Potential benefits of cool roofs in reducing heat-related mortality during heatwaves in a European city

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Hot weather can exacerbate health conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and lead to heat stroke and death. In built up areas, temperatures are commonly observed to be higher than those in surrounding rural areas, due to the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. Climate change and increasing urbanisation mean that future populations are likely to be at increased risk of overheating in cities, although building and city scale interventions have the potential to reduce this risk. We use a regional weather model to assess the potential effect of one type of urban intervention – reflective ‘cool’ roofs – to reduce local ambient temperatures, and the subsequent impact on heat-related mortality in the West Midlands, UK, with analysis undertaken for the summer of 2006, as well as two shorter heatwave periods in 2006 and 2003. We show that over a summer season, the population-weighted UHI intensity (the difference between simulated urban and rural temperature) was 1.1 °C on average, but 1.8 °C when including only night times, and reached a maximum of 9 °C in the West Midlands. Our results suggest that the UHI contributes up to 40% of heat related mortality over the summer period and that cool roofs implemented across the whole city could potentially offset 18% of seasonal heat-related mortality associated with the UHI (corresponding to 7% of total heat-related mortality). For heatwave periods, our modelling suggests that cool roofs could reduce city centre daytime 2 m air temperature by 0.5 °C on average, and up to a maximum of ~3 °C. Cool roofs reduced average UHI intensity by ~23%, and reduced heat related mortality associated with the UHI by ~25% during a heatwave. Cool roofs were most effective at reducing peak temperatures during the daytime, and therefore have the potential to limit dangerous extreme temperatures during heatwaves. Temperature reductions were dependent on the category of buildings where cool roofs were applied; targeting only commercial and industrial type buildings contributed more than half of the reduction for heatwave periods. Our modelling suggested that modifying half of all industrial/commercial urban buildings could have the same impact as modifying all high-intensity residential buildings in the West Midlands.




Macintyre, H. L., & Heaviside, C. (2019). Potential benefits of cool roofs in reducing heat-related mortality during heatwaves in a European city. Environment International, 127, 430–441. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2019.02.065

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