J Urban Health. 2023 Nov 10. doi: 10.1007/s11524-023-00790-3. Online ahead of print.
Rising ambient temperatures due to climate change will impact both indoor temperatures and heating and cooling utility costs. In traditionally colder climates, there are potential tradeoffs in how to meet the reduced heating and increased cooling demands, and issues related to lack of air conditioning (AC) access in older homes and among lower-income populations to prevent extreme heat exposure. We modeled a typical multi-family home in Boston (MA) in the building simulation program EnergyPlus to assess indoor temperature and energy consumption in current (2020) and projected future (2050) weather conditions. Selected households were those without AC (no AC), those who ran AC sometimes (some AC), and those with sufficient resources to run AC always (full AC). We considered stylized cooling subsidy policies that allowed households to move between groups, both independently and in conjunction with energy efficiency retrofits. Results showed that future weather conditions without policy changes yielded an increase in indoor summer temperatures of 2.1 °C (no AC), increased cooling demand (range: 34-50%), but led to a decrease in net yearly total utility costs per apartment (range: – $21 to – $38). Policies that allowed households to move to greater AC utilization yielded average indoor summer temperature decreases (- 3.5 °C to – 6.2 °C) and net yearly total utility increases (range: + $2 to + $94) per apartment unit, with greater savings for retrofitted homes primarily due to large decreases in heating use. Our model results reinforce the importance of coordinated public policies addressing climate change that have an equity lens for both health and climate goals.