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Avoiding overly hot homes in heat wave situations

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As the current UK summer heat wave shows no sign of ending experts in building and civil engineering are offering advice for keeping homes cool.

The potential for overheating in buildings has become a concern in recent years as weather scenarios of extreme heat have increased in frequency and intensity and the on-going zero carbon agenda has delivered ever more energy efficient buildings.   With these trends set to continue academics in the field believe measures to prevent overheating will become important.

Simple measures can be adopted to help however, say Dr Chris Goodier from Loughborough University, Professor Li Shao from Reading University and Dr Stephen Porritt from De Montfort University.

Dr Goodier comments:  “In extreme heat situations we Britons tend to do the wrong thing, for example we open our windows when it is really hot.  We need to learn more from our European neighbours and follow their example.”

Simple measures that can be adopted to prevent overheating homes include:

  • Closing windows and doors during the day to stop the hot air from outside entering and also closing curtains, blinds and shutters during the day in order to minimise solar gain inside the building.
  • Open windows and doors (where possible, practical and safe), curtains, blinds and shutters when the temperature drops outside in order to let the cooler air in.  This helps lower the core temperature of the building overnight which will then help keep the room temperature lower the following day.

Other measures that could be considered over the longer term and where finance and planning regulations allow include:

  • Fitting blinds and external shutters to windows
  • Using smaller windows in new builds
  • Creation of shade, for example through planting of trees and vegetation
  • Use of heating reflective paint or white paint on external surfaces.

Research conducted by the academics between 2008 and 2011 as part of the CREW Project (Community Resilience to Extreme Weather) suggests that it is certain types of buildings that are at the highest risk of overheating, for example top floor flats in 1960s tower blocks and modern detached houses, particularly if they are south facing.  Continuing to make homes energy efficient is nevertheless still very important says Dr Goodier.

“It is vital that we continue to insulate all our homes to help use less energy, meet our carbon efficiency targets and reduce our winter fuel bills. But it is also important that we are aware of the potential risks of overheating and plan for them effectively.”