Be Cool, Chicago: How to Handle Summer Heat


After a May, June and early July almost completely without Beach Worthy Days, we finally have a little bit of Hot Humid Summer weather this week.  As per usual, opinion is divided: some people are jumping for joy, while others grumble and reach for the thermostat.

Moss wants to remind everyone that there are a number of ways to handle extreme, or even just unpleasant, summer heat, without that knee jerk Air Conditioning reaction.  Some are for immediate use, others are long term solutions to cool down your whole building, neighborhood or city.

Here’s a little collection of Heat Beating know how from the Moss archives:

Stay Cool Today … and Tonight

As our simple sketch above shows, the best way to stay cool in summer is to stay out of the sun (and keep your buildings in shade too, if possible).  Breezy shade is your best bet for staying cool on a hot day, indoors or out.

passive cooling without AC

Last summer we posted Six Simple Ways to Beat the Heat:

Aim a Fan in your Face

Open Windows At Night

Close Them During the Hot Part of the Day

Close Curtains to Block Direct Sun

Switch off Unnecessary Motors and Electronics

And, use your AC effectively, if you do choose to turn it on


Of course, anyone with an Air Conditioner in their home will likely turn it on when the weather turns muggy (and you likely don’t have a choice about the AC in your workplace) but it pays to understand how it works in order to work it effectively.

Keep Cool in the Long Run

Everyone who’s ever walked across a blacktop parking lot on a hot day has experienced a Heat Island Effect.  When sunshine hits a thermal mass and heats it up, that heat takes a while to dissipate.  By Thermal Mass, in this case, we mean, parking lots, drive ways, city streets and the tops of buildings – a lot of square footage in a city like Chicago.

That extra stored heat can warm up a city by a few degrees during the day and up to 20 at night!

To mitigate this, we can do a number of things: minimize surface parking, support green roofs for buildings, and plant trees, Trees, TREES. Read all of our advice on how, when and why to plant Shade Trees here.

heat island effect, chicago

Remembering (and learning from) the 95 Heat Wave

This July marks the 20 year anniversary of the ’95 Heat Wave here in Chicago which tragically killed an estimated 739 people during just a few days of extreme weather.

Features on NPR and articles in the Tribune and Sun Times have been commemorating and analyzing that sad event. They chalk it up to a combination of extreme weather and a major political Failure to Cope which couldn’t provide assistance quickly or effectively enough to Chicago’s vulnerable citizens.

In fact, there were many contributing factors including the above.  Several more likely have to do with building and infrastructure failures that could have been prevented with good design.

As this excellent Sun Times Infographic points out, the neighborhoods with the most deaths were concentrated on the south and west sides, in poor neighborhoods with high populations of African Americans.  Without having access to actual data, we can speculate that temperatures were probably higher in those areas because they had more concrete and tree shade.

A quick areal photo comparison of Woodlawn (which sustained 73 deaths during the heat wave) and Lincoln park shows exposed concrete roadway on the left, and streets fully lined with shade trees on the right.

woodlawn vs lincoln park street trees

Additionally, residents of high rise towers found themselves stuck without cooling resources when rolling power outages took out their AC.

In neighborhoods where people feel unsafe sleeping with open doors or windows, they weren’t able to take advantage of any passive cooling to makeup the difference.

Many of the elderly were housed in high rise buildings (dependent on mechanical AC for cooling) and couldn’t get outside or easy access to emergency personnel when elevators didn’t have power during the outages, further exacerbating the damage.

We can and should be better prepared to keep everyone comfortable (and safe) in the future, by designing our buildings and cities to keep cool without high energy inputs.  

Now you know what you need in order to keep yourself comfortable this summer without heating up the planet.  Stay Cool, Chicago.