Dealing with dangerous heat indoors

Electric fan cooling an elderly woman sitting on the sofa in the living room

June 20, 2024 – As climate change–driven extreme heat events become more common, steps should be taken to deal with buildings that “can turn into ovens,” according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health experts.

In a June 19 Ideas piece in the Boston Globe, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, and Kari Nadeau, John Rock Professor of Climate and Population Studies and chair of the Department of Environmental Health, called for more but better air conditioning along with energy-efficient cooling mechanisms and strategies for buildings to curb dangerous indoor heat.

Heat can be deadly, Allen and Nadeau wrote, citing recent School research showing that extreme heat causes one out of every 500 stroke deaths. They also noted that heat can lead to a range of other health issues, including heart and cognitive problems. Cooling centers are helpful but research has shown that older people may not recognize the threat, and traveling to cooling centers may be a challenge for some.

To minimize the threat of indoor heat, Allen and Nadeau offered several suggestions, including establishing a maximum summer indoor temperature policy, as New York City plans to do; expanding home energy assistance programs to include cooling support; improving air conditioners’ energy efficiency and lowering their cost; promoting “passive house” designs that require less cooling and heating; and taking simple measures like painting building roofs white and planting trees near buildings to create shade.

Read the Boston Globe Ideas article: Heat waves like this one demand a rethinking of air conditioning

Photo: iStock/Miguel Angel Flores