Sep 25, 2023 - Climate

Iowa homes aren't prepared for more frequent 100° days

Animated illustration of sunlight hitting the floor through a window with blinds on it, and the window shape changes into an exclamation point.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Iowa is expected to endure more "extreme heat" days of 100°F or more in the next 30 years — but experts tell Midwest Newsroom our homes aren't prepared for it.

Why it matters: Extreme heat results in hardships such as higher energy consumption and health risks like heat stroke.

  • Vulnerable populations who may struggle to afford or upgrade their homes, like the elderly, are more likely to succumb to heat-related illnesses, according to the CDC.

State of play: "That stretch of days we saw in August is kind of what it's going to look like in the middle to late 21st century if we look at the global climate model projections," Iowa's state climatologist Justin Glisan told Iowa Public Radio.

  • "The infrastructure that we have now is not built for where we are, and it's definitely not built for where we're going."
Counties expected to experience heat indices above 125°F by 2053
Note: Shaded counties are those that will, on average, have 0.5 days or more at or above a 125F° heat index in 2053; Data: First Street Foundation; Map: Axios

Zoom in: Iowa's statewide building code is meant to keep residents safe and ensure structural integrity.

  • But codes like Iowa's are based on older data that doesn't account for newer climate projections and extreme heat, according to IPR.
  • Iowa's is based on 2015 standards by the International Code Council, which requires minimal baseline standards.

Between the lines: New and old houses are susceptible to extreme heat due to seams and rooflines that may not be airtight, according to Midwest Newsroom. Paint color or a home's direction in relation to the sun can also influence inside temperatures.

Yes, but: Stricter codes requiring more consideration of sustainability and climate resiliency could increase home prices, hurting affordability, per Midwest Newsroom.

The big picture: President Joe Biden signed a climate law last year providing $1 billion to help low-income apartments become more energy-efficient and climate-resilient.

  • Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $18 million in funding for its first phase, including several Midwest cities like Chicago and Kansas City.

The bottom line: These national investments could help in the gargantuan task of improving homes' climate resiliency as long as they're not flip-flopped depending on who's in office, Peter Thorne, an expert on the impact of climate change on health at the University of Iowa, told IPR.


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