When is Hot Too Hot?

climate change health place Aug 02, 2023

Planet Earth is getting warmer, but not every place is impacted equally. Some places, especially hot spots, are verging on becoming unbearably hot. In the U.S., the South and Southeast have been hit particularly hard this summer. Phoenix just set a record with 31 days of 110 degrees or hotter. On the 32nd day, it "cooled" to 108.


Even the famed saguaro cactus are having a hard time managing the heat in Phoenix (Source: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)


Is Your Place Overheating?

Phoenix may be capturing the headlines but plenty of other places are hot and getting hotter. In addition to Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tucson, Fresno, Austin, Sacramento, Dallas, and Riverside all average at least 20 days per year of at least 100 degrees with San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Salt Lake City not far behind. Last month, there were over 100 million people in the U.S. under excessive heat warnings and heat advisories.

Ironically, some of the hottest states – Arizona, Texas, and Florida – are where most people are moving. These states generally have job markets that grew faster than average during the pandemic and have more affordable and available housing than in parts of the country that lost residents. Lower taxes are also a driver. However, those moving may also be facing higher temperatures, uncomfortably so.

Excessive heat comes with risks. Heat stroke is among the most serious heat-related illness and occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature. It can be fatal if not treated promptly. At high temperatures, you can even burn your feet on hot pavement to the point of getting third degree burns. Financial risks exist, too, such as increasing utility and property insurance expenses. Since 2015, the average homeowner has seen their property coverage grow by more than 20%.


Air-conditioning is a necessity in more and more dwellings across the world (Photo by Thomas Layland on Unsplash)


Do You Have a Plan for the Heat?

Place is a composite of your physical dwelling (i.e., your four walls) and your block, neighborhood, metropolitan area, state & region of the country, country, and region of the world. As you create a plan for the heat, it is important to be mindful about what you control (your physical dwelling) and what you don’t.  

For your physical dwelling, investment in reliable and energy efficient air conditioning is an important first step. Adopting passive building design principles, such as continuous insulation, an airtight building envelope and high performance windows (double or triple paned) and doors, can minimize the impact of the heat. Tree cover can reduce the temperature in and around your home.

Some cities are getting more proactive about combating the heat. Several cities, including Phoenix, have created a chief heat officer to employ strategies to better cope with excessive heat. A coalition of U.S. cities have created the Smart Surfaces Coalition to encourage the adoption of reflective, porous, and green services, along with trees and solar photovoltaic panels on roofs and parking lots. Baltimore, led by a Johns Hopkins University team, along with several other cities have received substantial federal funding to better determine which interventions work best for communities to cope with heat. Paris has been particularly aggressive in its move to combat climate change with a variety of strategies to reduce sidewalk temperatures by up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit (see “Is the Future Paris?”).


Green roofs can be part of the solution for cities (Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash)


When is Hot Too Hot?

At what point does a place become too hot for you? It’s a personal question likely influenced by your risk profile and preferences. If you or a loved one are particularly at risk for heat strokes, being regularly exposed to 100+ degree weather is probably not a good idea.

Keep in mind some of the indirect factors related to heat. Excessive heat can limit your physical activity or make physical activity more dangerous (note: hot weather requires the heart to work harder, putting those with heart disease at greater risk). It can also lead to loneliness as people stay in their air-conditioned homes, not socializing outside in parks or front porches. Hot weather can also make places more violent.

Note, with climate change, places bearable today can become too hot tomorrow. Best to have a plan in case things do change for the worse. Moving at any age can be an ordeal but it gets harder as we age.

Many of us prefer warm over cold. But, for an increasing number of us, our desire for warmth may not translate into an affinity for regular heat. Excessive heat may be the trigger for you to look for a new place to call home.


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