In the grand scheme of British summers, this one hasn’t been too bad. Since June we have had prolonged dry spells, a decent amount of sunshine and very little rain. In fact, many rivers and lakes are at levels well below average. The grass is more like hay and the ground is solid.
Now, we’ve hit record temperatures, hitting over 40 degrees for the first time ever in the UK. For a country that is most certainly not built for this kind of heat, living in our homes, especially those that are less than 15-20 years old, has been hell.
New-build homes are woefully unprepared for hot or even just warm weather. And with extremes in our climate growing, there has never been more of a need than right now than to invest meaningfully in existing and new homes.
Invest now to pay dividends in the future
One thing that I have heard more and more of these last few days is that we have to stop thinking of the UK as a cold country. It makes sense to me. We no longer have genuinely cold Winters. They’re grey, drizzly and mild. Snow is a rarity now. Extremes in heat are becoming more common, as we have seen these last few days, with the 2019 record temperature broken comfortably on Tuesday.
Yet, for the last two or so decades, the UK has been building homes to keep heat well and truly inside. I live in a three-year-old Redrow home which is packed from top to bottom with insulation. In the Winter, when you want to conserve energy, you appreciate it. Heating the house only takes a few minutes. In summer, when we had 40 degrees, our Landing was an insane 36 inside. And that was with all the measures we could muster to keep the heat out.
We have A-rated windows, a ventilation system into the roof from the landing which is highly ineffective, tons of insulation and everything else a new house comes with. Just like other hundreds of thousands of new homes recently built.
So much thought has been given to keeping heat in, which is expensive, but very little thought has been given to letting a house breathe and ventilate properly. I’m not just talking about trickle vents here. In the heat extremes of Monday and Tuesday and that hot air, open vents would have let that in, rather than help ventilate in that regard.
We needed to have paid just as much attention to ventilating homes as well as keeping heat in. Had we invested in a more balanced approach 20 years ago, those dividends would have been paid this week when the weather turned so extreme.
What I hope we learn, although I currently hold little hope right now, is that we learn from this summer. We learn that keeping heat in homes is only one side of the coin. That we learn investment made now isn’t designed to bring immediate benefits, but longer-term benefits as the climate changes in the years to come. If we are to get hotter as a nation, the current stock of homes is woefully unprepared.
Passive House needs looking at
During the peak of the heatwave, I was seeing tweets on social media showing data from Passive homes that were able to self-regulate their own temperature at a steady 20-21 degrees.
For those that are not familiar, Passive House construction is an incredibly efficient, low-energy standard of building that creates highly insulated yet self-regulating homes. It’s more expensive than building regular homes, but their ability to maintain a regular temperature in all conditions means energy usage is very low compared to a regular home and the inside climate is far more comfortable.
The advantage we have is that we know that Passive House building works. It is a proven method with proven results. The template is there to apply it to the wider construction sector.
However, as is always the case in the UK, the price comes before quality. Passive House construction is significantly more than the mass-market building of new homes. Large house builders being the businesses they are, with the lobbying power they have, will make sure that any suggestion of integrating Passive House standards into the mass market dies before they even get off the ground. So we’ll continue to keep making the same errors because house builders essentially hold the levers of power.
So instead, I would like to see an effort to make building your own home easier, and to encourage self-builders to go down the Passive House route. We need more education in this area, as well as specific Passive House mortgages and a defined supply chain that self-builders can tap into to make it simpler to find the materials and services they need.
After this dire week of extremes, and images of homes burning down in wildfires across the country, I sincerely hope that we all take what is happening in front of our eyes very seriously.
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