Eighty-one-year-old Donna Wormell says she was “tougher stuff” as a youngster, so hot summer nights in the upstairs bedroom of her family’s Falmouth home didn’t bother her.

But as Maine summers have gotten hotter, Wormell has softened her stance that you simply don’t need air conditioning in Maine. She bought a portable unit, the kind you roll from room to room. She used it for a couple of days last year but then rolled it into a closet, where it remains.

“It’s a lot hotter than when I was kid, but there still aren’t that many nights when you really need it,” said Wormell, who still lives in Falmouth. “I probably won’t use it again. A fan works for me.”

The Maine mystique includes a vision of rugged individualism, of stoic and frugal folks who deal with whatever life throws at them with perseverance and common sense. Spending money on something that has the same effect as a free ocean breeze or winds through the trees is definitely not part of that. It’s a point of pride for some Mainers to bravely battle the elements, whether that means keeping the furnace off until December or sweating through a hot spell with a couple of box fans in August.

“Soon after I moved here 20 years ago, I realized that people took pride in not having air conditioning,” said Charlie Lopresti, chief meteorologist at Portland TV station WGME CBS 13 and a native of Massachusetts. “I think it’s pretty specific to Maine.”

Even some Mainers who weren’t born here have adopted the “we don’t need AC” mentality. Marcus Cardona says that growing up in Buxton, his parents told him their Maine home was cool enough without air conditioning. Especially compared with where they came from: the Philippines.


“They embraced the whole Maine experience. We’d wear hoodies and use extra blankets so we could keep the heater off until December, and we never used AC,” said Cardona, 32, a comedian who organizes comedy shows around Portland. “But today I’ve got AC, and I definitely enjoy the cold. I do a lot of work from home, so you need to be comfortable.”


Mainers’ reluctance to get air conditioning – or any cooling system – may be changing as summer temperatures get hotter each year and people spend more time working from home instead of in air-conditioned offices, especially since the pandemic.

Portland has 10 more days with temperatures above 80 degrees each summer, on average, than it did 50 years ago, according to data collected at the Portland International Jetport and compiled by Climate Central, a nonprofit organization that reports on climate science.

Heat has been on everyone’s mind this summer, as a global hot spell scorched much of the Earth in recent weeks. Much of Maine saw heat advisories on July 28, with temperatures in the high 80s in spots and humidity making it feel like 90 degrees or hotter. The heat advisory issued by the National Weather Service for southern Maine that day said people should “stay in an air-conditioned room” in addition to drinking plenty of fluids and staying out of the sun.

The irony of higher temperatures prompting more people to get air conditioning is that air conditioners use a lot of electricity, contributing to climate change and higher temperatures. Air conditioners use about 6% of all electricity in the United States and produce roughly 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the Federal Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.


The growing popularity of heat pumps for home cooling is helping to change the Maine air-conditioning taboo, partly because they use less electricity. Heat pumps are about four times more energy-efficient than window AC units, said Andy Meyer, senior program manager for Efficiency Maine, which runs the state’s energy efficiency programs. Matt Scott, a co-owner of Dave’s World, a Maine-based installer of heat pumps, says it can cost as little as $20 a month to cool a home with a heat pump, compared with about $150 a month for a window unit or central air conditioning.

Plus, heat pumps are sort of a back door into air conditioning for Mainers who don’t want to seem like they’re indulging in luxury. Every home needs a good heating system, Mainers will concede, and if a heat pump also comes with air cooling capacity, well, that’s a bonus.

Scott said he once installed a heat pump for a woman in Bar Harbor who was adamant that she did not want it to have any cooling capability. Scott says he gave her a standard model that does both anyway. Sometime later, after the woman had experienced the dry, cool air of a friend’s heat pump system, she called Scott and asked for an upgrade. He told her she was all set.

“People say you don’t need AC in Maine – just open the window,” Scott said. “They look at heating as a necessity and cooling as a luxury, but once they have it, they don’t want to live without it. They get used to being comfortable.”

The state started a rebate program in 2014 for heat pumps, and on July 21, Gov. Janet Mills announced that more than 100,000 heat pumps had been installed in Maine with the help of state rebates. Heat pumps, which come with an exterior fan unit that can support several interior heating/cooling devices in different parts of the house, generally start at around $2,700 after rebates, Meyer said. But most homes probably need more than one to heat or cool the whole house, installers say.

The increase in heat pump installations may be the best indication that Mainers are warming up to cool their homes. Several Portland-area hardware stores say they have not seen increases in window air conditioner sales recently, and several big-box stores contacted would not give out sales data. But during the hot spell that scorched much of the country in June and July, Amazon saw air conditioner sales increase by 248% compared with the same period last year, according to the data analytics platform Jungle Scout, CBS News reported.


Brandon and Samantha Cicciarelli in front of heat pump – used for cooling this summer – at their Falmouth home. When the couple moved to Maine from Florida, Samantha, a Falmouth native, told Brandon that air conditioning was not needed there. She’s changed her mind. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


When Samantha and Brandon Cicciarelli moved to South Portland from Florida a few years ago, Samantha confidently told her husband, “Maine doesn’t get hot enough for air conditioning.” Samantha had grown up in Falmouth (Wormell is her grandmother), and Brandon had lived most of his life in Florida, where AC is a necessity in summer. So he took her word for it.

“I did tell him that, but since then, we’ve learned our lesson,” Samantha said. “I feel like the climate has totally changed here since I moved away in 2011. What I remembered as a kid is that there might be hot days but it would cool off at night. And we didn’t have the humidity we have now.”

Weather data backs Samantha up. It doesn’t cool down as much overnight in Maine, with the average overnight lows in summer getting 3.6 degrees warmer since 1970. Portland also has had five more days on average each summer with a heat index of 90 degrees or higher since 1979, according to data compiled by Climate Central. The heat index is how hot it feels outside when you factor in humidity along with the temperature, Lopresti said – like how wind chill indicates how cold it feels in winter, combining the temperature and the wind speeds.

The Cicciarellis work together in a renovation business called Chickadee Homes and have two children, ages 5 and 7. They recently renovated a home for their family in Falmouth and installed a heat pump. Even while working on the house, they’ve had the heat pump turned on this summer and loved how cool and dry it feels inside, they said.

“The summers here are almost as hot as Florida. I think your sun is more intense here,” Brandon said.


When Karen Morgan moved to Maine from her native Georgia in the mid-1990s, she was “surprised” to find how few people had air conditioning. She also didn’t quite get the logic employed by so many Mainers, that if you leave the windows open and let the breeze in, you’ll be fine.

“But you don’t understand, you’re letting the humidity in, too, and once it’s in, you don’t get it out,” said Morgan, a former lawyer who is now a nationally touring comedian.

Morgan, who lives in Cumberland, says air conditioning is a constant bone of contention between her and her husband, a Massachusetts native. He is adamant about not needing it in Maine. She insists it is needed. So, every year, she lugs a window unit into her bedroom and installs it by herself.

“In 27 years, that’s really the only thing we argue about,” Morgan said.

Jim Black of Kennebunkport is one of those Mainers who didn’t feel a need for air conditioning, especially because he worked in an air-conditioned office, where he ran an industrial software consulting business for years. When he started thinking about retiring a few years ago, and with his elderly mother-in-law living with him and his wife, putting a cooling system in their home began to seem like a better idea. So now he has a heat pump “for heating in the shoulder seasons and cooling in the summer,” Black said.

“I was one of those people who’d rather have the doors open and let in sea breezes, but the need (for cooling) has become greater than it was,” said Black, 67.

Black had his heat pump system installed by Jake Brown HVAC in Scarborough, which is co-owned by Brown and his wife, Jaclyn. Brown says the company’s installation of heat pumps has increased by about 200% in the past eight or nine years. He said people being “stuck at home” during the pandemic and now working from home has been a big reason.

“A lot of people say they never thought they’d get air conditioning,” Jake Brown said. “But once they get it and feel how comfortable they are, they’re happy they did it.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.