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City of North Van calls for cooler homes in extreme heat

The mayor and council have some ideas on how to let cooler homes prevail.
NV City Hall Sign Flowers Building CG
City of North Vancouver council is looking for ways to cool people's homes in extreme heat events.

On the hottest night of 2022 (so far), City of North Vancouver council says it’s time to let cooler homes prevail.

Council passed a motion from Mayor Linda Buchanan Monday (June 27) calling for “homes that meet today’s climate context.”

Buchanan said her mother-in-law was among the 619 people in British Columbia who died during the 2021 heat dome. Since then, it has become accepted that more extreme weather events are on the horizon but much of the city and its housing stock isn’t designed to keep people safe in extreme heat.

“I think this past summer made the effects of climate change very real to people in a very new way,” she said. “The heat dome, as it has been come to be known, was a sign that climate change is no longer a faraway problem. It's here, and it raised serious and urgent questions around if our home infrastructure can truly keep us cool and healthy during the summer.”

Buchanan’s motion directs city planning staff to alert applicants early in the redevelopment process that council will want to see new homes that include enhanced cooling systems.

About 80 per cent of the city’s residents live in multi-family homes, almost all of which were built before the health impacts of a warming climate were fully understood. More than lacking air conditioning, many don’t have proper ventilation or balconies, Buchanan noted. The motion also asks staff to report back with actions that could be taken to ensure those apartments and condos are retrofitted to keep cool.

Creating extreme heat prevention and long-term risk strategies was one of the recommendations made by the BC Coroners Service in its final report on the heat dome. Buchanan will also write to the provincial and federal government minister responsible or housing, public safety and environment on behalf of council surging them to quickly implement the recommendations of the chief coroner, and stressing that funding must be made available in the name of individual health.

Support for Buchanan’s motion was unanimous.

The province has indicated changes are coming to the B.C. Building Code that would address extreme heat, but as a municipality, council does have control over urban design, which can be tailored to reduce the “heat island” effect by fostering green space and reducing the use of hard, non-permeable surfaces, Coun. Jessica McIlroy said.

“It has been stated that the tree canopy protection and expansion is actually the easiest and most cost-effective method of keeping our urban spaces cooled,” she said.

Coun. Don Bell, who went to hospital himself during the heat dome due to heart difficulties, said he would like to see the province prohibit stratas and apartments from banning air conditioning units in their suites.

Earlier in the same meeting, council received an update from North Shore Emergency Management director Emily Dicken on the tri-municipal agency’s extreme heat strategy. Dicken told council they learned a lot from extreme weather events in 2021

“We learned very quickly that the heat dome was setting a new stage for operational response requirements that we really didn't have the level of preparedness for,” she said. “And we really didn't understand what the needs of the community would be and what the extent of impact would be.”

Gaps in the response included a lack of co-ordination among service providers, the NSEM report found, and challenges in communicating directly with those who are most at risk of health impacts that they should come to a library or community centre to cool off.

Since then, NSEM has updated its to-do list for when Environment Canada warns that a heat wave is incoming. It got its first real test on Monday when the temperature crossed the 30C threshold on the North Shore.

“I can honestly say that it went beautifully, and we saw all of our libraries and rec spaces immediately stand up, and NSEM provide those wraparound supports to them,” Dicken said.