April Map of the Month

By: Laura Diaz-Villaquiran

Source: Union of Concerned Scientists, “Killer Heat in the United States” U.S. Census Bureau, Physical Housing Characteristics for Occupied Housing Units

Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related death in the United States, and Southeast communities are particularly vulnerable to heat impacts as the climate warms. This vulnerability is not distributed evenly across the region, however. Research suggests that residents of mobile homes are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat, with one 2021 study finding that mobile home residents are six to eight times more likely to die from heat-related illness than people who live in other types of housing.

The South has the nation’s largest share of mobile homes, and this month’s map considers where mobile home residents may be at the highest risk from expected increases in the prevalence of extreme heat by the middle of the century (2036-2065). Counties on the map shaded in dark blue have a high proportion of mobile homes—at least a quarter of the occupied housing units in those counties—and a high percentage of days with heat index values above 100°F. As the map indicates, these factors are overrepresented in counties in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Research shows that people may experience elevated health risks —including respiratory and cardiovascular issues that can result in death—when exposed to temperatures of 80°F or more. Risks depend on a range of factors, including the length of exposure, physical activity, overall health, local environmental conditions, and how acclimated people are to those conditions. Outdoor workers, children, elderly people, those who are pregnant, and people with underlying health conditions are most susceptible. These risks can be magnified by housing quality and access to affordable energy. A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists notes, “When nights remain hot, health risks rise, especially for those without access to air-conditioning or for whom the choice of turning on the air-conditioning presents difficult financial trade-offs.”

These issues are often magnified in mobile homes, which, on average, have energy costs that are double those costs in stick-built homes. Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey indicate that 37% of people living in mobile homes, and earning less than $25,000 a year, kept their homes at an unsafe temperature to offset their cost-of-living expenses. Additionally, mobile home residents are more likely to face other “concentrated disadvantages” that include high energy burdens, lower-than-average incomes, a greater likelihood of living in rural areas that lack robust health and social services, and more.

Understanding future scenarios like this enables us to anticipate challenges for individuals residing in mobile homes while helping identify opportunities to leverage energy efficiency to mitigate heat-related illnesses and improve resiliency. These approaches could include home weatherization, implementing high-energy efficiency upgrades, and renewable energy retrofits. Additionally, targeted state and federal funding could prioritize communities that are most at risk of experiencing extreme heat in the coming decades.