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Help SLC Stay Cool this Summer

by SLCgreen outreach coordinator Stephan Sveshnikov

With much of the West seeing record temperatures this summer and 98% of Utah in an extreme drought, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of what we can do to keep our city a little bit cooler and ourselves safe.

While you’ve heard a lot of discussion about saving water during this drought, today we also want to talk about reducing the urban heat island effect— which helps save water, reduce ambient temperatures, and support a healthier ecosystem.

What is an Urban Heat Island?

Cities are always hotter than the average surrounding temperature because of what’s called the “Urban Heat Island” effect. Because the concrete, black asphalt, and black roof shingle material absorbs extra heat and releases it, city temperatures can rise by as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit compared to the surrounding area on a cloudless day! This, in turn, raises the energy consumption of the city, because our air conditioners have to work harder to keep us cool. 

How can I reduce my home energy consumption during the summer?

What can you do to reduce the Urban Heat Island effect at your home or business?

First start with your own building. Saving energy means you’ll be more comfortable, save money, and reduce the ambient heat going into the neighborhood.

  • Cover your windows! When it’s hot, about 76 percent of sunlight on windows enters in the form of heat, according to the Department of Energy. Keeping blinds closed on the sunny side of the house or installing solar screens will keep your house from heating up as much.
  • Set the AC ten degrees higher if you’ll be gone from home all day, and set it at 78 degrees F or warmer if you are home. Cool off with cold drinks, a trip to the mountains, or turn on a fan to circulate air in the room you’ll be in.
  • Avoid using your stove and oven during the hottest parts of the day. 
  • Energy efficient evaporative coolers (also called “swamp” coolers) are perfectly-suited to Utah’s arid desert climate and can cut cooling costs by 75% compared to a central AC! 
  • Plant shade trees around your home. The more shade around your house, the less it will absorb direct heat from the sun, and the less your AC or swamp cooler has to work. 
  • Insulate! Make sure you have the appropriate level of insulation in your home. Insulation helps keep your house warm in the winter, but it also helps keep it cool in the summer, because the fewer leaks you have, the less that cold air you’ve worked so hard for can escape.

Learn more about energy efficiency year-round from Empower SLC. 

Photo of house with many shade trees and water-wise plants.
Planting water-wise plants and trees that provide shade can help your house stay cool even when it’s hot outside. Learn more about water-wise gardening on SLC’s Public Utilities page.

What else can we do?

If you’re ready to go the extra mile to fight the urban heat island effect, there are many other ways you can take action:

  • It may seem counterintuitive, but maintaining some vegetation in your yard and park strip helps keep temperatures lower. (It also provides food for pollinators, shelter for birds, and assistance with stormwater runoff).  That’s why Salt Lake City’s ordinance specifies that one-third of front yards and park strips should be vegetation. Of course grass is thirsty, so consider alternatives like low-water plants and shrubs.
  • Along those same lines, support the Public Lands Department by keeping your park strip watered and doing your part to take care of Salt Lake City’s urban forest. You can read more about managing your park strip here
  • Paint your roof white! It may sound unusual, but if you have the resources to do so, it’s one sure way to keep your house cooler (and save on your energy bill). 
  • Install a solar array. Another way to reflect sunlight and reduce your energy bill is to install solar panels. Both residential and commercial tax credits are available.
  • Plant water-wise vegetation. Most residential homes have lawns, which work well to absorb excess heat, whether they’re native grasses or just regular manicured greenery. If you can, plant trees, which help shade your house and provide another layer of habitat for some of  the species that call Salt Lake home. If you’re a business owner, you can make an even bigger impact by making sure that as much of your property as possible is planted with vegetation. 
  • Install a green parking lot or driveway. Since one of the biggest contributors to urban heat is asphalt, we can’t make much headway in solving the problem without addressing parking lots and driveways. White concrete is better than black asphalt, but even better is what’s sometimes called a “green parking lot”: whether it’s a turf grid, or another creative solution. If you’re a business owner you can do this on a large scale. As a homeowner, you could greenify your driveway! Of course, some kind of succulents or low water plants will be better in our climate than turf.
Cool Zone Salt Lake County Aging & Adult Services logo features a penguin on a blue triangle with white boarder.

Stay Safe & Cool this Summer

Don’t forget short-term health practices while we work on longer term solutions. In the summer heat, stay hydrated, keep in the shade, and head to a Cool Zone if you find yourself overheating. Observe Salt Lake City’s Idle Free Ordinance to reduce our Greenhouse Gas Emissions and pollution levels. Remember that firework detonation is not currently allowed in Salt Lake City.

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