Plea to tackle overheating homes risks

The rising temperatures in Northern Europe have  seen a new warning that millions of homes in the UK will need to undergo renovation to reduce the risk of the buildings becoming so warm they pose a threat to occupants’ health.

The Resolution Foundation has issued a new report which looks as at the implications of the rising temperatures.

The Spotlight report  said although the UK’s summer of 2023 has been something of a washout so far, the country is getting hotter, with temperatures over 40oC – first experienced in the UK in 2022 – set to become the norm.  It added hotter weather will impact different people in different ways, so this Spotlight explores what it means for Brits at home and at work.

“At current summer temperatures, a fifth of homes in England overheat, but the make-up of the housing stock means that one-third (36 per cent) have attributes that put them at high risk of overheating in the future,” It added. “Additionally, more than half (54 per cent) of the poorest fifth of English families, three-times as many as among the richest fifth (18 per cent), live in homes liable of getting too hot, while two-thirds of socially-renting households, six-in-ten of those with young children, and more than half of ethnic-minority families have the highest risk of their homes getting too hot as the nation warms”.

The foundation added workers are also at risk.

“At work, one-in-four (23 per cent) of UK workers currently work in occupations at risk of heat stress, thereby facing the greatest health risks as the nation warms,” it added. “Although this is fairly evenly distributed across the bulk of the income distribution, those in the top third have a notably lower-than-average risk. However, older workers are particularly exposed to heat at the workplace – 31 per cent of those in jobs liable to cause heat stress are aged over 50 – and office workers in less deprived areas are more likely to be able to be kept cool by air conditioning at work than those in more deprived places.”

Resolution Foundation’s Chief Economist, Jonathna Marshall explained: “This summer we’ve had a glimpse of what climate change will mean for global temperatures. July was the hottest month ever recorded, bringing extreme heatwaves across the northern hemisphere, temperatures exceeding 50oC in the US and in China, and extensive wildfires in Mediterranean countries. And, although this summer has so far been something of a washout in the UK, the general trend of rising temperatures is clear: 2022 was the UK’s hottest year on record, with temperatures topping 40oC for the first time – extremes expected to become the ‘new normal’ in years to come.

“These instances are made much more likely by the world’s changing climate, especially as in the UK changes in temperature extremes are occurring much faster than changes in averages temperatures, bringing more frequent ‘uncomfortably hot days’ in summers to come.

“So, as high temperatures are both with us and set to worsen, this Spotlight looks at how homes and jobs will be impacted by hotter weather.”

Marshall continued: “Much attention has been paid to the health risks associated with the UK’s old and inefficient building stock being too cold in the winter. But, with one-in-five homes already overheating during the summer months, a warmer world is set to present property owners with another need to adapt their homes.

“Overheating comes with big health risks. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke, cardiovascular and respiratory issues, and sleep disturbance and mental health problems are all linked to high temperatures in the home. Risks are highest when air temperatures exceed 25oC, and there is a clear association between heat-related deaths and temperatures, particularly for the elderly.”

The report said work had to begin to future proof  buildings for the higher future temperatures.

“Continued changes in the UK’s climate will mean many homes need remedial work to remain safe and pleasant to live in, a cost landing at the same time as those associated with widespread energy efficiency upgrades to make them cheaper to heat during the winter months and more suitable for low-carbon heating,” it explained. “We shouldn’t assume that net zero retrofit will be a silver bullet for high temperatures: studies have shown either no observable link between improving fabric efficiency and overheating risk (the presence of individual insulation measures did not impact measured overheating, and any trends based on EPC ratings are explained by property types), or that the links between insulation and overheating risk are variable and depend on numerous other factors, such as ventilation. Still, it makes sense to address both at the same time – especially as households are much less likely to resist change if workers only need to enter a property once.

“A holistic approach to property upgrades should also consider the risks associated with measures to mitigate overheating. For example, reducing summertime temperatures through ‘passive’ measures such as shading to limit solar gain would curb natural heating on sunny winter days, thereby increasing winter energy demand and energy bills. And a surge in uptake of air conditioning – the most likely option for keeping houses cooler – comes with installation costs that will not be affordable for many and will increase annual energy costs.”