Keeping your cool: Home Quality Mark advises on the best ways to protect your home from overheating

Following a spate of recent heatwaves temperatures across the UK have soared into the high twenties, with more hot weather forecast throughout August. Whilst this creates the perfect climate for sunseekers, it is raising questions across the housebuilding industry on how to address the various issues associated with how to keep homes cool and safe for their occupants when the mercury soars. The voluntary national housing standard addressing the concerns around home temperature is the Home Quality Mark (HQM), which is working with UK developers to ensure new homes are built to remain at a comfortable temperature in the summer months.

The HQM uses a 5-star rating system to independently assess a new home’s design, construction quality and running costs. This includes measures to minimise overheating in the home and helping ensure the health, wellbeing and comfort of occupants. HQM-approved homes will be assured to cope with weather issues throughout the year, such as cold snaps and heatwaves.

There are a number of elements which make a home difficult to keep cool in periods of extreme heat:

  • Homes with limited shade, or large areas of south-facing glass, can be difficult to cool down
  • Single-aspect homes, which are hard to cross-ventilate
  • Houses near loud music venues or in polluted areas, where leaving windows open for long periods is problematic
  • Homes near other heat sources, for example restaurants or commercial properties which emit heat, or hard standing tarmac areas
  • Houses with communal heating and hot water systems that are not designed and installed correctly
  • Poor insulation, which traps heat, causing homes to overheat in periods of extreme heat

However, there are different ways to cool a property:

  • Block midday sun out where possible, using blinds or curtains, especially over large-scale glass
  • Avoid installing large bi-folding doors, with no ability to open a small secure window which can be left open at night
  • When upgrading windows, consider installing heat-absorbing glass
  • Try and ventilate the home as early as possible in the evening to reduce night time temperatures
  • It’s important to ensure homes are well-insulated and retain heat in the winter but at the same time absorb external heat to keep homes cooler in the summer
  • If you have mechanical ventilation, make sure it is serviced and working correctly
  • Consider cooking early and for short periods to reduce any heat you are adding into the home

Heatwaves are no longer a rarity in the UK, and new research by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) predicts that without changes to residential building regulations, the number of people dying as a result of heat is expected to more than triple to 7,000 a year by 2040, with babies, toddlers and the elderly most at risk.

The average home in the UK is not necessarily equipped to cope with long periods of extreme heat, often lacking in the facilities and considered design required to thrive in these conditions. Various measures, such as good quality insulation, energy-efficient ventilation methods and heat-absorbing glass are not commonplace in homes currently, but can be easily implemented in new build properties, and during refurbishments of older homes.

Overheating is a serious issue, especially in urban areas, where cities with over a million people can be subject to the ‘Urban Heat Island’ (UHI) effect, where waste heat lingers between buildings, with nowhere to escape to. In these islands, temperatures can increase by up to three degrees centigrade compared to surrounding areas, making it much harder to cool down homes.

Gwyn Roberts, Lead at the Home Quality Mark, comments:

“Temperature control in the summer is a real challenge for housebuilders in the UK, as residents don’t want dark and dingy homes, but bright and airy ones. There are often constraints around the site, such as roads and railways which make opening windows less desirable.”

“Unfortunately, there is still very little regulation in this area. That’s why the Home Quality Mark is important, as it is a holistic standard that takes into account all the issues, helping housebuilders to build better homes and giving householders reassurance that their home is going to fit their needs without having to buy costly air conditioning units.

“The threat of climate change means that the issues we are seeing with overheating and its negative effects on our health through discomfort and increased indoor air pollution will only continue. Homebuilding must be more efficient and tackle this issue head on, using construction techniques and forward-thinking design to make positive steps forward.”