A new project could be a game-changer when it comes to battling intense heat

No matter where you live in the U.S., chances are very good that things have been hotter – and perhaps a lot hotter – recently. Not only is climate change causing heat waves to start sooner and last longer every summer, but they’re also becoming much more dangerous. According to an analysis from the Washington Post, 46 percent of Americans experience at least three days in a row of 100 degrees or higher every year. In 30 years, that’s expected to climb to 63 percent. 

And for people who work outdoors, the news is even more dire. Right now, about 3.8 million people who work outdoors endure at least one heat wave each year. That will go up to almost 5 million in 30 years

While temperatures are increasing everywhere, cities feel it the most. This is due to the urban heat island effect caused by the many buildings, roads, and parking lots, along with an absence of trees. One city in particular that’s feeling the brunt is Los Angeles, especially the Pacoima neighborhood, whose average temperature has increased by almost two degrees since 1955, says Jonathan Parfrey, Executive Director of Climate Resolve. This is why a project has been underway to help cool things down – and it involves, of all things, paint. 

A different kind of paint

While using paint to help cool things down in cities is nothing new – New York has painted more than 10 million square feet of rooftops over the last decade – what’s happening in Pacoima is a lot closer to the ground. In fact, it is the ground. 

To help curb the urban heat island effect, roofing and waterproofing manufacturer GAF has partnered with various organizations in Los Angeles to paint the streets of Pacoima. But the GAF Cool Community Project isn’t just using any ordinary paint. They’re using a paint called Invisible Shade, which contains additives that reflect not just visible light but also infrared light. While sunlight consists of both of these, it’s the infrared light that is responsible for most of the heat. This means that pavement coated with this paint doesn’t absorb as much heat. 

Says Eliot Wall, the general manager of StreetBond, maker of Invisible Shade: “There’s a chance for a multiplier effect given those additives.” So far, one million square feet of roads, parking lots, and playgrounds in Pacoima have been painted

While GAF had previously worked with the City of Los Angeles’s Cool Streets Project to paint dozens of playgrounds and school parking lots around the city, this new endeavor is meant to be more far-reaching. 

This is a community in great need of relief and this project will make a great difference for this neighborhood and the larger LA community as we work to build a just and resilient future with GAF, the City of Los Angeles and the Global Cool Cities Alliance,” Parfrey says.

And while most of the surfaces have been painted gray, Invisible Shade is available in 14 colors. A local artist was also commissioned to create colorful murals on a parking lot, playground, and basketball court.  

 

The (possible) future of pavement 

The aim of the project is to determine how much cooler Pacoima has gotten over a two-year period and whether this is something that can work on a larger scale. So far, the results look very promising. When the temperature was taken in the middle of the day, it was discovered that there was a 30°F difference compared to pavement that didn’t have the reflective paint. 

Over the next two years, data will be collected on the surface and ambient air temperatures. Other metrics will also be monitored, including how much more time people are spending outdoors.

“The ultimate goal is not just to lower the ambient temperature of the community but to see how it impacts the livelihoods of people in the community,” says Jeff Terry, vice president of corporate social responsibility and sustainability at GAF.

Adds Ashish Kulkarni, Chief Innovation Officer at GAF: “Extreme heat can have incredibly negative impacts on a community’s quality of life and this research is an important first step to learn how we can help curb urban heat in not only Pacoima but also communities across the country.”

What do you think about this road-painting endeavor? Would you like to see something similar in your city? 

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