Homes feeling the heat

by Mark Crowe | July 29, 2022 |  4 min read

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I have always said I much prefer the cold. You can plan around the weather, stay indoors more, a casual jog outside rather than a walk to stay warm and of course you can layer up!

Despite that, in supporting our clients in regions such as the Middle East, Singapore, China and Australia I have experienced some pretty high temperatures and it has been fine! For sure I have had to curtail walks outside of the midday heat and wearing a suit to work is reliant on transport being air conditioned, but you don’t really notice it that much. But with temperatures in the UK hitting the 40 degrees mark over the last week…you notice it!

How the heat impacted on our housing

I live in a post millennium house and I have certainly felt the benefits over the winter months of the good insulation, being able to run the heating low or even off entirely to save on energy use. In theory the windows with built in vents provide a good balance of airflow and double glazing works as planned, until there is no natural airflow outside.

I reflected in slight envy at one of the student houses I lived in, thick stone walls, large rooms with high ceilings, solid floors etc. The heating system never worked, and for one particularly cold spell I sat in a blanket for a week with hundreds of candles lit in the vein hopes of warming the room.

We have always reflected in the UK that our housing stock is not designed with our weather in mind. Surrounding countries such as Germany, Norway, Sweden, etc which are all used to far colder winters show us up with a far higher standard of house building at affordable rates and with much better sustainability criteria.

With new builds we have certainly improved in some way towards that. But with global temperatures on the rise, I’m not sure if we are accounting for the extremes we are going to face on both sides of the spectrum or just solving the failures in the housing stock from a few decades ago.

A learning point I gained from working with clients and colleagues more familiar with living in regions with high temperatures, is close all the blinds and curtains! Modern UK houses are designed to retain heat and they really do retain heat when it gets in, my Nest Thermostat kept a nice track of temperatures internally rocketing up to the low 30’s (Degrees).

It was with this realisation that I reflected on home automation considerations. I have my blinds automated, tracking the movement of the sun – somewhat inaccurately still as changes to account for sun elevation across the year are manual. I did this because whilst I like being able to see out of the windows, particularly when the sun is low in the sky, it irritatingly glares of computer monitors and TVs making them unusable. I had never thought of the possibility of temperatures hitting this high, or the fact that mitigating that, means keeping heat out as much as possible in advance of the peak.

So I have a new automation to set up, one that tracks future high temperatures from met office weather data, and overrides the normal blind controls to keep blinds closed from a few days in advance of a heatwave at least.

How the industry is responding

As we are doing with our Smart Connected Buildings Initiative, and within our own BIM Academy offices, we as an industry need to be analysing the performance of our buildings more, to understand how they operate, how they respond to the changing climate situation and the extremes it is bringing.

We can then use this data to inform not only the optimum construction techniques to deliver a built environment that is optimally geared towards supporting all climate events, but also to inform plans or even automations for how we and our environment actively responds to external factors.

So that when a heatwave is detected our built environment knows how to maintain a stable temperature given the thermal properties of the buildings themselves, or perhaps when unusually cold weather is detected (and particularly with this energy crisis) our environment can determine the most efficient approach to dealing with it – do we maintain stable but low temperatures for a month to minimise cost, or do we provide consistent temperatures for a weekend to minimise impact?

We know that temperature shifts are here to stay, therefore the industry must respond accordingly and start building with a climate consciousness to ensure we no longer need to either put on an extra layer or close the blinds. Surely there is a more sophisticated method of temperature control?