Working up a sweat to keep customers cool

Erin Wood

Robert Palacios has a hot job.

Not "hot" in the sense that it's popular. "Hot" in the sense that it's, well, hot.

An air-conditioning installation and repairman, Palacios spends his days sweating to make sure strangers keep cool. Sporting a farmer's tan and drinking about eight bottles of water every shift, Palacios sizzles in backyards and on rooftops.

"It's not too bad today," he said optimistically while installing a new air conditioner on the roof of Cornerstone Apartments on Wednesday afternoon. "You just have to stay hydrated. That's the important thing."

With a high of 82 degrees, Palacios didn't mind spending his shift in the sun. But as temperatures increase, so does business for Covenant Heating and Air Conditioning, as well as the length of Palacios' workday.

Temperatures are expected to soar above 90 degrees the next couple of days. Those who can't make do with fans might finally turn on their air conditioners only to find they don't work. Those are the days Palacios and his partner Tim Walters will work five or six hours of overtime.

Though they sweat constantly and drive a van that ironically doesn't have air conditioning, the two don't complain.

"I love my job," Walters said. "It's challenging, and there's something different every day."

Palacios is afraid of heights, so climbing the ladder from the attic to the slanted apartment rooftop and seeing the ground three stories below was a bit daunting at first. But facing his phobia and the sizzling summer heat are worth pleasing clients, Palacios said.

"When you see the look on their faces when you get their air conditioners fixed, it's the same feeling a chef must get when he sends out a good meal," he said.

Though Palacios and Walters get paid to spend their days in heat, the summer sun should be avoided when temperatures climb into the 90s.

"Stay in the air conditioning, drink lots of fluids and don't exert yourself," said meteorologist Brad Churchill of the National Weather Service in Lincoln.

A string of thunderstorms over the past few days has kept central Illinois cooler than normal for this time of summer. But as the rainy weather leaves the area, extreme heat will take its place, Churchill said.

There's no rain in the forecast, but the National Weather Service predicts heat indices to exceed 100 degrees.

"We're finally going to see it heat up to summer levels," Churchill said.

Erin Wood can be reached at (309) 686-3194 or