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Keep your cool: Why building design is key to preventing houses from overheating

Tuesday, 09 August 2022

The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe, due to the sheer volume of buildings constructed during the industrial revolution and post-wars when quantity was more important than quality. Consequently, most of our homes are cold in the winter months and vulnerable to overheating in the summer months.

Recent statistics indicated that 3.6 million living rooms in England had overheated during the summer of 2018 and, more recently, the UK experienced its hottest temperatures on record in July 2022 when the mercury rose to more than 40 degrees in Lincolnshire.

And now, the UK Health Security Agency has once again issued a heat-health alert for the week as temperatures are predicted to rise again, with some areas forecast to reach highs of 36 degrees by Saturday.

Lucelia Rodrigues, Professor of Sustainable and Resilient Cities at the University of Nottingham, discusses why building design is crucial when it comes to keeping homes cool.

Dr Lucelia Rodrigues
Clever design means understanding and responding to context, including climate conditions. Most importantly, today’s designers need to make sure that buildings are climate resilient and are constructed with future weather scenarios in mind.
Lucelia Rodrigues, Professor of Sustainable and Resilient Cities at the University of Nottingham

Lucelia continued: “Designing high-quality homes that are comfortable all year round does not cost any more than the construction of a ‘traditional’ home – it’s all about clever design as opposed to expensive technologies.”

In 2000, the university’s Department of Architecture and Built Environment launched Creative Energy Homes, an industry-funded project looking into innovative solutions that can make homes more comfortable and, crucially, carbon neutral.

Lucelia added: “The seven-house development has provided a living test-site for leading companies such as E.ON, David Wilson Homes, Saint Gobain, BASF and more, who have worked alongside us to investigate the integration of energy efficient strategies and technologies into houses.

“As part of this, we have implemented several strategies to help keep the buildings cool, from simple, low-tech solutions, such as shading, insulation, and effective natural ventilation, through to more sophisticated solutions, for example, phase-change-materials, earth-air heat exchangers and evaporative cooling.

Understandably, it’s not possible for us all to simply redesign our homes. Therefore, we need to redesign the way we think, particularly as we prepare for another heatwave, to ensure both comfort and safety.
Lucelia Rodrigues, Professor of Sustainable and Resilient Cities at the University of Nottingham

Lucelia continued: “While it might seem counterintuitive, closing windows during particularly high temperatures can, in fact, help keep the warm air out. Try to ventilate your home at night and in the very early morning instead when the air temperature is cooler. Additionally, stopping the sunshine from passing through the window can prevent the greenhouse effect, so it is important to shade the outside using shutters, brise soleils, or cleverly placed plants – even cardboard will do in particularly extreme weather. Finally, for any homeowners with an unshaded conservatory, open everything up, particularly high windows, to let the warm air escape.

“It is important to note that well-designed homes with highly-insulated envelopes that are comfortable and energy efficient in the winter months are also good at keeping the heat out in the summer, and technologies such as air-source heat pumps (ASHP) and mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems (MVHR) can also aid cooling. If you are buying a new property or refurbishing yours do ensure you ask your supplier how you home will keep cool through the heatwaves that are sure to come.”

Story credits

For more information about the Creative Energy Homes project, please visit: www.nottingham.ac.uk/creative-energy-homes/index.aspx

More information is available from Professor Lucelia Rodrigues, in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham at lucelia.rodrigues@nottingham.ac.uk.

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