21 Jul 2022

Feeling the heat

We saw the UK’s first ever red warning for heat this week, with people across the country struggling with unprecedented temperatures - a wake-up call (if we needed it) to the reality of our climate crisis and the inadequacy of many of our homes to cope.

As many as 4.6 million homes in England overheat, according to a recent survey by Loughborough University. (My home certainly felt like one of them.) In 2020-21, 1.9 million (8%) households reported that at least one part of their home got uncomfortably hot (English Housing Survey). As the Big Issue reports, it is the vulnerable who are most at risk from high temperatures.

Building regulation changes came into force last month (June 15) which require tests to ensure overheating does not occur in new builds, for example by reducing the amount of glazing. However, the change does not cover extensions or conservatories. And while new standards tackle overheating and reduce energy consumption, they do not reach ‘zero carbon’ standards and will eventually have to be raised to meet government targets.

Wider action is needed. As the UKHR 2022 shows, our housing stock is not adequate for the 21st century – 5 million pre-1919 homes are poorly insulated and one third of homes that could have loft or cavity wall insulation still lack it.

Centre for Sustainable Energy

The number one thing the government should be doing to beat the heat is insulating houses. Insulation keeps homes cool in the summer, warm in the winter and means people use less energy because less of it is wasted through draughty windows, walls, and roofs.

The government’s own Climate Change Committee says: “Homes which are more energy efficient can be warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, better ventilated, less damp, more comfortable and ultimately be more affordable places to live.”

We need to take a ‘whole house’ approach to tackling poor energy efficiency, linking fabric improvements, low carbon heating, and well-controlled ventilation. The Building Back Britain Commission calls for the government to commit to spending £2.3bn a year for the next decade on raising energy efficiency standards in existing homes.

Whilst we continue to push for progress to accelerate there are simple mitigations that can help, for example:

  • Better landscaping (trees have a cooling effect)
  • Solar shading and shutters, glazing that reflects heat
  • Ventilation (with good instruction on how to use it)
  • Reflective finishes e.g. light coloured roofs (or ‘green’ planted roofs)

We will be exploring these issues further at our upcoming conferences and via our working groups. If you would like to know more, please email policy_practice@cih.org

End Fuel Poverty Coalition

CIH is a member of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition. As part of the coalition we recently joined with over 40 leading charities and campaign groups to press the conservative leadership candidates to take action on energy efficiency.

Written by Rachael Williamson

Rachael is head of policy and external affairs at CIH, leading our influencing and public affairs work in England.