Shipments of air conditioners and air source heat pumps topped a record 7 million in 2004 and increased for the third consecutive year, according to the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI). The number rose 8% to 7,401,067 from 6,801,262 units in 2003.

In addition, central air conditioners and air source heat pumps shipments last June reached 1,081,147, a single month record and up 14% from June 2003. As a historical comparison, only 1.6 million units were shipped during the entire 12 months of 1982. Annual shipments have exceeded 5 million units every year since 1995, and more than 85 million central air conditioners and heat pumps were produced for use in the United States during the last 20 years.

ARI also reported that new home sales continue at a healthy rate due to low mortgage rates. Mortgage rates are expected to rise only moderately in 2005. Thirty-year fixed rate mortgages were averaging slightly less than 6% throughout 2004. A vibrant economy, a repeat of last year's early hot spring weather, and the transition to the 13 SEER minimum efficiency level by January 23, 2006, could propel the industry to another record year.

After two sluggish years, unitary large equipment improved in 2004, with shipments up by more than 4% over 2003 levels. Shipments of water source heat pumps were up 9%. Package terminal air-conditioner shipments rose 10%, as well as package terminal heat pumps, which were up 12%. There was an 11% increase in heating and cooling coil shipments and a 6% gain in central station air handlers.