The five hottest U.S. cities in the summer are Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tucson and San Antonio, each often reaching into the triple digits. “Extreme heat events can be dangerous to health – even fatal. These events result in increased hospital admissions for heat-related illness, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders,” according to the CDC.
Given the popularity of entertaining, exercising and relaxing outdoors from coast to coast, as well as the challenges of keeping one’s home comfortably cool, it’s worth considering strategies for controlling your property’s climate to a greater degree than possible in the past. This is particularly true if you have an elderly, infant or four-legged member of your household.
“The elderly and very young are most vulnerable to heat,” says Gregory Charlop, MD, an Atlanta-based sports medicine physician and co-founder of the Women’s Sports Forum. “More than 90% of heat-related deaths occur in folks over age 75, according to an Italian study,” he adds. “The best advice is for the elderly to remain indoors during the day’s heat, close the shades, and drink plenty of water. Seniors should contact their doctor at the first sign of dizziness, fast heart rate, or muscle cramps.” Having a beverage refrigerator available in your older family member’s bedroom suite can make it easier for him or her to stay safe and hydrated.
“It’s easy to underestimate how hot it can be indoors, particularly by a sunny window or while working out,” Charlop notes. A workout area also benefits from having a hydration source handy. That can be a shelf within reach of exercise equipment to hold a water bottle or another beverage dispenser. A fitness area should also be climate-controlled. “Without adequate air conditioning, you can overheat during indoor cycling [or] weightlifting.” (This is particularly true for garage spaces, which don’t have built-in air conditioning units.)
Heat Protection Indoors
“The next time you are switching out blinds, look at smart options. Many of them can be set to close at certain times of day when direct sun is hitting those windows; that can sure make a difference in keeping your home cool,” suggests Eric Goranson, host of the syndicated home improvement radio program and podcast Around the House.
Humidity is another factor that can make your home feel uncomfortably hot. A Cold War era joke among New Yorkers was: It’s not the radiation that’ll kill you. It’s the radiation and the humidity! “If you have green grass growing outside, there is a solid chance you would need a dehumidifier at least part of the year,” Goranson warns. “In Gulf states you can double the life of your air conditioning system by controlling humidity.”
Controlling humidity is now being taken seriously for heat management. “Your body feels humidity the same way it feels temperature,” Goranson comments, “so installing whole house dehumidifiers and using multiple places to measure it in your home helps beat the heat. The added benefit is also better indoor air quality and less mold.”
Nighttime Heat Management
Heat issues don’t end when the sun sets. Hot nights can make sleep more difficult as well. “The research is clear; you’re better off sleeping in a cool, dark room,” Charlop says. “If you can tolerate it, you’ll get your deepest sleep if you turn the thermostat down to the high 60s. Women may prefer slightly warmer temperatures than men. Most children do fine with temperatures between 68-72 degrees.” An easy way to manage internal thermostat differences between those sharing a bed is to layer your bedding. One person can have a sheet and blanket. The other can peel back the blanket if it feels too warm. This requires no remodeling.
“The key here is not treating every bedroom the same,” suggests Los Angeles-based residential and commercial architect Dean Larkin, AIA. Different rooms are likely to have different solar orientations and upstairs bedrooms are always warmer, he notes. “Tying these to other rooms results in over-heated occupants.” The design and building profession is moving away from traditional split HVAC systems, he shares, toward a zoned approach. “This results in more comfortable rooms.”
If you’re not building or planning a major remodel, increasingly popular smart thermostats can help automate cooler temperatures for the hours you’re likeliest to be asleep (or working outside the home). “They add comfort with a smarter way to watch those temps,” observes Goranson.
Ceiling fans can be very helpful too, especially for infants. “Babies benefit from a fan or open window to increase airflow and reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS),” Charlop notes. In many areas of the country where nights remain hot or the air is tinged by smoke from distant wildfires, the ceiling fan is going to be the better option than opening a window.
Smart home technology is upgrading HVAC systems as well, Goranson says, with the ability to gather temperatures from TVs and appliances in individual rooms. “That will give more data points to measure a comfortable home without adding thermostats around the house,” he explains. “Companies have also developed smart HVAC systems that self-adjust with variable speed fans and compressors.” The smart capability of home products communicating between companies and product categories is enabled by the Home Connectivity Alliance, Goranson explains. The 10-month old membership organization includes appliance, electronic and HVAC manufacturers.
Long hours of daylight mean more time spent in outdoor living spaces. Many Americans enjoy entertaining friends and family and exercising al fresco. Both carry heat risks. “We constantly underestimate our sun exposure,” Charlop cautions. “In the summer, even grey days can expose you to a high UV index and risk of injury. Be careful if you spend long periods outdoors near reflective surfaces like bright concrete and water.” That sounds like the majority of pool decks and patios!
Help is at hand – or perhaps at foot. “You are now seeing composite decking materials that reflect heat and create a cool surface,” Goranson says. “That alone can create a much cooler space than other composite decks or block or concrete patios.” The heat difference can be up to 35%, he adds.
Swimming pools are prized for their fitness and cooling potential, but they can get uncomfortably warm in the summer months. “They now make heat pumps that heat and cool the pool,” Goranson shares. And they provide a superior solution to dumping blocks of ice in your pool, he muses.
Other solutions are overhead. “I love the motorized louver systems available that allow you to customize their orientation depending on light/heat/rain needs,” declares Larkin. “When open they work like horizontal venetian blinds that allow you to angle the sun’s rays toward you on cool day, shade you on hotter days, and when closed they keep the rain off your valuable outdoor furniture keeping it dry for when the rains are over.”
Heat is hard on our pets too, especially many dog breeds. It’s not uncommon to see these pets left outside during the day, when a homeowner is at work. While having a fenced area to play in has advantages, outdoor areas can get uncomfortably hot for them. Larkin suggests an elevated dog bed, so the animal is more protected from heat coming off of the ground or decking surface.
Having a sheltered spot out of the sun, whether a doghouse or an elevated bed under an awning or other overhead protection, with access to fresh water bowls, can help keep your pet safer in the hot months. “Don’t underestimate the awning,” Larkin states. “This ‘old school’ solution can work wonders on existing homes!” Goranson recommends automatic pet doors that open and close when a pet approaches.
Many of the solutions recommended above also add energy efficiency to your home, helping you keep your cool when your energy bill arrives!
Contributors Charlop, Goranson and Larkin will be sharing their ‘beat the heat’ insights in an hour-long Clubhouse conversation tomorrow afternoon at 4 pm Eastern/1 pm Pacific. You can join this WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS discussion here. If you’re unable to attend, you can catch the recording via Clubhouse Replays or the Gold Notes design blog here next Wednesday.
You can download a free “Beat the Heat” tip sheet here.