This time of year, when the inland air often pushes thermometers past 100, Kendra Bourguignon's morning routine becomes a kind of barometer of changing expectations.
At 6 a.m., she drops her children off at her parents' Arcadia house on her way to work. Stepping into the living room, she walks right into a generation gap. "They have no central air conditioning, only a wall unit that they don't want to use, so they sleep downstairs on two love seats, one on one, one on the other, with their legs hanging over the side," she said, tickled by her folks' behavior.
Bourguignon, 31, has been living without air conditioning in her 1917 Monrovia bungalow, but only because a major renovation is not yet completed. The plans include central air, which she plans to "keep at a nice, steady temperature, like maybe 72 degrees."
When she picks her kids up in the afternoon, she sees the other side of the divide. "The first thing they say when they get in the car is, 'Turn on the air conditioner, Mom!' "
In less than a generation, climate control is becoming nearly universal, with air conditioning in 72% of American homes, even in the vast majority of households with incomes of less than $25,000.
Once a luxury, it is now demanded as a right by parents seeking it for their children's schools, or expected like plumbing by those buying a new house.
This June, more central air conditioners were sold nationwide than in any month ever, according to the industry trade group. As they crank out the cool air, they increasingly shape how and where we live, and just how much we're willing to accept from Mother Nature.
Bourguignon's father, Harold "Hink" Hinkle, keeps two fans running in his home office during the day. He doesn't think central air is worth the cost of installing ducts in his 1946 house, and he has philosophical reservations as well.
Hinkle, 60, is wary of the idea that life's discomforts can be dismissed with the flip of a switch or turn of a knob. "In the summer, when it's hot, it's supposed to be hot. You accept it and live with it," he said.
But the number of folks who share Hinkle's resolve is dwindling. Central air conditioning is now included in about 80% of new homes in California, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, research director for the National Assn. of Home Builders.
It wasn't always so. Indeed, most adults can remember life before the big chill. It was only in the mid-1970s that more than half of American homes got air conditioning, and the majority of new homes didn't have central systems until 1977.
Westerners are not as beholden to air conditioning as those in more oppressive climes, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. In the South, for instance, 58% of households with air conditioning run them all summer, while only 17% of those in the West run them constantly through the season. Twenty-two percent of Midwesterners indulge in air conditioning every day during the summer.
Whether you have air conditioning--and how much you use it--can depend on your pocketbook, your tolerance for 100-degree temperatures and even your conservation ethics. But in a region where balmy and blistering climates are only a half-hour drive apart, the biggest motivator is where you live.
In the Burbank area served by Edison International, about 70% of households are air-conditioned, while in Edison's Long Beach service area only about 35% of homes are similarly equipped, according to Glen Sharp, an analyst for the California Energy Commission.
Today is expected to be just the kind of day where air conditioning will be welcomed.
Temperatures should rise after a hot Sunday, according to WeatherData, Inc., which provides weather information for The Times. Meteorologist Wes Etheredge predicted that early morning patchy clouds would give way to a hot sunny day, with temperatures expected to reach the upper 70s on the coast and possibly 110 degrees in the San Fernando Valley, inland Orange County and San Bernardino. At the Civic Center in downtown Los Angeles, Etheredge predicted the temperature would climb to the mid-90s.
Temperatures Sunday ranged from 69 degrees in Santa Monica to a scorching 103 in Chatsworth and Monrovia. In downtown Los Angeles, it was 90.
For many Southern Californians, air conditioning is an on-again, off-again affair. "It's a complex relationship. Love it, hate it, that sort of thing," said Edina Lundgren, 35. "In July, it's boiling, so I run the air conditioner every day, most of the day. Then I get the July electric bill, and wonder what I was thinking. It never seems worth it then," she said.
John Ballance, a manager at Edison, said that summer power use tends to peak in the third or fourth day of a heat wave. Last week, for example, power demand was at its highest on Tuesday, the third day of the hot spell.