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Overheated houses a growing problem

UK: Modern UK building standards are said to be leading to an increased incidence of problems of overheating in buildings without air conditioning.

According to a new study overheating is a nationwide, growing problem that can render buildings uninhabitable and potentially lethal in summer months.

The UK’s temperate climate means attention in the UK housing stock continues to be focused on heating and heat retention. Domestic air conditioning, or comfort cooling, is uncommon. Many of the leading UK suppliers positively avoid promoting air conditioning for domestic installation (yet the same companies actively sell comfort cooling for luxury apartments and upmarket housing).

According to recently published research by Kevin J Lomas and Stephen M Porritt at Loughborough University’s School of Civil and Building Engineering, overheating has been particularly notable in new homes. It affects the health and wellbeing of occupants, and can lead to premature mortality, especially amongst more vulnerable members of society.

The report, based on previous studies, was published in the journal Building Research & Information. It will also be the subject of a debate at the end of this month by the Edge, a campaigning built-environment think tank.

Since the mid-60s, the building regulations have sought to reduce heat loss in cold weather by setting minimum standards for the thermal envelope. While ventilation is prescribed to ensure adequate background ventilation and windows are designed to ensure adequate natural light, there is no regulatory consideration for design to control overheating in warm weather.

In the UK building regulations have reduced the average heat loss of the housing stock by 23% since 1970. Despite this, more than 10% of England’s households were classed as being in fuel poverty in 2014 and excess mortality due to low indoor winter temperatures in England and Wales was 43,900 in 2014/15.

Summer heat mortality is far less common. During the 10-day European heatwave of 2003, there were reported to be over 2000 excess deaths in England, during the heatwave of 2006 680 deaths and 300 deaths in 2009. As the report points out, as the climate warms the picture will change. By 2040 the temperatures experienced in the UK in the summer of 2003 will be the norm and heat-related deaths could treble by the 2050s, it estimates.

The Edge debate Overheating in UK buildings – a disaster waiting to happen? will take place on January 31. Further information here.

The event will consider what might be done and by whom to address the problem. These questions  will include: What new roles should building regulations have to reduce overheating?; What can professional institutes do to ensure their members take responsibility for overheating in new builds and retrofits?; What changes are needed to the higher education curriculum and CPD?; Who will provide information to occupants on how to operate the building and what to do if overheating does occur (adaptive opportunities)?

Details of the Loughborough University report can be found here.

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