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Homes built for warmth in one of the world's coldest cities are now creating life-threatening living conditions — here's why

According to data collected by the Winnipeg Free Press and The Narwhal, only 14% of the city's housing stock was built after 2000.

People in Winnipeg were hospitalized with heat-related illness

Photo Credit: iStock

Homes in Canada designed to protect residents from some of the coldest temperatures in the country have been experiencing a life-threatening impact in the summer heat.

With rising global temperatures, those homes are becoming too hot to live in during June and July, leading to a marked increase in heat-related illnesses, The Narwhal reported.

What's happening?

In Winnipeg, the average temperature low in the coldest month of January is minus 1 degrees, according to Weather Spark, so homes are built to keep the cold at bay. But with summer temperatures now more regularly breaching 86 degrees, those same homes are becoming unlivable in the heat.

Increasingly, hot global temperatures are not sparing the Manitoba capital, with highs being broken in June of this year, per the Winnipeg Free Press. A marked 91.8 degrees was a record, beating the 91-degree mark that hadn't been surpassed since 1968. 

Heat's impact can be even worse in a city, where the lack of vegetation and abundant concrete creates a heat island — a phenomenon where heat is not trapped by plants but absorbed and released by pavements, buildings, and roads and leading to hotter neighborhoods.

Data from Shared Health Manitoba published by The Narwhal revealed that 33 people in Winnipeg were hospitalized with heat-related illness between June 1 and July 4, nearly twice as many as in the same period in 2022. 

Why are homes so hot?

A combination of factors, such as a lack of air conditioners in homes, outdated insulation, and old, inefficient homes are making things worse for residents. According to data collected by the Winnipeg Free Press and The Narwhal, only 14% of the city's housing stock was built after 2000.

Furthermore, there is no government legislation to ensure landlords and public housing authorities keep properties cool — there are policies in place to ensure homes are kept warm, though. 

On top of that, human-related releases of heat-trapping gases are leading to a hotter climate. Gas-heating appliances, internal combustion engine cars, and waste sent to landfills all contribute to harmful gases being emitted into the atmosphere, increasing global heat. 

What can be done?

To tackle those three contributing factors, switching to an electric boiler or heat pump, driving an electric car, and recycling will make a huge difference.

Bethany Daman, a member of Manitoba's Climate Action team, told The Narwhal: "No matter where someone stands on efforts to reduce emissions, the impacts of these emissions are facing them."

But in Winnipeg and other areas where increasing temperatures are leading to hotter homes, policies need to be put in place to protect residents. 

Meanwhile, public hydration stations, public pools, and accessible, air-conditioned community spaces are all short-term measures to help prevent illness on hot days.

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