Hot enough for you? Unfortunately, Austin’s built environment creates a Heat Island Effect that makes summer temperatures in the city even worse and drives up energy use.
The Heat Island Effect raises air temperatures in a big city anywhere from 2-22 degrees F, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, urban heat islands prevent natural cooling-off at night. That poses serious problems for people’s health, our environment, and energy and water consumption.
Why do temperatures get hotter in the city than in rural areas? The built environment (roadways, buildings, sidewalks, parking lots, etc.) absorbs and retains far more heat than the natural environment. Not only does the whole urban core gets hotter, but specific hot spots – like that expanse of blacktop parking lot – can become intolerable. Suburban places can have heat island hot spots too.
Heat Islands discourage walking too (think of the difference between a July stroll along a shady Hill Country river vs. walking across the sun-baked expanse of a mall parking lot). As Austin gets bigger and more built-up, the Heat Island Effect intensifies. Fortunately, cooling design strategies for our homes, buildings, paving and landscaping can help.
The City’s “Cool Spaces” website is a great resource on how to build or improve a home (or other property) in ways that fight the Heat Island Effect. It features six strategies, each with its own resource page: Shade, trees, cool roofs, green roofs, green walls, and cool pavement. Try them for a pleasant cooling effect on your property -- and help Austin at the same time.