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Exploring how rising temperatures impact our health

As Canadians feel the heat, TMU prof is finding ways to keep people cool
By: Jess Leach
September 19, 2023
People walking on a sidewalk at sunset

Exposure to extreme heat is increasingly an issue in Canada. Professor Umberto Berardi is researching ways Canada can catch up to other countries that consider heat mitigation in their infrastructure.

July was the hottest month on record. September has recorded temperatures in the 30s. It’s no secret that the world is getting hotter. For Umberto Berardi, professor and Canada Research Chair in Building Science for TMU’s Department of Architectural Science, this rise in temperature has signaled a warning - heat impacts our health. 

Exposure to extreme heat causes increased visits to emergency rooms, more strain on emergency services and higher mortality rates. 

Berardi has been researching these impacts, and possible solutions, with partners from the University of Waterloo. In two recently published papers,  (PDF file) one from The Greenbelt Foundation (external link)  and the other from Science Direct (external link) , research indicates that increasing urban greenery cover reduces overall temperatures. Something as simple as planting more trees in order to increase canopy cover can not only decrease health risks due to hot temperatures, the research also shows that it reduces energy consumption, resulting in cooler homes and lower hydro bills. 

Heat mitigation in building design

Beyond the canopy cover of trees, Berardi has been exploring other ways Canada can catch up with other cities when it comes to heat mitigation, specifically in building design. 

“Cities like Sydney or San Francisco have more awareness when it comes to health consequences and heat mitigation,” said Berardi. “We don’t have that history in Canada, our cities are seen as cold climates.”

For example, buildings in San Francisco use “The Santorini Effect”, where roofs are painted with a white coating to deflect heat and keep buildings cool. 

Berardi says that in years to come, multi-season cities like Toronto can modify buildings to pull in heat when needed in the winter and deflect heat in the summer. He is working on a long-term research agenda that explores how technology can be used to create thermochromic solar coating. 

“Think of it as transition lenses for buildings,” Berardi said. “Everyone knows what that is, but the technology isn’t being used for windows or buildings.”

Berardi, who was recently named as a Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s (RSC) College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, hopes to find a solution for buildings where energy is reflected away when it becomes too strong or too hot and is harnessed when it is needed, say in the colder winter months. 

The ultimate goal with Berardi’s research is to provide policy makers with information so that they can build infrastructure that keeps people healthy while the world adjusts to the impacts of climate change. 


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