Coping with extreme heat in Toronto: protect yourself and help your community

Temperatures are historically high across Canadian cities.

A new reality we face due to climate change is extreme weather, including heat waves. Extreme weather is becoming more frequent in different regions of the world and Canada is not an exception. A prolonged period of heat waves can have severe impacts on your health and our immediate environment.

In the Toronto area, heat waves create poor air quality and human health risks in addition to increased electricity usage and frequent power outages. In response, it is important to promote energy conservation and implement people-centered public health initiatives. This will build resilience and protect people from the negative effects of heat waves and other extreme weather events.

Keep reading to learn more about the health and environmental risks heat waves can cause, as well as ways you can protect yourself and help your community.

Health risks

Heat waves present various health risks to everyone, especially vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, and those with health challenges. Heat waves can lead to heat-related illnesses, like heat exhaustion and heatstroke. These issues can be life-threatening if not promptly addressed.

Another concern with heat waves is the “wet-bulb temperature” phenomenon. This is the temperature/humidity level when your body can no longer evaporate sweat to cool down. During extreme heat, when the air is hot, and moisture levels are high, the wet-bulb temperature can rise significantly. A high wet-bulb temperature is a serious threat to your health. It interferes with your body's ability to cool down through sweating and can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Heat waves can also worsen air quality, which can lead to breathing and heart issues.

Power outages

When temperatures soar during high temperatures, more people use air conditioning and other cooling systems. This increased demand for electricity puts stress on the power grid and can cause power outages. Excessive heat can also cause electrical equipment, like transformers and power lines, to overheat and malfunction.

Public awareness and energy conservation efforts can play a significant role in reducing electricity demand during extreme heat periods, putting less stress on the power grid.

A set of power lines

As the temperature rises, power lines are affected, increasing the risk of power outages.

How to help conserve energy at home

There are several small ways you and your family can help save energy, even during on-peak hours. As examples, if you are out for the day, turn off your AC or set it to Auto between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Keep electrical appliances like laptops, gaming consoles, TVs, air conditioners or kitchen appliances unplugged when not in use. You can also use a power bar with a surge protector. These appliances consume about 75 per cent of electricity when they are turned off but not unplugged.

Also consider turning lights off when not in use and installing LED light bulbs that use less energy and last longer. If you want to hop in the shower or run a load of laundry in hot water, try to schedule it for off-peak hours (7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends and holidays). Water heaters use a lot of energy to run, and this will also help reduce your utility bill.

Recycling icons and symbols on wooden squares in a circle

When it comes to conserving energy, every little action can add up to big impact

Stay safe and cool

To protect yourself and your community, here are several actions you can take during extreme heat:

  • Stay hydrated. Drink as much water as you can.
  • Keep cool. Visit to find a cool space near you or go to an air-conditioned place like a library or community centre.
  • Avoid direct sun. Stay in the shade or use an umbrella.
  • Protect people & pets. Never leave a person or pet inside a parked car.
  • Check on others. Call or visit family, friends and neighbours (especially elderly ones who live alone) to make sure they are staying hydrated and keeping cool.
  • Block the sun. Keep blinds or curtains closed during the day, but open windows at night for fresh air to circulate.
  • Use a fan. Use a fan near an open window at night to bring in cooler air from outside. Make sure the fan is not just pushing hot air around, as that can lead to heat exhaustion or stroke.
  • Make “no-cook” meals. Limit cooking that requires an oven or stove.

Other climate actions you can take

With extreme weather events becoming more common in Toronto, as well as across Canada and the globe, we need to take necessary steps to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.

Other climate actions you can take include:

  • Walk, bike or take public transit.
  • Practice the 5 Rs (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle).
  • Eat more plant-based meals.
  • Put waste in its place.
  • Reduce air travel.
A young man recycling plastic into a green bin.

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