The term “heat island” describes built up areas that are hotter than nearby rural areas. Heat islands can affect communities by increasing energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality.

An urban heat island is a metropolitan area that’s a lot warmer than the rural areas surrounding it. Heat is created by energy from all the people, cars, buses, and trains in big cities like New York, Paris, Lagos and London. Urban heat islands are created in areas that have lots of activity and lots of people.


  • increased Energy Consumption

Elevated summertime temperatures in cities increase energy demand for cooling. Research shows that electricity demand for cooling increases 1.5–2.0% for every 1°F (0.6°C) increase in air temperatures, starting from 68 to 77°F (20 to 25°C), suggesting that 5–10% of community-wide demand for electricity is used to compensate for the heat island effect

Urban heat islands increase overall electricity demand, as well as peak demand, which generally occurs on hot summer weekday afternoons, when offices and homes are running cooling systems, lights, and appliances. During extreme heat events, which are exacerbated by urban heat islands, the resulting demand for cooling can overload systems and require a utility to institute controlled, rolling brownouts or blackouts to avoid power outages.

  • Elevated Emissions of Air Pollutants and Greenhouse Gases

As described above, urban heat islands raise demand for electrical energy in summer. Companies that supply electricity typically rely on fossil fuel power plants to meet much of this demand, which in turn leads to an increase in air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions. The primary pollutants from power plants include sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), and mercury (Hg). These pollutants are harmful to human health and also contribute to complex air quality problems such as the formation of ground-level ozone (smog), fine particulate matter, and acid rain. Increased use of fossil-fuel-powered plants also increases emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which contribute to global climate change.

  • Compromised Human Health and Comfort

Increased daytime temperatures, reduced nighttime cooling, and higher air pollution levels associated with urban heat islands can affect human health by contributing to general discomfort, respiratory difficulties, heat cramps and exhaustion, non-fatal heat stroke, and heat-related mortality.

Heat islands can also exacerbate the impact of heat waves, which are periods of abnormally hot, and often humid, weather. Sensitive populations, such as children, older adults, and those with existing health conditions, are at particular risk from these events.

Excessive heat events, or abrupt and dramatic temperature increases, are particularly dangerous and can result in above-average rates of mortality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that from 1979–2003, excessive heat exposure contributed to more than 8,000 premature deaths in the United States. This figure exceeds the number of mortalities resulting from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.

  • Impaired Water Quality

High pavement and rooftop surface temperatures can heat storm water runoff. Tests have shown that pavements that are 100ºF (38°C) can elevate initial rainwater temperature from roughly 70ºF (21ºC) to over 95ºF (35ºC). This heated storm water generally becomes runoff, which drains into storm sewers and raises water temperatures as it is released into streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes.

Water temperature affects all aspects of aquatic life, especially the metabolism and reproduction of many aquatic species. Rapid temperature changes in aquatic ecosystems resulting from warm stormwater runoff can be particularly stressful, even fatal to aquatic life.


Many communities are taking action to reduce urban heat islands using four main strategies: 

 1) Increasing tree and vegetative cover,

2) Installing green roofs (also called “rooftop gardens” or “eco-roofs”),

 3) Installing cool—mainly reflective—roofs, and

 4) Using cool pavements.

The extent to which urban areas can benefit from heat island reduction strategies depends on a number of factors—some within and some outside of a community’s control. Although prevailing weather patterns, climate, geography, and topography are beyond the influence of local policy, decision makers can select a range of energy-saving strategies that will generate multiple benefits, including vegetation, landscaping, and land use design projects, and improvements to building and road materials.

  • Trees, vegetation, and green roofs can reduce heating and cooling energy use and associated air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, remove air pollutants, sequester and store carbon, help lower the risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths, improve stormwater control and water quality, reduce noise levels, create habitats, improve aesthetic qualities, and increase property values.
  • Cool roofs can lower cooling energy use, peak electricity demand, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related incidents, and solid waste generation due to less frequent re-roofing.
  • Cool pavements can indirectly help reduce energy consumption, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on the technology used, cool pavements can improve stormwater management and water quality, increase surface durability, enhance nighttime illumination, and reduce noise.

Using these strategies in combination can enhance their effectiveness.  For example, installing a permeable pavement parking lot that includes shade trees can extend the longevity of the pavement and vegetation. 

Widespread implementation of these strategies also provides additional benefits. For example, a single cool roof will mainly result in benefits to the building owner and occupants. Community-wide cool roof installations, though, will provide savings to the building owner and occupants and to the community at large, as a large number of cool roofs can reduce air temperatures, resulting in multiple benefits associated with cooler summertime air.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: