Finding it a bit steamy this summer? You're not alone. Across Canada, people say they are really feeling the heat, especially in their homes. And we're tracking it. CBC teams have installed temperature and humidity sensors in dozens of homes in several cities, including Windsor, to see just what happens to people when things go from hot to sizzling to seriously dangerous. This is one of those stories.
The air is thick like butter in your lungs, with sweat beads forming instantly upon exposure to the powerful sun.
It's a typical, though slightly hotter, June afternoon in Windsor, Ont., even with some clouds scattered in the sky.
At noon, the queue for one of the city's food banks is starting to dissipate, with a handful of recipients either waiting for the bus or hesitantly turning back around to walk home.
That walk, a more strenuous journey than usual in the scorching air.
For residents without air conditioning, going back home after a necessary errand like this could mean even warmer, more humid temperatures.
Gregory Walton, 51, was among the crowd that day, knowing once he returned home, he would be implementing his routine of strategically placing fans throughout his apartment and either opening or closing his windows (depending on the time of the day and how his apartment was holding heat in that moment).
It's a methodology he developed out of necessity, but says he's lucky to have an understanding of.
“I'm a jack of all trades,” said Walton, who's an electrician currently looking for work.
“I've just been doing different work my whole life, so I understand a little bit about the mechanics of how heat is retained through concrete and plaster and stuff.”
“So I've been able to make my own inferences, like ‘OK, I need to put a bigger fan here, and here I might need to keep the window open longer just to facilitate some air passage.'”
Walton is one of several Windsorites who has agreed to participate in CBC's Urban Heat project this summer, allowing our team to collect hard data about the temperature and humidity in his apartment, and monitor the impact high temperatures could have on mental and physical health.
Walton lives on the fifth floor of a brick building constructed in the 1960s. All of his windows face west. And with walls made of plaster and a ceiling of cinder blocks, the conditions are ripe for heat retention.
“When it gets hot in here, the walls and the floors and everything add to the overall heat level. There's no place in my apartment for a cross-draft to form,” he explained.
“And so that's something else that I have to contend with.”
For many in situations like Walton's, the main barrier is the investment that comes with having an air conditioning unit, which can be out of reach on a limited budget.
“When I signed my lease, my landlord informed me that for an additional $100 a month, I could have an A/C unit installed in my apartment,” he said.
“I already don't have an air conditioner to begin with … I'd have to go buy one on top of that cost. It's just not worth it economically for me to have to pay [for].”
Windsor is Canada's southernmost city. Sitting on the 42nd parallel, it is so far south, it lines up with cities like Rome and Barcelona across the Atlantic. For locals, it's nothing new that temperatures can skyrocket up to 40 degrees or more with the humidex reading. It makes having air conditioning less of a luxury and more of a necessity.
“Those high 30s, low 40s days are pretty hard. Basically, I have to have all my windows fully open, all the fans going all of the time, just to get air moving around my apartment,” said Walton.
Now in mid-July, according to our measurements in Gregory's apartment, there have been evenings where the temperature has reached internal temperatures up to 32 C with 50 per cent humidity.
And according to some experts, this could have serious health consequences.
Glen Kenny is a researcher at the University of Ottawa who has been studying the impact of rising temperatures on human health, especially for vulnerable populations like the elderly or those with chronic illnesses.
His lab is home to the world's only direct air calorimeter, a specialized device that measures heat stress on human bodies.
“[Temperatures between] 26 and 31 degrees are going to be risky for some older adults,” said Kenny.
“Everything may feel OK, but what you're not seeing is dysfunction, cellular dysfunction.”
According to Kenny's research, human cells can begin to self-destruct after long periods of heat stress.
“It gets worse when you get to 31 degrees. The cells are under stress, and when the cells are under stress, they can't do their job of maintaining structure, cleaning things up, making sure everything is functioning normally. So we are starting to see [that] slow degradation.”
Walton does not have any major health conditions, but the hot summer weather still affects his day-to-day life in other ways that could be of concern over a long period of time.
“When the summer months come around, I only average about maybe five or six hours of sleep a night. And I work heavy manual labour, so I really do need my rest.”
According to Walton, those consecutive days of heat are even more problematic, leaving him feeling more irritable and just wishing for a good night's rest.
“The heat makes me more snappy, more aggressive.”
“You're sweating all night, you're sticky, it's just not comfortable. Especially when you're trying to get your rest and you're constantly having to change your t-shirt, or drink some cold water, or splash your face, or make the fan stronger.”
During the week of June 26, 2023, Windsor, Ont., was home to not only high temperatures, but also one of the worst air quality ratings in the world, due to smoke from forest fires in northern Ontario and Quebec.
“The forest fires coinciding with some really hot days made it practically unbearable,” said Walton.
“I couldn't do anything about it because I need to ventilate my space. At some point I just had to go outside because it was too hot in here.”
Despite the strain on his day-to-day living, Walton has learned to adjust.
“If it really gets bad, I can just always go take a walk down by the river and cool off. So there are alternatives to just sitting in my house and roasting.”
“Maybe you reposition the fan. Maybe you move closer to the window. You got to work a little magic and you find your comfort zone.”
Throughout the summer, CBC News will continue to share stories from families who agreed to take part in our Urban Heat project in Windsor.