Area renters expect air conditioning these days; former Boeing engineer is pushing for a wider perspective on meat; peach puree falls flat, but fruit squeeze is a winner.

Share story

As Seattle summers keep getting hotter and hotter, a once-unthinkable perk for renters here has become more commonplace: air conditioning.

Traditionally, there hasn’t been much of a point for local developers to spend the extra money to install A/C: Seattle has among the coolest summers in the country, and new construction was rare enough that new buildings didn’t need extras — they stood out just for being new.

But now the record apartment construction boom sweeping the city has created what some in the industry have called an “amenities arms race” to attract tenants.

Things like rooftop decks, gyms and dog play areas are a dime a dozen. Now A/C has become a way for landlords to stand out in a sea of apartment ads.

Most Read Stories

Sale! Get 90% off digital access.

Before this decade, only 6 percent of all rentals in the Seattle metro area had central air conditioning, according to census statistics — the lowest rate for any major region in the country.

But 25 percent of apartments built so far this decade in Greater Seattle have central A/C — a fourfold increase over the old days. (These numbers don’t include the cheaper window units, but those are on the rise, too — more on that later.)

Megan Murphy, a senior manager at one of the biggest developers in town, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate, said that just a decade ago the company never would have even considered including A/C in its buildings. But now it’s standard for all apartments in Vulcan’s new high-rises, and comes included at many of the units in its smaller projects.

“I don’t think it’s a fad, I think it’s probably going to be a new normal, because it is getting warmer,” Murphy said. “Now it’s becoming more competitive, as well — it’s not just about being the new kid on the block, it’s about being the new kid on the block with all the extras.”

Another factor: A/C is standard in a lot of other regions, and with the rise in new residents moving from locales with hotter summers like California, Texas, Chicago and New York, tenants come with the expectation that air conditioning will be included, Murphy said.

More Pacific Northwest natives have been asking for A/C lately, as well.

She said installing A/C in a building while it’s under construction typically costs $5,000 to $6,000 per unit, costs that are typically factored into rents, whether people use the cool air or not. Overall, new buildings in Seattle have rents that are about 40 percent more expensive than older ones, according to Dupre + Scott.

You’ll get more than 2,200 results if you search for units in Seattle with air conditioning on apartments.com. Some leasing pros go further: On craigslist, several apartment ads put “A/C included” right in the headline. And outside the new Cascade Apartments in South Lake Union, a big banner sign reads only: “Now leasing: Studio, 1 & 2-bedroom apartments with A/C.”

“There have been individuals that we heard that moved into Cascade because it had A/C,” said Bradley Karvasek, senior vice president of development at Equity Residential, which owns the building.

He agreed the A/C perk is going to become the new normal: With “global warming, we’re getting hotter and hotter days in Seattle. More frequently the temperatures are rising above 90 degrees here.”

The increase in air-conditioned apartments might be more noticeable here, but it matches a similar, nationwide trend: About 82 percent of U.S. rentals built this decade had central air, up from a previous average of 56 percent. The typical U.S. apartment is nearly eight times more likely to have central air than one in Seattle.

The planet had its hottest year on record last year, topping 2015, which topped 2014, continuing a warming trend that’s been going on for more than a decade.

Seattle obviously hasn’t heated up to the same extreme as other places, but it’s been warmer than we’re used to. Last summer was 2 degrees hotter than average here, while 2015 was the hottest summer on record in Seattle, beating out the old highs set in 2014 and 2013. (The increasing use of air conditioners can contribute tothe effects of climate change, too.)

And while this year has been chilly so far, we’re set for our first heat wave this week — the forecast says it could hit 80 degrees on Tuesday.

“For Seattle, if it gets over 80 degrees, we all think we’re in the desert,” Murphy joked. “But it is — it’s getting warmer.”

Of course, people in most older buildings that aren’t wired for full central air conditioning can still get cool by plopping a unit in the window or getting some other kind of smaller A/C unit — and the majority of renters in Seattle who have A/C go that route.

About 14 percent of apartments in the Seattle region had air conditioners that only cool one room each in 2015, up from 11 percent in 2013. That trend spans apartments of all ages, suggesting that renters are actively seeking out and installing more air conditioning or landlords are retrofitting them with smaller A/C units.

Overall, when including all types of A/C, 21 percent of apartments in the region had air conditioning as of 2015, making us the least air-conditioned place in the country for renters, among major metro areas.

By comparison, 86 percent of U.S. apartments have some kind of air conditioning. It’s 55 percent in the Portland region and 27 percent in the San Francisco area.

What about owner-occupied houses? It’s a similar trend, but A/C is more common in houses than apartments.

About 72 percent of local homes built this decade have central air, up from a historical average of 21 percent. Across the country, 92 percent of new homes for sale have A/C, up from 74 percent in older houses.

— Mike Rosenberg: mrosenberg@seattletimes.com

Taking a wider perspective on meat

The word “meat” conjures up an image of beef, or maybe chicken, or perhaps duck if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous. But what about the meat of a fruit, or meat of a topic?

Christie Lagally, a former Boeing engineer, is trying to rally Seattle entrepreneurs to get involved in the food technology industry. (Courtesy of Good Food Institute)
Christie Lagally, a former Boeing engineer, is trying to rally Seattle entrepreneurs to get involved in the food technology industry. (Courtesy of Good Food Institute)

Seattle engineer Christie Lagally thinks the term applies more broadly, and her research with the Good Food Institute is out to prove that a shift away from animal meat will help everyone.

The D.C.-based nonprofit is teaming up with University of Washington’s CoMotion center to host an event Monday about how entrepreneurs can get involved with food technology — and create “meat” alternatives.

Lagally, a former mechanical engineer at Boeing, is now a Good Food senior scientist and is focused on plant-based meats and “clean,” or lab-grown meats. The institute helps launch companies that focus on new food technologies.

In San Francisco, Good Food helped fund Memphis Meats, which is growing meat in labs from the cellular level — animal meat, no slaughter required. The startup is developing the “world’s first chicken produced without the animal.”

Realistic plant-based substitutes for meat are catching on as well. The internet sensation Impossible Burger is designed to smell and taste like meat. It even “bleeds” like a beef burger.

Lagally, who is based in Seattle, points to San Francisco, New York, other places around the world where “sustainable food technology” is really taking off. But in Seattle, it hasn’t yet gotten big. She thinks the time is ripe.

Washington state already has a huge talent pool of agricultural scientists and resources, as well as a booming community of entrepreneurs.

“Washington state is actually a really prime location for food innovation, even more so than perhaps the rest of the country,” Lagally said. “ … Here in Washington state, we are growing the proteins — the soybeans, the wheat, the chickpeas, the lentils, the white beans — all of the protein sources we need in order to make plant-based meat.”

Lagally points to sustainability issues that come along with farming animals for meat, as well as the feed that animals eat, which she believes could be instead used to feed humans across the world.

“Not to mention the huge benefit to human health.”

Lagally knows it can be a tough sell. People are attached to what they eat, and that’s why she wants appetizing alternatives in the form of “clean meat” and plant-based meats.

The Good Food Institute and CoMotion will hold a panel discussion at 5:30 p.m. Monday at CoMotion’s headquarters in the University District to discuss the emerging industry and how entrepreneurs can jump in the ring.

— Rachel Lerman: rlerman@seattletimes.com

Fruit puree loses, squeeze is a winner

There’s the adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

The Selah-based growers’ co-op Tree Top combined surplus peach puree with apple sauce and lemon juice to create these Fruit Squeeze tubes that it distributed to Northwest food banks. (Courtesy of 2nd Harvest)
The Selah-based growers’ co-op Tree Top combined surplus peach puree with apple sauce and lemon juice to create these Fruit Squeeze tubes that it distributed to Northwest food banks. (Courtesy of 2nd Harvest)

Tree Top, the food-processing co-op based in Selah, Yakima County, has its own version: When life gives you peaches, make peach-flavored squeeze tubes that help feed the poor.

Tree Top, the nearly 60-year-old growers’ co-op, had a client that wanted peach puree for baby food. But after the peaches were processed, the puree turned out to be too thin for baby food.

“It would not stay on the spoon,” said Tree Top spokeswoman Sharon Miracle.

That’s when Tree Top’s research and development team began thinking about what it could produce with all that thin peach puree, especially with ingredients it had on hand at the time.

It hit upon combining the peach puree with apple sauce and a bit of lemon juice — and putting the result in squeeze tubes.

“We thought it would appeal to children and be easy for parents to hand out,” Miracle said.

It was a no-brainer to donate the Fruit Squeezes, as Tree Top calls them, to local food banks, since the co-op already contributes to the larger food banks in Washington and Oregon.

“We just said: ‘We have this. Do you want it?’” Miracle said. “There was a very enthusiastic reception.”

Tree Top produced about 150,000 Fruit Squeezes, handing them off last month to the 2nd Harvest hunger-relief network.

It distributes some 2 million pounds of food each month to food banks, soup kitchens, schools and meal centers in Eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

2nd Harvest passed along the squeeze tubes to those organizations, and also handed them out to individual families at its mobile markets — where a company or church sponsors 2nd Harvest to set up a farmers market of sorts so those in need can get food for free.

It’s a boon to 2nd Harvest to have fruit in a form that’s shelf stable, said Sarah MacPherson, food-sourcing manager for the organization.

“We love getting [fruit] in their pure form,” she said. “But we do run up against the clock.”

With the squeeze tubes, there’s more time to reach needy families, MacPherson said.

Tree Top won’t know if it’ll produce more Fruit Squeezes this year until the co-op finds out how much fruit is left over in August, after the harvest.

It also needs to figure out how to make the packaging more economical to produce. Each package, by regulation, needs to say what specific ingredients are in it, but the co-op’s fruit inventory may be different each time, necessitating costly changes to the packaging.

Still, the company’s intention is to make more Fruit Squeezes to find “homes for homeless fruit,” Miracle said.

Janet I. Tu: jtu@seattletimes.com