Don’t have AC? How to stay cool in the looming heat wave

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Millions of Canadians face intense heat wave
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With many parts of Canada entering a “prolonged heat event” on Monday, many will be asking whether it’s time to invest in an air conditioning unit.

But experts say even for those without AC, there are steps that can help them stay cool.

A large swath of Ontario and parts of Quebec are under a heat warning as “dangerously hot and humid” weather conditions are expected for most of the week, Environment Canada said.

Caroline Metz, managing director of climate resilience and health at the Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, said heat can have adverse effects on people’s health.

“It’s silent. It doesn’t come with a lot of drama. It doesn’t break things or damage things the way other natural weather events do, like floods or hurricanes. But heat is responsible for more illnesses and deaths than most other extreme weather events combined,” she said.

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And the risk doesn’t only come from being outdoors.

Metz said of the 617 deaths caused by the 2021 B.C. heat dome, 97 per cent occurred indoors. She said 98 per cent of the fatalities were of seniors, half of whom lived alone.

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While there are mechanical means of cooling, such as using air conditioning, there are passive cooling measures too.

“(These are) things like learning to use natural ventilation at night — opening windows, allowing a cross breeze to flow through from a lower level,” she said.

Metz said using interior heat-resistant blinds, curtains or anything to block solar radiation from coming in through windows can also help.

“Adding trees and plants and green space to a property can make a difference. Even if you have a balcony and you’re a tenant, adding plants and any kind of vegetation on a balcony can really make a difference,” Metz said.

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Health Canada recommends that you don’t cook any meals that require turning on an oven if you need to try to keep your residence from heating up. In addition to closing awnings, curtains and blinds during the day, the health agency recommends opening windows at night to let cooler air into your home.

Officials also recommend wearing loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing made from breathable, natural fabrics, such as cotton.

The Canadian Red Cross recommends identifying places before a heat wave starts where you can go to cool down if needed during the event as well.

Can Canadian homes adapt to high heat?

Ryan Ness, adaptation research director at the Canadian Climate Institute, said the way homes are built in Canada also needs to reflect changing climates.

“Reduction of our reliance on fossil fuels is going to not just mean electrifying how we heat and cool our homes, not just switching the heat pumps, but also making our homes more efficient by insulating them better, and making sure that they can cool themselves more passively without needing energy pumped in or mechanical equipment,” Ness said.

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Metz said in the long run, the colour of your roof and walls can make a difference too.

“It’s feasible to paint roofs white. Having a light-coloured roof reflects solar radiation,” she said.

“(Install) windows that are higher up that allow hot air to escape.”

Metz said people should not only be taking steps before the heat event, but also during it.

“People should pay attention to heat warnings on radio, TV, social media. They should sign up for weather alerts. That’s really important. And then be prepared to check on family and friends and relatives, especially those who are living alone,” she said.

And of course, remember to drink lots of water, “even if you don’t feel thirsty,” the Canadian Red Cross says, as well as avoiding being outside during the hottest parts of the day.

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