Home Safety For Staying Cool This Summer

June 17, 2024

With temperatures set to soar this summer, now is the time to take extra measures to ensure your home stays cool and your older neighbors stay safe. Older adults are particularly at risk for heat-related illnesses due to several factors, including age-related changes in their bodies and the medications they take. For our Home Repair program team, a common issue for older homeowners is keeping their homes insulated and cool with well-maintained HVAC systems. Additionally, as our older neighbors age in place, their capabilities can become compromised, making even small home repairs challenging. 

Last year, the Meals on Wheels Central Texas Home Repair program repaired 112 neighbors' homes, updating everything from leaking roofs to indoor plumbing and, most importantly, HVAC systems as needed. Older adults can become easily overheated due to changes in skin and circulation, producing less sweat. Certain medications can make it more difficult for the body to regulate temperatures, and those who struggle with dementia may not notice the increase in heat as much.  "It's not just about fixing things; it's about ensuring our neighbors can live comfortably and safely in their own homes. Proper insulation and efficient HVAC systems are critical for their health during the hot summer months." – Brian Sykes, Vice President of Home Repair

Here are some helpful tips from our Home Repair program experts who renovate and repair our neighbors' homes, allowing them to age in place with dignity and care.

Home Cooling Tips

●  Stay Out of the Sun

Avoid doing any yard work or gardening during the peak sun hours of the day. If you need to be outside, plan to do so early in the morning or after the sun goes down. Direct sun exposure can significantly increase your body temperature, leading to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, especially in older adults. 

Wearing light, loose-fitting clothing and a wide-brimmed hat can also help protect against the sun's harmful rays.

Drink more water at home than usual. Older adults don’t always perceive they are dehydrated. 

Spend as much time in an air-conditioned space as possible. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, try to visit public places that do, such as your local library or one of the many Meals on Wheels Central Texas senior centers. Air conditioning not only cools the air but also reduces humidity, making it easier for the body to stay cool. For those without air conditioning, using fans, keeping curtains closed during the hottest parts of the day, and taking cool showers can help manage the indoor temperature.

Emergency Kit Essentials

Have an emergency kit ready with essential medicines, food, and water. Ensure you or your older neighbor's home has at least a gallon of drinking water set aside. Dehydration can exacerbate heat-related illnesses, so it’s crucial to have easy access to fluids. Including items like electrolyte drinks, non-perishable snacks, and a list of emergency contacts in your kit is also critical in extreme summer weather.

Routine HVAC Maintenance

Ensuring HVAC systems are in top shape is crucial for maintaining a cool and comfortable home during the summer months. Regular maintenance can prevent unexpected breakdowns and improve the efficiency of the system, saving money on energy bills.
Replace the Air Filter

Replace the air filter monthly (or as recommended).If you have an older neighbor you might assist them with installation. This is the most important task to keep the HVAC system running efficiently. A clean filter allows for better airflow and reduces the strain on the system, which can help it cool more effectively. Dirty filters can cause the system to overheat and potentially fail.

●    Keep Up With Inspections
The HVAC system should be inspected, cleaned, and serviced by a professional at least once a year. Ideally, have the heating system checked in the fall and the air conditioning in the spring. Regular professional maintenance can identify potential issues before they become major problems and ensure that your system is operating at peak efficiency.

● Clear the Outdoor Unit
Ensure the area around an older neighbor’s outdoor unit is cleared, with at least one foot of space on all sides. Debris such as leaves, grass, and dirt can obstruct the airflow, causing the system to work harder and less efficiently. Keeping the area clean and clear will help an HVAC system run smoothly and effectively.

Caregiver Checklist
If you are caring for an older adult or know an older neighbor who might be in trouble through the summer, keep our checklist handy to make sure they have all they need!

● Are they drinking enough water? Dehydration can happen quickly in hot weather, so it’s important to ensure older adults are consuming enough fluids throughout the day.
●  Do they have access to air conditioning? If not, explore options such as cool showers, and spending time in air-conditioned public spaces.
●  Do they know how to keep cool? Educate neighbors on simple ways to stay cool, like using damp washcloths on their necks, wearing light clothing, and avoiding strenuous activities during the hottest parts of the day.
● Do they show any signs of heat stress? Symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, headache, and confusion can indicate heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which require immediate attention.

Additional Home Cooling Strategies
In addition to maintaining your HVAC system, there are several other strategies to keep your home cool during the summer months:
● Insulate and Seal
Proper insulation and sealing gaps around windows and doors can prevent cool air from escaping and hot air from entering. This not only keeps your home more comfortable but also reduces the load on your HVAC system. If you or your neighbor need assistance with insulation contact our Home Repair program to see if you are eligible for services or contact 3-1-1 for other city services. 

● Use Reflective Window Coverings
Reflective or blackout curtains can reduce the amount of heat that enters our homes through windows. This can help keep indoor temperatures lower and reduce the need for air conditioning turned on high.

Meals on Wheels Central Texas is committed to supporting our older neighbors in staying safe and comfortable during the summer. We offer various resources, including senior centers, home repair services, and community programs designed to assist those in need.

By taking these proactive steps, you can help ensure that you and your loved ones or older neighbors stay cool and safe throughout the summer. Proper home maintenance, awareness of heat-related risks, and utilizing community resources can make a huge difference! For more assistance with home repairs, please contact the Meals on Wheels Central Texas Home Repair program. We are dedicated to helping our older neighbors live comfortably and safely, regardless of the season. Stay cool, stay safe, and take care of each other!