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LIVING 60 : How cool is that – seniors can get help with air conditioning

Program provides portable air conditioners and installation for qualifying, and vulnerable customers
Community services manager Wendy Rachwalski and other staff at the Langley Senior Resources Society centre made cooling kits that were distributed to lower income seniors during summer 2023. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Help to purchase air conditioners, announced by BC Hydro, is a step in a cooler direction, says a local seniors advocate.

BC Hydro will again this year help seniors and others struggling financially to be able to obtain cooling products.

To bridge the AC affordability gap, last summer the Government of B.C. announced a three-year program with $10 million in funding for BC Hydro to install 8,000 free, portable air-conditioning units in the homes of British Columbians who need them the most.

Seniors need a bit of extra help when it comes to making their homes cooler, explained Kate Ludlam, executive director of the Langley Senior Resources Society centre.

They can’t, for instance, lug a portable air conditioner home or up stairs, and it’s not easy to install a window-based air conditioner unit. In many cases, they also can’t afford to hire people to do that kind of work and may not have family close by to help.

Since last summer, more than 4,400 free AC units have been installed and BC Hydro is encouraging qualifying customers to apply early to get their AC unit before the hot weather begins.

Applications are now open again for those needing help to fend off the summer heat.

Following the program launch, BC Hydro has made important changes to ensure units can be installed faster, including a new self-serve installation option for eligible customers and securing more installers. The application process has also been streamlined, and customers can visit to apply.

While air conditioning is becoming an increasingly popular option, BC Hydro is reminding customers there are additional ways to stay cool – and save money – this summer including:

• Closing the drapes and blinds. Shading windows can block out up to 65 per cent of the heat.

• Shutting doors and windows. If the temperature outside is warmer than inside, keeping doors and windows closed helps to keep the cooler air in and the warm air out.

• Using a fan. Running a fan nine hours a day over the summer costs just $7.

Ludlam noted that many local low-income seniors live in older buildings, which are more difficult to keep cool in summer.

The seniors’ centre does what it can for older residents during the heat of summer. In 2023, the society received funding and support from BC Hydro and others to make about 200 cooling kits for lower income seniors.

Ludlam is concerned as summer approaches about even more seniors struggling financially as the cost of living rises.

“We know that extreme heat and extreme cold are hard on seniors,” Ludlam said.

That was borne out during the heat dome and the shocking number of deaths recorded in B.C. Nearly 600 people died during the 2021 extreme weather event, according to the BC Coroners Service.


The province launched the free portable air conditioner program in June 2023 with $10 million in funding. On May 31, 2024, the province increased the funding by $20 million to provide another 28,000 portable units.

B.C. government website:


Income-qualified customers and individuals who meet the Ministry of Health’s criteria as medically heat vulnerable can apply to receive a free portable AC.

Household income is based on the previous year and includes the combined income of all household members 18 and older. For example, income for a four-person household must not exceed $73,800. The program is open to eligible homeowners and renters.

Homeowners must meet a maximum assessed home value criteria.

Tenants must obtain landlord consent.

The program also works closely with regional health authorities and home care programs, which refer residents to the program.


BC Hydro offers eligible customers two installation options – a self-serve option or the option to have a certified electrician install the unit.

Homeowners who choose to install their units themselves in the summer months will receive their unit faster.

$50 rebate on energy-efficient AC returns

For a second year, BC Hydro is bringing back an offer for all residential customers, regardless of income, to receive $50 off the purchase of a qualifying energy-efficient portable or window air conditioner from May 31 until Aug. 23. Discounts will automatically be applied at checkout at participating retailers throughout the province, such as Best Buy, Costco, Canadian Tire, Leon’s, Rona, Visions and The Home Depot. This offer is also available for online purchases at select retailers, including Best Buy, Leon’s and Visions.

AC use in B.C.

Due in part to a changing climate and warmer summers, air conditioning use in British Columbia has gone up approximately 20% in recent years. More than half of British Columbians are now cooling their homes in the summer with AC, compared to about one-third in 2020.

Portable air conditioning units are the most popular choice in B.C. homes because they are lower cost, can easily be moved, are simpler to set up and do not require permanent installation. It is estimated that 730,000 units are being used throughout the province, an increase of approximately 350,000 units during the past three years.

Heather Colpitts

About the Author: Heather Colpitts

Since starting in the news industry in 1992, my passion for sharing stories has taken me around Western Canada.
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