By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Excessive heat over longer periods of the year has rapidly become the norm for summer weather in the United States. Extreme heat is a leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States.
Last year was the third hottest year on record in the United States. It was also the costliest, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In fact, 2017 was the 21st consecutive year that the annual average temperature exceeded the average for the latter years of the 20th century.
Although this spring has been unseasonably cool, especially along the East Coast and in the Midwest, summer heat is rapidly approaching. So it’s not too early to think about precautions to take to maintain a cool home and avoid becoming ill when outdoor temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Heat-Related Illnesses Target Certain Demographics
It’s important to remember that not everyone is equally at risk for heat-related illnesses.
“Children, people 65 years and older, people who are sick, and people without access to air conditioning are at greater risk of heat-related illnesses,” warns the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF).
“Patients with mental illnesses such as depression or schizophrenia are at risk during hot weather because their medications may interfere with temperature regulation. Suicide rates also increase with high temperatures,” NEEF adds.
Alleviating the Temperatures of ‘Heat Islands’ in Urban Areas
Many urban dwellers live in built-up areas called “heat islands,” which often get hotter than rural areas. The NEEF says communities can reduce urban heat islands by adopting five basic strategies:
- Increase tree and vegetative cover
- Install green roofs or
- Install cool, mainly reflective roofs
- Use cool pavements, either reflective or permeable
- Utilize smart growth practices
Individual homeowners and tenants can help reduce very high temperatures and heat island effects while also improving the community’s resilience to heat waves.
Increase Shade Around Your Home
Planting trees and other vegetation lowers surface and air temperatures by providing shade and cool environments. Trees and vegetation that directly shade your home can decrease the need for air conditioning, making your home more comfortable and reducing your energy bill. Trees also improve air quality and reduce your exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays.
Install a Green Roof
A green roof or rooftop garden is a layer of vegetation grown on a rooftop. Green roofs absorb heat, act as insulators for buildings and improve indoor comfort. They also reduce the energy needed to provide cooling.
Install a Reflective Roof
A cool (or reflective) roof reflects sunlight and heat away from your home and lowers roof temperatures. Your home will stay cooler and the amount of air conditioning needed will be reduced.
According to one study, cool roofs can provide an annual energy savings of almost 50 cents per square foot of roof. Such energy savings can mean better air quality in the community and fewer greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.
Use Energy-efficient Appliances and Equipment
Using energy-efficient appliances and equipment lightens the load on the electric grid during heat waves, ensuring a more reliable supply of electricity to the community. Look for EPA’s Energy Star label for the most energy-efficient purchasing decisions. Replacing old appliances and equipment with Energy Star-certified products also helps save money.
Check on Your Friends, Family and Neighbors
Check on your friends, family and neighbors during excessively hot days. Make sure they have access to air conditioning or cooling centers, which will help them to avoid heat-related illnesses and death.
Understanding how a changing climate affects health is important for minimizing illness and death during excessive heat spells. It’s important to learn about the relationship between climate change and extreme weather.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has produced the free Excessive Heat Events Guidebook. This guidebook was created with assistance from NOAA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).