced. To change it out could cost between $800 and $1,200.

Cooke said a newer compressor might turn out to be all right because of the more modern safety features. But an older model may not have that safety feature. And if an eight-year-old compressor goes out, it's gone.

Another problem is just not having enough insulation in the house. The air conditioner is doing all it can do, but the heat is coming in from the roof, "and you're trying to cool unconditioned air. It will run all day long, and it will never cool."

For senior citizens without air conditioning, Nancy Ford of Wayne County Services on Aging said the department still has about five fans available. The only criteria is that the person be at least 60 years old and a Progress Energy customer.

Brownie Doss of WAGES Nutrition Program for the Elderly said she hasn't received reports from volunteers about overheated seniors or any heat-related illnesses. When the first heat wave hit Wayne County a few weeks ago, Mrs. Doss said the organization distributed flyers among seniors explaining how to keep cool in extreme temperatures. But WAGES could still see cases of heat exhaustion, she said.

"I'm not sure if we're going to see any reports, but we could. Some seniors don't turn on their air conditioner in the summer because they say it hurts their joints if they have arthritis. Some just don't turn it on because they say they can't pay for the bill," Mrs. Doss said.

Whenever volunteers report a case of a residence that is too warm, Mrs. Doss said she follows up with a call to the senior to make sure they are faring well in the heat.

There is a reason older citizens are able to handle the heat better than younger people, though, Services on Aging volunteer Janice Robinson said.

"Their body temperature is actually lower than ours," she said.

Since seniors also have thinner blood, Mrs. Robinson said they might not be as affected by the heat as others. However, if the heat becomes too unbearable, a senior's' skin color could become pale, and they will perspire more than usual, she said.

D.H. Hobbs of Eureka said he has lived through his air conditioner being out for a couple of hours before, but he doesn't think he could handle it if it quit during this current heat wave.

"I don't know what I would do. I guess I'd just have to sit outside to get some air," he said.

Since the summer began, Glouries Mitchell and Rosa Cole have been braving the heat from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily at their vegetable and frozen ice stand at the intersection of Elm and Beale streets.

Keeping cool has been as simple as ice, water and a hand-held portable fan, Mrs. Mitchell said.

"If push come to shove, I'll munch on some ice," Mrs. Mitchell said.

Mrs. Cole quipped, "If push comes to shove, I'm going to McDonald's for an iced tea."