Last week UK temperatures climbed above 40C for the first time.
Hundreds of fires broke out amid the record temperatures and major fire incidents were declared in London, Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and South Yorkshire amid the tinder-dry conditions.
London Fire Brigade (LFB) had its busiest day since the Second World War as record temperatures led to hundreds of fires across the capital, with the service taking 2,670 calls.
Travellers faced chaos at rail stations on Wednesday morning after the heat caused damage to overhead wires, tracks and signalling systems.
Those who were able to stay at home weren’t safe from the punishing heat, as many reported struggling through the sweltering days after sleepless nights as they were unable to cool their homes to a bearable temperature.
British homes are designed to keep us warm
Dr Paul O’Hare, senior lecturer in urban geography and development at Manchester Metropolitan University, said heatwaves in this country are “a major blind spot” as the buildings we live and work in were probably built 30, 40 or 50 years ago for a very different climate.
He said one of the big challenges is how to retrofit those buildings while there are still buildings going up that will not be fit for the future climate.
Dr O’Hare said buildings in the Mediterranean are built in such a way that “solar gain” is minimised, meaning that not as much sunlight will be able to stream in throughout the course of the day, whereas buildings in the UK are often orientated to maximise solar gain.
This can be fine for the winter, but not so great for a changing climate.
Dr O’Hare said we need to get better at designing buildings in such a way that they do not heat up so much in the summer.
Homes are built as cheaply as possible
Marialena Nikolopoulou, professor of sustainable architecture at the University of Kent, told Time that developers often crowd many apartments into a single building in an attempt to maximise profit.
Doing this reduces the likelihood of cross ventilation from windows across the building.
Inappropriate building materials used to improve appearance or provide cheap insulation in large apartment blocks can also lead to what Nikolopoulou calls a “greenhouse effect” in summer, as the heat has nowhere to go.
“Frequently nowadays, developers buy a flat and refurbish it to sell for profit.
“So they try to do it the cheapest possible way.”
The way flats are designed
Twenty per cent of households in the UK live in flats, according to the 2018 English Housing Study.
A study by Loughborough University found that flats are three times more likely to overheat than any other housing type.
Lead Professor Kevin Lomas from Loughborough’s School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering said this suggests that it is the design of the flats that is the primary cause of systematic differences in the prevalence of overheating
In the study, summertime overheating in 750 English homes was assessed through both monitoring and questionnaires.
It found that 10% of detached and semi-detached houses had a prevalence of overheating, significantly lower than the 30% of flats that had a prevalence of overheating.
The prevalence of summertime overheating in the living rooms of flats was roughly double that in all other types of housing.
“Heatwaves will increase in frequency, intensity, and duration, and so will the health risks associated with them,” Professor Lomas said.
“With the majority of fatal heat exposures in developed nations occurring indoors, the findings of our study show just how many homes in England are at risk of overheating.”
In many parts of the UK, homes that face each other at the back are required to be built 21 metres apart. This large gap means that many homes in new neighbourhoods are directly exposed to the sun rather than being clustering together around shady areas, as is common in hotter climates.
According to architect Annalie Riches, The 21-metre rule is a hangover from 1902 that was originally put in place to protect the modesty of Edwardian women.
As a result, British neighbourhoods have been designed with this rule in mind, than to the risk of overheating.
Many streets of houses are also designed so homes face each other, with no consideration for the movement of the sun, as is common in other countries.
Marianna Janowicz, an architect and founder of the feminist architecture collective Edit, told the Guardian: “Many British terrace houses were designed to follow a strict social order, formal rooms were at the front while women and servants were kept from sight at the back.
“Propriety and social mores took precedence over comfort and efficiency.”
Falling housing standards
Phineas Harper, chief executive of charity Open City British, said in a Guardian article that British homes are, on average, the smallest in Europe, with tiny rooms, low ceilings and very little floor space.
The Parker Morris standard set a minimum size for all public housing 1960s which was abolished in 1980 by Margaret Thatcher’s government.
This led to a decrease in housing sizes, a 2005 study revealed that typical newly built British houses were barely half the size of new Greek or Danish homes.
In 2006, building regulations put a requirement in place to control solar gains.
The regulations around overheating were updated in June 2022 and now include further measures to demonstrate that a home will have sufficient ventilation to allow for the removal of excess heat, and that such measures are practical for the homeowner.
However, the new regulations only apply to new builds and do not cover existing housing stock, Richard Smith, Head of Standards, Innovation and Research, at the National House Building Council, says.
“This is clearly a gap since the 2020-21 English Housing Survey found that the rooms most likely to get uncomfortably hot are spaces added by the homeowner to create additional living space, such as loft conversions and conservatories,” Smith said.
Source: Upday News