Urban heat: surviving summer in the city

The urban heat effect increases temperatures in the suburbs and makes it harder to keep cool during the long hot summer.

The urban heat effect increases temperatures in the suburbs and makes it harder to keep cool during the long hot summer.

The first weekend of summer has given as a small taste of hot days to come in the months ahead.

Heat is something we have all grown accustomed to in Western Sydney, so it’s easy to forget that heat is Australia’s number one natural killer – responsible for more deaths than fire, floods or cyclones.

Western Sydney is already naturally hot place, but it is getting much hotter due to what scientists call the urban heat island effect. Urban heat refers to the tendency of cities to be much warmer than surrounding rural areas.

This happens because city surfaces such as roads, roofs and footpaths absorb and hold heat – keeping our homes hot well into the night. Human activities such as traffic, industry and electricity usage pump even more heat into scorching days and uncomfortable nights. So what can we do about it?

While no one can solve urban heat alone, anyone can help create cooler communities – and it all starts at home.

Increasing the amount of greenery in your yard is one of the easiest ways to cool the air around your home naturally. This includes grass, shrubs and shady trees. 

When renovating, choose lighter colours for the outside of your home as they reflect more heat. This includes paint, roofing, pavers, decking and driveways.

Insulating your roof is another important step to prevent heat transfer into your home. Especially if your roof is a darker colour and is not shaded by tree cover.

Windows should also be a key focus. Install curtains or blinds to block out heat on hot days. If renovating opt for thicker glass. Double glazed windows are the best option for stopping heat. Even with these measures, it will still get hot.

Here are some others ways to help you and your family stay safe on hot days.

  • Close your blinds and curtains to keep the heat out.
  • If using an air conditioner, close off any rooms you aren’t using.
  • Check window and door seals are in good condition.
  • Use fans to help circulate cool air.
  • Always keep a bottle of water with you.
  • Check on elderly relatives and neighbours.
  • Leave out plenty of water for pets or native animals.
  • Try to reduce activity during the hottest part of the day.

Stephen Bali, president

Western Sydney Regional Organisation

of Councils (WSROC)