Climate change is causing Richmond to experience higher average temperatures and more extreme heat waves. The summer of 2020 is forecasted to be one of the hottest on record.
Learn more, stay cool, and stay safe with the resources below.
What is an urban heat island?
An urban heat island (UHI) is an urban area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas. Modified land surfaces (paving, sidewalks, streets, etc.) in the urban environment retain heat and are the main cause of UHI.
In Richmond, the UHI is strongest in the summer months. When combined with summer weather, the UHI can create periods of extremely high temperatures and humidity levels that have serious health impacts on vulnerable members of our community (people with asthma and pulmonary conditions, the elderly, etc.). As extreme heat events increase with climate change, the urban heat island is projected to intensify.
How do higher temperatures from urban heat islands impact our community?
- Negatively affect our health and comfort
- Elevate level of air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions
- Higher energy bills
- Increase energy consumption in buildings
- Impair water quality
What can you do to reduce the impact of UHIs?
- Plant trees or care for trees in your neighborhood
- Install a vegetated or green roof
- Create a green space on vacant land or help maintain an existing green space
- Install permeable surfaces on roadways, sidewalks, parking lots, and alleys
How is the City of Richmond working to reduce urban heat?
Mapping Urban Heat Islands
In summer of 2017, the City of Richmond partnered with the Science Museum of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Richmond, and Groundwork RVA to enhance awareness and understanding of the urban heat burden in Richmond and develop ways to reduce UHI-related impacts. We are focusing on underserved neighborhoods of the community.
The partners conducted an initial mapping of urban heat islands in Richmond. The first image below shows different levels of developed landscape in Richmond. Areas that are gray have a high concentration of cement and asphalt (impervious surfaces). Impervious surfaces impede or prevent the natural infiltration of water into the soil. Light green areas on the image are primarily covered by plants and dark green areas are covered by trees. The second image shows the temperature of land surfaces one summer day in Richmond. The hotter temperatures are shades of red, while cooler temperatures are shades of blue.
Source: Richmond 300 Insights Report
Source: Jeremy Hoffman, Science Museum of Virginia
Assessing Urban Heat Vulnerability
Extreme heat poses dangers to members of our community in different ways based on various demographic, health, and other factors. The City worked with the partners listed above to conduct an initial assessment of heat vulnerability in Richmond in 2017. In 2020, the City created this more comprehensive map. This heat vulnerability map incorporates the following:
- Age (children and elderly)
- Working outdoors
- Vehicle access
- Housing status
- Housing cost burden
- Lack of central air conditioning
- Health conditions (COPD, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, obesity)
The RVAgreen 2050 equitable climate action and resilience planning initiative will prioritize engagement of the communities facing disparate impacts of urban heat.
Comparing COVID-19 & Heat Vulnerability
The COVID-19 pandemic created a sudden public-health crisis with unprecedented impacts on the City of Richmond and our community. Climate change has been a slowly evolving public-health crisis. The people in our community who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 are the same people on the frontlines of climate change - those who are and will be impacted first and worst. The Office is using this data to identify and engage Richmond’s frontline communities in the RVAgreen 2050 equity-centered climate action and resilience planning initiative. Members of our community may be more or less at risk of COVID-19 infection and severe disease or fatality based on various factors. The COVID-19 vulnerability map below incorporates the following:
- Area of employment
- Commute mode (public transportation)*
- Housing status*
- Limited English proficiency
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Sex (male)
- Age (65+)*
- Health conditions (COPD, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, obesity)*
- Access to healthcare and insurance
*These factors may also increase vulnerability to harm due to extreme heat.
Additional City Initiatives Addressing Urban Heat
The City of Richmond has several initiatives that are helping to mitigate urban heat and protect our community.
The Richmond 300 comprehensive planning process has identified many draft strategies addressing urban heat islands, tree canopy, stormwater management, and impervious surface reduction.
The City is working with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to further the goals of RVAH2O by developing a comprehensive green infrastructure master plan to capture and treat polluted stormwater runoff by converting impervious surfaces to pervious surfaces, planting trees and native plants, installing bioretention, permeable pavement systems, and other innovative green stormwater practices that will also mitigate the urban heat island effect.
The Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities has opened streets to bicyclists and pedestrians in and around Byrd Park and Chimborazo Park to allow social distancing for those visiting the area during COVID-19.
The Urban Forestry Division has information on tree planting initiatives and metrics.
The City of Richmond works with Capital Trees and other community partners to build green infrastructure projects like the Low Line Gardens and Low Line Green that also help to reduce the urban heat island effect.
Stay Cool and Safe!
The City of Richmond opens cooling stations when the temperature and/or heat index is expected to reach or exceed 95 degrees. Call 311 for current cooling station locations.
During COVID-19: All citizens must wear face coverings while in the building and maintain a safe physical distance of six feet from others. Seating will be arranged for the appropriate social distancing. (Pets, with the exception of service animals, are not permitted).
For more information regarding cooling assistance services, city residents should contact the City’s Department of Social Services Fuel Assistance Office at (804) 646-7046. Elderly residents with cooling related issues should contact Adult Services at (804) 646-7367. In the event of a heat related emergency, please call 9-1-1.
Virginia’s Cooling Assistance Program is available to households with a child under six years old, a person with disabilities, or an adult age 60 or older living in the home who meet the program’s income and eligibility requirements.
As part of RVAgreen 2050, the City of Richmond is proud to be a recognized SolSmart Silver community. SolSmart is a national program designed to assist and recognize communities that foster the growth of strong local solar markets by taking key steps to reduce barriers and make it faster, easier and less expensive to go solar.
Solar Projects - Permits
For residential or commercial solar projects, applicants should use the Electrical Permit Application. If your permit application requires a plan submission, you must use a thumb drive or CD. No paper submissions will be accepted.
For helpful information, refer to the Electrical Handout Checklist and the Electrical Plan Review Requirements.
Refer to the Permits Fee Schedule for the electrical permit fee. It is based on the cost of the solar PV system.
Submit Permit Application
To file the permit application, submit your information and payment in person at the City's Bureau of Permits and Inspections, City Hall, 900 E. Broad St. Hours: M-F 8:00 a.m.- 5:00 p.m. Call (804)646-4169 with questions.
Go to Permits Web Inquiry, the City of Richmond's Online Permitting System, to review the status of your permit application. Please select "Plan" on the menu and search. If you are looking for the status of an issued permit, please select "Permit" on the menu and search.
After the project is installed, contact the city's Bureau of Permits and Inspections to schedule an inspection (804)646-4169. Go to Permits Web Inquiry, the City of Richmond's Online Permitting System, to review the status of your inspection. Inspection results are currently being posted as they occur and are emailed to the permit holder the same day.
Solar Projects - Zoning
Permitted Accessory Use
In the City of Richmond, property owners are able to install solar panels as an accessory use on the property in all zoning districts. Solar panels are considered an accessory use and relevant setbacks will be imposed. The City of Richmond allows solar panels as accessory mechanical applications (just like an A/C unit or something similar) in the side yard or on the roof.
Accessory structures cannot be in the front of a dwelling (in the front yard) and, for this reason, would not be permitted at that location if it was the only viable location to access the sun. In these situations, it is possible to seek special approval from City Council.
Advisory Determination: Accessory Uses Solar Panels
This Letter of Determination clarifies that solar panels are an accessory use to a permitted primary use building or structure and permitted by right in all zoning districts.
Accessory Use Definition
Per Zoning Sec. 30-1220, accessory use means a use of land or use of a structure or building for purposes incident and subordinate to the principal use of the premises.
Old and Historic Districts
For property within the city's Old and Historic Districts, a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Commission of Architectural Review is required for any exterior changes including the installation of solar panels that are visible from a public place or a public right of way which includes streets, sidewalks, and alleys.
The Commission has guidelines for the installation of solar panels in Chapter 3 of its Handbook and Design Review Guidelines for Old and Historic Districts of Richmond Virginia which emphasize locating the panels to be minimally visible from the public right of way and installing the panels in a method that is reversible and does not compromise the historic integrity of the structure or the historic district. (See Chapter 3, Building Elements, Roofs)
Information about the guidelines, the application process, and how to determine if a property is within a City Old and Historic District can be found on the Commission of Architectural Review website.
Special Use Permit Required
If solar panels are providing off-site power, they are not considered an accessory use. In that situation, a special use permit is required. For more information about the special use permit process, go to the Land Use Administration website.
See the Solar Potential for Richmond
Solar At Home
Learn more about solar options for your home
Learn about solar financing options and incentives for your home
- Homeowner's Guide to Solar Financing
- VaSun - Learn about Solar
- Energy Incentives - Virginia Division of Energy
Solar At Work
Learn more about solar options for your business
Learn about solar financing options and incentives for your business