Summer has been off to a scorching-hot start in certain parts of Canada since officially arriving last week.
The summer equinox, which was marked on June 21, came with a two-day extreme heat event in southern Ontario that took place mid-week, and a sizzling weekend in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland that continued into Monday.
Canada’s summers are becoming warmer than usual due to climate change, and while it poses a threat to everyone’s health, it also comes with a financial risk, said Nick Rajkovich, associate professor of architecture at the University of Buffalo.
“We’re using more electricity in the summertime,” he told Global News.
“We’re running more air conditioning equipment and things like that. Those costs add up pretty quickly.”
Environmental experts for years have called for Canadian infrastructure to be built to withstand the effects of climate change, and have recently cautioned against thinking that air conditioning can be a predominant solution to staying cool.
Many Canadians may not be able to afford home renovations to become less reliant on air conditioning, let alone the system itself in certain circumstances, but there are other ways to use less air conditioning during Canada’s warmer-than-usual summers, experts say.
“We don’t really want to be just reliant on ‘active cooling,’” said Joanna Eyquem, managing director of climate-resilient infrastructure with the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, who described active cooling as cooling measures reliant on energy consumption.
“If the power goes out and we’re completely reliant on electricity, then none of our systems are going to work so we’re trying to encourage both passive and active cooling measures to be thought about in equal measure, and particularly it also brings co-benefits such as savings on our energy bill, too.”
What is passive cooling?
Passive cooling refers to cooling measures that don’t require power, Eyquem explained.
While some of these measures include renovations to existing infrastructure, such as enhancing insulation and airtightness, they also include actions everyday Canadians can take, like behaviour changes, she said.
“So things that we can do is making sure that we’re ventilating our buildings properly at night. If it’s cooler outside, then we’re letting the cooler air in to remove the hot air from the day if it is cooler overnight,” she said.
“Minimizing waste indoor heat production as well by making sure that you’re switching off things you’re not using; maybe not using the stove as much so that you’re not heating your environment because human activity heats our indoor environment.”
Another way to keep cool is to close the drapes or blinds when the sun is shining in a room, Rajkovich said.
“Another great strategy is just to kind of dress appropriately. There’s a huge difference between wearing a T-shirt and shorts than heavier clothes in the house,” he said.
“Getting yourself in front of the fan to get a little bit of air movement or going into the basement or going into a garage may be a bit cooler to do your work.”
If Canadians are going to use active cooling methods like air conditioning, it’s essential those devices are properly maintained to ensure they’re as energy efficient as possible, Eyquem said.
While Canadians can use passive cooling measures to reduce air conditioning consumption, or in conjunction with in, it’s important for them to make sure vulnerable members in their social circles know of them as well, Eyquem added.
“Extreme heat often affects those who are already vulnerable, which is more dangerous for them,” she said.
“If people are living alone or who are elderly, we might not realize they’re in trouble so making sure that we’re helping those people as well as ourselves (is important).”
Climate-resilient renovation considerations
For those seeking to make their living space more climate-resilient, there are renovation options out there that can keep your home cool, experts say.
One of the first things Canadians should look at getting done is an energy audit to see where their biggest sources of energy loss are coming from, Rajkovich said.
Shading a home’s windows can be a useful installation, too, he added.
“It wasn’t too long ago that we used to have shading on a lot of houses. You would see awnings on traditional homes,” Rajkovich said.
“That can actually make a huge difference in the summertime in terms of the overheating of those spaces.”
Eyquem, who was the lead author on the Irreversible Extreme Heat report penned earlier this year, said enhancing insulation in a home can help keep hot air out in summer as it controls the transfer of heat within the space.
Sealing potential weak points for air leakage around windows and doors can help as well. Installing roofing that reflects the sun rather than absorbing it, such as white and green roofs, is an option, too, she added.
Climate change renovation incentives needed
Government incentives to help Canadians undertake the work on their homes will make it more appealing, Eyquem said. Right now, Ottawa runs the EnerGuide program for Canadians seeking to make their home more energy-efficient. It also oversees the Canada Greener Homes Grant, which offers up to $5,000 for completed retrofits.
During last summer’s federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised if his Liberal government was re-elected, it would create a “Climate Adaptation Home Rating Program” to serve as a companion to its EnerGuide home energy audits.
“We would like to see that rolled out because that would obviously help people to put some of these actions in place in the home and would make sense to do alongside the energy efficiency measures because there’s a lot of interplay between those two things,” Eyquem said.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to Global News’ questions on the status of that program by publication time.
While much work can be done on a home, it’s important to keep on top of what’s around it as well, Eyquem added.
“How we vegetate our gardens and maintain mature trees (can play a role in cooling a home),” she said.
“People might be scared of windstorms with trees falling on their home, but we need to also take into account the benefits that mature trees can have on shading our buildings.”