Brenda Perez thought the recent heat wave in British Columbia would be nothing compared to the summers in her native Mexico.
However, as her high-rise condo – framed by floor-to-ceiling windows – baked at temperatures above 40C, the 25-year-old’s health began to suffer, as did her pets.
“I actually threw up. I woke up and I really felt like I was going to pass out, ”said the Coquitlam resident.
Perez said her priority was her dog, Lola, and they took almost 12 showers a day just to keep cool, before she finally found an air-conditioned dog sitter. But her two pet fish and her frog died from the heat.
“It changed my way of seeing the world,” she said. “It was just a nightmare for me.”
As southern British Columbia baked in record-breaking and deadly temperatures for several days in late June, residents like Perez have worried about their living conditions – and whether these unprecedented events will become more common with climate change.
And while residents have rushed to find air conditioning, experts suggest the scorching temperatures present an opportunity for homeowners and developers to reconsider how best to keep homes cool.
BC’s lack of air conditioning and cooling
Many buildings in British Columbia lack cooling due to the province’s milder climate expectations, says Akua Schatz, vice president of the Canada Green Building Council, which focuses on sustainable building practices.
“So you end up with these, like, glass towers that basically cook people, because they’re not designed to both have open airflow and really absorb heat,” she said. declared.
During last week’s historic heat wave, some BC residents resorted to purchasing air conditioners and new HVAC systems, but most were quickly sold.
Bobby Watt, owner of Vancouver-based Watt HVAC, said he has seen an almost 575% increase in calls and website visits from people looking to install air conditioning since temperatures started to rise.
On June 28, BC Hydro announced that the demand for electricity in the province reached 8,516 megawatts. This broke records of over 600 megawatts, which is equivalent to turning on 600,000 portable air conditioners.
However, AC units are the least energy efficient models on the market, notes BC Hydro, typically using 10 times more energy than a central AC system or heat pump.
Instead of focusing on a quick fix, like AC, the experts described several longer-term and more efficient infrastructure solutions.
The heat pump
Installing a heat pump can both cool and heat a home, unlike an air conditioner, Schatz said. When cooling, a heat pump extracts heat from your home and returns it outside.
According to BC Hydro, heat pumps are up to 50% more energy efficient than a typical window air conditioning unit. On average, they cost between $ 4,000 and $ 10,000 to buy and install.
Schatz also encourages homeowners to do provincial rebate research who may be available and get advice from energy advisers.
Radiant cooling uses special panels with chilled water to cool walls and ceilings, says Adam Rysanek, assistant professor of environmental systems at the University of British Columbia.
A person’s body heat then radiates to these cold panels when standing next to or below them.
Radiant cooling can save 25 to 60 percent energy compared to typical central air conditioning systems, Rysanek said.
More average height, less height
As a package option, experts say developers should reconsider the size and design of our buildings.
Although open-air views are popular, it would be wise to prioritize mid-rise buildings, says UBC-based urban design expert Patrick Condon.
“Buildings are easier to shade, especially on the west side, and they’re not so tall that you can’t do simple things like grow trees,” he explained.
At the planning level, Condon said, trees are essential for cooling because the air in a tree’s canopy can be up to five degrees lower.
Smaller floor-to-ceiling windows
When it comes to our buildings, experts also suggest having smaller floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing more insulation on the exterior walls.
Glass condos are poor insulators that both allow cool air to escape easily and reflect warm air back into the building, according to BC Hydro.
“A rather arduous task”
While these solutions are more energy efficient, experts recognize that they are not quick fixes, especially for older buildings.
“Whether you’re in a duplex or in a stratum of 250 units, it’s a pretty daunting task,” said Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association of BC.
Gioventu agrees that heat pumps and major upgrades are the best solution. While not all tenants will be able to afford renovations, he says property managers and strata boards can prioritize cooling solutions and ask questions such as: does the building have electrical capacity for a heat pump? Will modernization cause future disasters? How will it be maintained?
As for Perez, when she finally felt a cooling breeze as the temperatures cooled down, it was an emotional moment.
“I started to cry – like, I was so happy,” she said.
To prepare for future heat waves, Perez plans to purchase a portable air conditioning unit when it becomes available. But if her heat-related discomfort persists, she says her next step now is to consider moving to a building with a better cooling system.