Green roofs take heat off low-income areas


Grace Senior

Green roofs take heat off low-income areas

By Maddi Roy

Incorporating green roofs in low-income Chicago neighborhoods could have life-saving effects, as extreme heat episodes continue to increase, according to new scientific studies.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control, extreme heat events have become more frequent i due to climate change. NASA reports 17 of the 18 hottest years on record have taken place since the year 2001.

An August 2016 EPA report states “the frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme heat events will continue to increase as a consequence of climate change.”

“The main problem with extreme heat is fluid loss through sweating,” said Laura Mapes, nurse practitioner at the University of Chicago Hospital. Heat stroke, electrolyte imbalance, heart arrhythmias, mental status changes and loss of kidney function are some of the negative effects extreme heat can have on the body, she added.

Data released in April from the National Weather Service shows 107 people suffered heat-related deaths in the U.S. in 2017.

“Low-income groups financially have limitations on cooling their houses,” said Tejashri Varpe, sustainability coordinator at UrbanWorks Architecture, a socially and environmentally-friendly architecture firm.

Also, The Chicago Data Portal also shows the city’s electrical grid is most strained during the summer months due to the spike in energy usage from residents with air conditioners, which can lead to power outages.

But there may be a remedy in green roofs, says a study released Sept. 6 from Ashish Sharma, research assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Many residents cannot afford air conditioners or increased electricity costs, Sharma stated in her report. However, Sharma’s research team found green roofs address these problems.

By lowering rooftop temperatures, green roofs reduce the need for air conditioning, which can help avoid overworking the electrical grid and make temperatures more bearable for those who do not have air conditioning.

“The reductions in roof temperatures are 7 to 8 degrees [celsius] in some areas [of the city], where in some areas it’s 2 to 3 degrees [celsius],” Sharma said.

“The social vulnerability is higher because they are not able to afford a lot of amenities which [more affluent] neighborhoods can,” Sharma said. “Chicago has green roofs, but they’re mostly concentrated in downtown, around [the] Loop, and not in the south and west [neighborhoods],” said Varpe.

Chicago has an incentive program for buildings that install green roofs, which includes an expedited permit process and density bonuses. However, density bonuses are only granted to buildings in the downtown area.

Sharma recommends focusing exclusively on poor neighborhoods. His team put developed a series of steps for urban planners and public officials to decide where to install these roofs, based on areas that have the highest temperatures, energy consumption, and vulnerability.

“We accounted for all those things and then came up with the districts which are most vulnerable,” Sharma said. “If we put green infrastructure over those areas, then those areas would have better quality of life.”