UK homes heat up more than twice as quickly as those in many other western European countries including Germany and Italy, with Scottish homes affected the most, a study by intelligent home climate management company Tado has found.
Tado reported that the UK has the oldest housing stock in comparison to EU Member States, with around 38% of homes dating back before 1946 compared to 24% in Germany and Sweden.
As well as heating up more quickly, older, less energy-efficient homes are also difficult to keep warm. As the climate changes, people affected by fuel poverty therefore face a double whammy of not being able to keep warm in winter or cool in summer.
Cold homes are deadly, but overheated homes also kill, with Public Health England reporting 2,500 excess deaths related to the heatwave in summer 2020 alone.
EHP, author and CIEH vice-president, Stephen Battersby, said the Tado study reflected “two sides of the coin”. He said: “Our housing stock hasn't been built to reflect the changing climate, never mind the kind that we had, one could argue”.
Battersby said there were lots of lower tech solutions that could address the issues of the energy-inefficient housing stock but it needed government leadership. The International Energy Agency, for example, has predicted the demand for AC units will double in the next 20 years. This will increase energy use and add to climate emissions.
Fundamentally, Battersby argued: “It's not just about using greener energy. It's about using what energy we generate a lot more efficiently – and that comes down to improving housing stock.”
Even basic things such as installing shutters can help keep homes cool. Older terraced housing, for example, built with solid walls are difficult to insulate, and efforts need to be applied across that type of structure rather than leaving it to an individual household level, he argued.
Local Government Association (LGA) housing spokesperson Councillor David Renard said: “The two largest emissions of carbon are transport followed by housing, and retrofitting energy efficiency into old housing stock is one of the big challenges that both national and local government have got to wrestle with.
“We will need a strategy and some resource from government to tackle that. Fuel poverty is clearly a big issue and insulating properties will help people with fuel poverty, but also it'll help the environment in terms of emissions so it's certainly something that local government is very keen to address.”
Renard added that local authorities with housing stock have a duty to listen to service users regarding what improvements they would like to their homes. Currently top on the wishlist is a new bathroom or kitchen, but with growing awareness of the climate emergency this could change. Renard added: “There's definitely a very large education piece that has to be delivered here.”
The research carried out on behalf of Tado, which makes smart thermostats and AC monitors, included over 60,000 homes.
It found that UK homes with indoor temperatures of 20°C and an outside temperature of 30°C in sunny weather gained 5°C after three hours, on average. In comparison to western European neighbours such as Germany and Italy, the UK homes heated up more than twice as quickly.
Looking at regional data, southern English homes heated up by 4.7°C after three hours, on average, with Scottish homes heating up by 5.6°C in the same conditions.