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It used to be a given; the best states to retire to, for winter-weary Northerners, were Florida and Arizona, both of which have seen huge population surges since the widespread adoption of air-conditioning. The summer of 2023 was simply unbearable in both states, with weeks of record, triple-digit heat, turning many people’s retirement dream into a nightmare.
Retirees often choose southern states hoping to spend many more days outdoors. But when it is over 100ºF degrees, outdoor recreation is not only no fun, it is dangerous, especially for seniors. Of two dozen heat-related deaths in Maricopa County, Arizona, this summer, half the deceased were over 65. Heat worsens common age-related health problems like heart, lung, and kidney disease. Older people are often less effective at sweating, a natural cooling mechanism. Prescription medications like anticholinergics, prescribed for digestive and lung problems, make the problem even worse. Beta-blockers and diuretics, combined with extreme heat, can cause dizziness, dehydration, and delirium. Blood pressure medications often come with a warning to avoid becoming overheated. Good luck with that!
Health concerns aside, heat has other ways of impacting your retirement. You may be able to turn on the AC to keep cool, but that can lead to high energy bills, and the disquieting knowledge that keeping yourself comfortable is only worsening the global problem. Staying indoors in hot weather makes sense, but can lead to isolation, depression, and a loss of physical fitness. And some hot places like Florida are becoming prohibitively expensive property insurance markets. It’s not just the heat, it’s the hurricanes, the big ones that come with increasing frequency.
Despite this, people of all ages continue to move to Florida in great numbers, but many retirees are taking another look. Apparently the most popular state to retire to in 2023 is . . . Iowa?
Indeed. The Midwestern state has a low cost of living (6th most affordable) good healthcare, and low crime. And the weather is not bad. According to Kiplinger Magazine, the averages ranges from nine ºF in January to 81ºF in July. That is still a real winter, complete with snow shovels, snow tires, and a heating bill. But if you want to avoid the heat, it’s a decent bet .
AARP has considered the question, and recommends western North Carolina, especially Asheville and the surrounding area. Up in the mountains, summer temperatures only rise to the eighties on average, and winters are mild.
Michigan is a surprise choice. The Great Lakes surrounding the state absorb heat in the summer and release it in the winter, resulting in a more temperate climate than other Midwestern states. Michigan is rated 15th in cost of living, compared to Florida at 31 and Arizona at 37. Michigan is rich in culture and outdoor activities.
Maine makes AARP’s list for it’s cool summers—but the winters are pretty cool too! Kiplinger’s cites Juneau, Alaska, as ideal for the truly heat averse, with a July high temperature average of 63ºF but again, winter up there is really, really winter. Several New England cities make Kiplinger’s list, including Bangor, ME (January average low temperature of 9ºF, high of 81ºF), Pittsfield, MA (14ºF to 80ºF), Peterborough, NH (11ºF to 80ºF) and Burlington, VT. (10ºF to 80ºF.)
Average temperature is only one consideration if you are planning a safe and affordable retirement. Does the state you’re considering have a lot of other retirees living there? That may mean that the local government has a greater awareness of the special needs of seniors during heat events, and a greater ability to help people in distress. Or it may not. Look for neighborhood cooling centers, nearby green spaces to protect against an urban ‘heat island’ effect, and programs to help low income home owners prepare their homes for weather extremes. Find out if first responders in the area are trained in helping seniors during heat emergencies.
These are all considerations as people make plans for a time when they will have less income, and eventualy, less physical vitality. But if you’re a reader of G.E.T., you are probably also motivated by other concerns. Where can you live as an older person where you can be the least burden on the environment? Can you find a place where you can contribute, and continue to live your values as you age?
For some, perhaps many, the answer may be to stay put in the Northeast and simply downsize. A smaller living space places a smaller burden on the planet, and on you in terms of upkeep. Winter will still be winter, but you may be able to mitigate its effects on you. Can you move into town? Someplace with good bus or train service might allow you to give up your car, which would lift both a financial and an environmental burden. It also frees up living space for someone else who might need it.
Or super-insulate part of your house, install a heat pump and powerwall battery, and move in there, renting out the rest—hopefully to a younger person who is willing to shovel the driveway. Or build a granny cottage in the backyard and invite your kids and grandkids to live in the main house.
Wherever you go, look for a like–minded group to join. There are Third Act chapters all over the country, putting the newly unleashed energy of retired boomers to work for democracy and the environment. If there is not a chapter where you are planning to move, start one. That will let you continue working for good change.
Jessie Haas lives in an off-grid cabin in southern Vermont with husband Michael J. Daley. She is the author of over 40 books, most recently The Hungry Place.
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