Excessive heat can make your home a miserable and dangerous place to be. Intense solar exposure can harm your home as well, causing damage to wood, paint, roofing, carpets, and furniture. In many parts of the country, Americans are experiencing more frequent and extreme heat events.
Protecting our homes’ inhabitants from the effects of severe heat is the most important goal of adaptation efforts. Unlike other types of weather damage, extreme heat does not cause sudden, dramatic harm to your home. However, heat can cause significant damage to the outside structure of housing. Paint can bubble and chip, wood siding can shrink and crack, roofs can take a beating, and foundations can shift.
Heat and humidity combined can challenge the integrity of the structure of your home and cause mold, mildew, and termite issues. This happens when there is stagnant air in the crawl space or moisture coming into bathrooms, attics, door and window frames, and plumbing.
Homeowners’ insurance will cover damage to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems if they are damaged by fire, falling trees, vandalism, lightning strikes and other “covered perils”. However, normal wear and tear on cooling systems is not insured. Neither is most heat-related home damage unless the damage is connected to humidity issues.
Heat Illness Awareness
Excessive heat can be very dangerous for your health and your family. In fact, extreme heat kills more people annually than any other type of weather disaster. Heat illness is what happens when your body is unable to dissipate heat effectively. In more severe cases, the equilibrium of salt and water within your body becomes unbalanced and therefore sweating fails to keep you cool when your body temperature rises dangerously.
Those most at risk are older adults, infants, young children, people with chronic illnesses or physical disability, and people living alone. Heat illness is most present during times when temperatures go above what an area typically experiences and are sustained for several days.
To help protect yourself and your community, learn the signs of severe heat illness (heat stroke): body temperature above 103 degrees F, hot and dry skin without signs of sweat, strong and rapid pulse, and dizziness, confusion, or unconsciousness. Also be aware of how high humidity can increase the risks of extreme heat, and pay attention to wet-bulb temperatures if humidity is high.
There are four heat illnesses. From least to most serious they are:
If you experience these symptoms, do not rely on fans as your primary source of cooling. Fans circulate air but do not reduce body temperature except through evaporation of sweat. If the temperature is above body temperature, it can actually cause more harm. To prevent heat illness, reduce your risks from rising temperatures with simple improvements that help keep your house cool on hot days.
From small to large changes, mitigation starts with knowledge about how your home is impacted by extreme heat. Obtaining your ClimateCheck property report is a great way of assessing your present and future risk. Other great options are to look for local government resources and hire a private inspector to evaluate your home’s capacity to withstand extreme heat and other related hazards like drought and flooding.
With knowledge of where your home is susceptible to extreme temperatures, apply the following mitigation options where necessary:
Inside Your Home
Inside your Attic and Crawl Space
Outside Your Home
For tips on protecting your foundation, see our drought adaptation and mitigation guide.
A good interior and exterior house layout can assist with passive heating and cooling and lighting interior spaces efficiently. Passive cooling uses the design of the house to prevent high temperatures without air conditioning or other mechanical assistance.
In addition to the design of your home, your surroundings can either decrease or amplify your heat risk. Densely built city areas with little green cover are prone to the “Urban Heat Island” effect where pavement, buildings, and other surfaces trap and retain heat. If you have the choice, purchase or build housing in areas with open spaces and vegetated shoulders.
For homeowners, preparing for extreme heat helps maintain the value of your investment and provide comfort to those living inside. Carefully preparing for heat illness and mitigating the sun’s access to your home can help you and your family avoid the risks of extreme heat. As a backup plan, identify a designated cooling center or places with publicly available cooling such as a library or shopping mall.
With these steps in place, learn to protect your home from other types of extreme climate risk.