Friday, 17 July 2015 09:58

Four Examples of Designs that Reduce the Site-Specific Health Risks of Climate Change. Example 2: Extreme Heat.

Girls playing in splash park - Credit: Nevit Dilmen


Extreme Heat

Health Impact

The number and intensity of heat waves is increasing in the U.S., resulting in spikes in mortality from heat-related conditions such as heat stroke. Heat waves can also increase the death rate among people with cardiovascular, respiratory, or cerebrovascular disease. (Source: 3rd National Climate Assessment.)


According to the MN Department of Health, in 2001, in spite of an average summer temperature of only 63.8o F, 19 people died in Minnesota of heat-related illness (mostly in the months of July and August). Since that time, as a member of the U.S. CDC’s Climate-Ready States and Cities Initiative grant program, the state has worked on improving prevention and emergency response activities related to extreme heat. 

Design Strategy

An HIA facilitated by Biositu, LLC compared the relative vulnerability to heat among three affordable housing designs located in adjacent neighborhoods along the new Central Corridor light rail line between Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

In spite of the projects’ close proximity to each other and similar scope, the recommendations resulting from the HIA varied widely.

    • Recommendations for a mixed-income, mixed-use development in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood: Include a pocket park as part of the development design to mitigate the urban heat island effect. Provide water fountains, misting stations, and interactive water features for children. Install ceiling fans and operable windows with screens to encourage natural ventilation while protecting residents from mosquitoes and other pests. Install an on-site renewable energy installation to provide an uninterruptable power supply in certain common areas in case a heat wave results in a prolonged power outage.

    • Recommendations for a single-family house retrofit in the Frogtown neighborhood: Install landscaping that prioritizes shading the house, deterring mosquitoes, and cultivating edible plants. Focus energy efficiency measures on the roof and attic to reduce solar heat gain during summer months. (Example strategies: light colored or vegetative roof, increased attic insulation, etc.) Install combination storm shutters/screens on doors and windows to encourage use of natural ventilation. Vent the basement to protect for radon contamination and fit it out for use as an in-house cooling center during extreme heat events.

    • Recommendations for a mixed-use, affordable housing development in the Summit-University neighborhood: Install ceiling fans and operable windows with screens to encourage natural ventilation while protecting residents from mosquitoes and other pests. Fit out common areas with air conditioning and designate them as public cooling centers during heat events.

Relevant LEED v4 Credit(s)

Site assessment
Site development - protect or restore habitat
Open space
Heat island reduction
Optimize energy performance
Renewable energy production

Benefits to Climate Change Mitigation

Shading and energy efficiency measures reduce a building’s electricity use, one of the major causes of anthropogenic (i.e., human caused) greenhouse gas emissions.

Benefits to Climate Change Adaptation

Reduce exposure of vulnerable populations (i.e., children and minorities) to extreme heat events. Mitigate exposure through misting stations, water fountains, and cooling centers.

Go Back to Air Pollution Example.  Continue to Drought/Flood Example.
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Photo Credit: Nevit Dilmen
Copyright: © Biositu, LLC, and Building Public Health, 2015.

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