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3 March 2017

Overheating in UK Homes Poses Massive Health Risk

Img: Loughborough University 
The potential dangers of prolonged exposure to cold temperatures are well-documented and widely known, but what of the reverse? We’ve spoken before about the possible negative health effects of central heating, but regulating internal temperatures is an intricate game involving many factors. Professor Kevin Lomas, an internationally acclaimed expert in building simulation at Loughborough University, is now warning that poor design and a lack of proper guidance, among other factors, could lead to a serious public health crisis as we approach the warmer months.

Recent research shows that there is now clear evidence of overheating throughout England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Professor Lomas attributes the issue to an increase in home insulation, Government schemes aimed at encouraging owners of older homes to retrofit additional insulation, an abundance of high-rise properties and fundamental failures in building design.

In order to ascertain how widespread the problem really is, Professor Lomas led a team of researchers from Loughborough University’s School of Civil and Building Engineering in collecting temperature data from approximately 800 homes across England. They also measured the temperature on wards within four English hospitals. Overall, the results are somewhat worrying.

Exact figures are heard to come by, as there seems to be no universally-accepted definition of ‘overheating’ in relation to homes and other buildings, but the researchers do assert that during their study, they found that many of the UK’s homes experience summertime temperatures that are uncomfortably warm, even in mild summers, and that temperatures are higher in tower blocks and homes occupied by the elderly.

On hospital wards it isn’t much better, as the research also found that the very places specifically designed to keep us healthy, and should therefore provide a safe and comfortable environment, are also prone to overheating to the point of causing additional health concerns.

In justifying his concern, Professor Lomas pointed to the European heatwave of 2003, which claimed the lives of 15,000 people. With global temperatures continue to climb due to the effects of climate change, this figure is expected to triple by 2040.

“Despite the major health risks associated with overheating, particularly for the old and the very young, the focus of the UK building regulations remains on keeping people warm in the winter and not cool in the summer," explains Professor Lomas. "But there needs to be a philosophical shift in the regulations to also include building adaptation measures.

“We need the Government to listen to what the experts in academia and industry are saying – that urgent action needs to be taken to ensure the people of the UK, and in particular the most vulnerable in our society, are not left at risk from overheating.”

In order to counteract this growing issue, Professor Lomas have made the following recommendations:
  • Develop regulations to stop the building of homes that are highly likely to overheat in the summer
  • Provide people with simple ways to regulate the temperatures in their home, such as easy-to-open windows and shading
  • Provide advice and guidance so people use the cooling opportunities they have at the right time in the right way. For example opening windows at night to let in cool air but closing windows to the daytime heat. 

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.