It’s not a good idea to have a cold home; that’s why we invented fireplaces, heaters, boilers and radiators. It was about more than just comfort, it was about fighting the cold for your health, as back in Victorian days, freezing weather was a killer. Those who could just about afford to heat their homes were doing so by burning coal, which created respiratory sicknesses, due to the thick black smoke. A vicious cycle indeed.
In this article, we focus on the topic of cold homes and their impact on health, providing advice about safe temperatures, the invisible dangers of cold, and the best ways of keeping the heat inside.
Safe temperature boundaries
Currently, the average UK home is heated at 17.5 degrees, a reasonably low figure compared to the recommended 21 degrees suggested by the government. The reason for this 3.5 degree gap between actuality and recommendation is perhaps the expensive nature of energy in the current market, but there are other reasons why it could be so.
Important to know: For the elderly or sick, a minimum of 20 degrees is recommended.
The south and the north of the UK have very different climates, meaning the average heating temperature will differ between Cornwall and the most northern reaches of Scotland. In the south, for example, 21 degrees might not be necessary. The British, regardless of where they’re from, are used to cold weather, and so we generally have no problem dressing warm inside the home, and relying on our clothing, hot water bottles and heated blankets.
The dangers of the cold
The biggest danger is influenza, and those most at risk are sadly the elderly.
A study conducted by Friends of the Earth in 2011 found that during the Winter, every one degree lower the average heating temperature was, 3,500 more people died. The study examines the number of people who die due to cold weather related illnesses, comparing statistics for each quarter. December to March generally sees an increase of 30-40% more cold related deaths.
The good news is that homes are being built much more effectively than in days of old, for protection against cold. Homes built before 1850 are almost twice as likely to cause occupants sickness.
The study found out something else that was very interesting; the European countries with the most energy efficient homes had the lowest rates of excess Winter deaths, it stated “Despite the risks to physical health from cold homes, improvements to energy efficiency, and the reduction of fuel poverty achieved by some of the programmes, had a modest, measurable impact in improving the physical health of adults.”
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Keeping the heat inside
There are three areas we recommend in particular for keeping heat inside and avoiding cold homes and impact on health.
Hot air has a knack for escaping through the walls and loft or attic space, due to thin walls that allow for it to pass through. The percentage of hot air escaping (or cold air entering) can be reduced by insulating the wall cavities and loft in your home.
As far as cheap and quick solutions for keeping the warmth inside your home, draught proofing strips are an excellent solution, and can be fitted to doorways, letter boxes and cat-flaps; essentially anywhere that a loose fitting could allow warm air to escape from.
Single glazed windows are guilty of allowing warm air to easily pass through them, which is why most households in the UK have opted to upgrade to double (or even triple) glazing. The double glazed window traps a pocket of air between the two sheets of glass, which acts as a layer of protection against warm air passing through. It’s not 100% efficient, but it’s one of the best ways of avoiding having a cold home.
There are millions of people living in fuel poverty in the UK, thanks to less disposable income, and increasing energy prices, meaning the likelihood of further unnecessary Winter deaths is inevitable. The government must address this, and take action, rather than provide false promises and inaction, which is leading good British people to suffer from cold-related cardiovascular, respiratory, rheumatoid and mental health issues.