Phillip O’NeillWhat you can do to take the sting out of a very hot summer

13/04/2019 Posted by admin

BEAT THE HEAT: A lot of small changes around the house can make a world of difference in a hot summer. It’s one thing to bid good riddance to a very hot summer. But there are ways to make summer aseason to look forward to, without resorting to long days inside air-conditioned living rooms orexpeditions to air-conditioned shopping malls. Summer should be a time for relaxation andpleasure.
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We can start with making our homes perform better. Twelve months ago we decided to upgrade ourhouse so that it is cooler on hot days. Our belief is that large houses like ours on big blocks of landshould be comfortable all year round without need for air conditioning.

Our approach was to do a hundred things that made a difference. This summer we monitored ourinterventions. Rarely did the inside of the house top 24C. Even during that horror heatwaveearlier this month we stayed under 27C. By early evening we were enjoying – yes, enjoying –outside life on our verandas and in our garden.

Our list of renovations included some heavier hitting: whirlybirds on the roof and thicker ceilinginsulation. Then we added a vertical drop metal shutter on a large western window.

And there were smaller measures. Close fitting interior Holland blinds are cheap and effective. Weswapped two bulky heat-absorbing metal door and window frames for wooden varieties. Someirritating carpeted areas were stripped leaving a cool concrete slab which we covered in slate. Wefilled the verandas with large pots of flowers and herbs. A heat reflecting lawn area near the housewas allowed to grow a little wilder. We refreshed the kitchen and interior walls with lighter colours.

A fridge and a freezer and their ageing hot pump units were sent packing.

Throw in shorts, loose t-shirts, a very good iced-tea recipe from Spain, good books and a large jigsaw puzzle and our summer holidays were well spent.

Obviously not everyone has the house options we have. But everyone can benefit from better neighbourhood-scale adaptions to heat. There are lessonsfrom overseas cities – like Madrid – for coping with hot days, where good urban design meanspeople enjoy local parks and water bodies, outside-eateries, shady plazas and pathways.

There are lessons too from Canberra, of all places. We ventured to the national capital in the heat ofJanuary for a few days at the galleries. Each evening we walked to local high streets in Kingston andManuka. The footpaths are well kept and covered by tree canopies – not pruned to an inch of theirlives by power-line maintenance crews.

The shopping centres are clean with cared-for plant boxesand quality pavements meaning patrons don’t wrestle with unstable café tables and chairs. Sensibleliquor laws enable families to enjoy good food and a civilised drink at reasonable prices.

Fingers ofparkland invite strollers and their ice creams down to the edge of Lake Burley Griffin – an artificialwater body created by damming a small river, it is worth noting. In all, an otherwise hostile hotvalley a long way from the coast has been turned into a pleasant place to be in the middle ofsummer. Heat is sucked out of these Canberra neighbourhoods by the effects of many smallmeasures, most of them inexpensive.

Summer in has long been a time to be on the coast. For generations there has been plenty of beach to go around. Now, in a bigger growing , summer at the beach means expensiverentals or congested day trips. We need to appreciate life beyond the beach.

There are easy gains away from the air-con switch.

Phillip O’Neill is professor of economic geography at Western Sydney University.

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