Overheating homes crisis – We are as much to blame as the weather

With many of the nation sweltering under the harsh sun, homes and offices are becoming ovens offering no escape from the heat.

This is a scene of extreme seasonal changes becoming increasingly common stemming from the climate emergency we as a society are facing. Finding new innovative ways to achieve a sustainable future have become a priority.

With climate change causing new extremities of seasonal changes, homes need to be adapted to stay habitable. Retrofit can be the perfect solution.

One of the core principles of retrofit is reducing the energy required to heat a home. This is achieved through a variety of measures centred around improvements to building fabric performance.

Reducing heat loss is only one cog of a good retrofitting strategy. A holistic approach allows homeowners the ability to have greater temperature control, from both the fabric measures that have been installed and external ambient temperature changes such as heatwaves.

Retrofitted homes without manual mitigation from homeowners could face summer overheating. Said manual mitigation comes around from changing our human instinctual behaviour.

An instinct for many when the sun graces the nation’s typically gloomy skies is to throw open windows and curtains without a care in the world to escape the humid heat. This can heat the house allowing for higher solar gains and introducing warmer ambient air.

Solar gain is the short wave radiation that the sun omits that typically heats up a home externally and internally from heat radiated through the fenestration.

The behaviour that homeowners should adopt is closing the curtains and blinds of rooms in the house not being used during the day. Furthermore, during the much cooler nighttime hours is to introduce ventilation from outside purges heat and recharges thermal mass with ‘coolth’. Drawing in the cool air will lower the house to a pleasantly low temperature.

A combination of behavioural changes could see residents of a home enjoying cool, comfortable property without the need for energy-intensive supplementary services.

A good retrofit strategy can ensure homeowners have control limiting solar gains to guarantee a comfortable living space.

Measures that can be utilised include:

●       Choosing the correct glazing specification. This is vital for the environment of the property. Typically glazing is graded on thermal performance and the capacity to withstand a certain solar transmittance.

●       Solar shading. This is exactly what it sounds like. In a commercial setting, buildings will have brise soleil fitted that works by deflecting sunlight from the windows. For residential properties, the implementation of canopies has become increasingly popular. Controlling solar heat gain as well as offering a covered space outside all year round. 

●       External finishes to buildings can play a huge part in ensuring heat balance. Put simply, white paint typically reflects around 80% sunlight radiant energy, which explains the classic whitewashed wall vista of the Mediterranean. Some high-performance paints are coming to market which boast 98% effectiveness against solar gains.

●       Building Services do have some part to play. Even low-energy lightbulbs offer marginal contributions to mitigating internal heat gains (and are one of the best ‘bang for buck’ energy efficient measures in their own right). Ventilation strategy, whether passive (Openable windows) or active (mechanical ventilation in some form).

●       Lastly, comfort cooling is also known as air conditioning (albeit without fresh air or humidity control). This is a measure that should only be implemented as one of the last choices due to its negative environmental impact going against the principles of a retrofit.

When all these measures have failed against the ever-beating English summer sun, it is time to resort to extreme methods. Grab the garden hose and fill a cold bucket. This will now be your new cool home.