This month we meet the winners from the National Healthy Housing Awards.
This guide is for Home Improvement Agencies. It focuses on dealing with the issue of cold homes and helping vulnerable people who live in them. We will go through important steps and strategies to make these homes warmer and more comfortable.
Cold homes don’t just affect how people feel physically, they also affect their overall wellbeing. It’s also good to know that some groups, like older people, disabled individuals, and families with little money, feel the effects of cold homes more.
The main goal of this guide is to give you practical advice and clear steps. These will help you work on the problems caused by cold homes and give support to those who need it.
Understanding the Issue
Cold homes aren’t just about feeling a bit chilly; they can significantly impact people’s health and overall happiness.
The Cold Homes Challenge:
Prevalence of Cold Homes: In the UK, approximately 2.4 million households live in fuel poverty, unable to afford adequate heating. This translates to nearly one in ten households struggling with cold homes.
Cold-Related Health Risks: Research shows that living in cold homes increases the risk of respiratory infections by up to 30%, with vulnerable individuals like the elderly and children at a higher risk. Cardiovascular issues, exacerbated by cold conditions, lead to a notable rise in hospital admissions.
Impact on Vulnerable Individuals:
Older Population: Around 1.8 million older individuals live in homes that fall below minimum standards of warmth. For those over 65, the risk of death due to cold weather is significantly higher, with nearly 34,000 excess winter deaths recorded in 2020.
Health Conditions: Vulnerable individuals with health conditions like arthritis, asthma, and COPD face amplified health risks due to cold homes. The increased strain on their immune and respiratory systems can lead to severe health complications.
Healthcare Strain and Economic Impact:
Hospital Admissions: Cold weather contributes to a rise of over 10% in emergency hospital admissions in the UK. This not only burdens the NHS but also highlights the urgency of addressing cold homes to alleviate healthcare strain.
Economic Consequences: The economic impact of cold homes is substantial, with cold-related illnesses costing the NHS around £1.36 billion annually. Moreover, energy poverty and health issues collectively lead to increased welfare spending.
The Mental Wellbeing Connection:
Mental Health: The impact of cold homes on mental health is often overlooked. Living in cold, uncomfortable conditions can contribute to stress and anxiety, affecting mental wellbeing.
Quality of Life: Individuals in cold homes report reduced quality of life due to inadequate sleep, restricted activities, and overall dissatisfaction with their living conditions.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE): NICE emphasizes the seriousness of excess winter deaths and the health risks linked to cold homes. Their research underscores the urgent need for interventions to tackle this issue.
Public Health England: Public Health England’s reports highlight the undeniable correlation between cold homes and health issues. Their data substantiates the dire consequences of living in inadequately heated homes.
- Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – Fuel Poverty Statistics: 2021
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) (2015) – Excess winter deaths and morbidity and the health risks associated with cold homes
- Age UK – The health and care of older people in England 2019
- Office for National Statistics (2021) – Excess winter mortality in England and Wales: 2020 to 2021 (provisional)
- Public Health England (2018) – Cold weather plan for England: Protecting health and reducing harm from cold weather
- Association for Decentralised Energy (2020) – The UK’s ability to meet energy demand during the winter months
- Mental Health Foundation (2018) – Cold weather and mental health
Assessment and Identification
In this section, we’ll dive into practical methods for assessing properties and identifying cold homes. These steps are crucial in pinpointing areas that require improvement and understanding the specific challenges vulnerable individuals might face.
Assessing a Property for Cold Home Issues:
Conducting a Comprehensive Cold Home Survey
External Walls and Insulation:
- Begin with external walls. Look for cracks, gaps, or signs of moisture ingress.
- Check for insulation materials and their condition. Identify any gaps or areas that lack insulation.
- Note any signs of dampness or cold spots on the walls.
Roof and Loft Space:
- Examine the roof for missing or damaged tiles, which can lead to heat loss.
- Access the loft space and evaluate the depth and quality of insulation.
- Look for gaps around pipes, cables, and other penetrations.
Windows and Doors:
- Inspect windows for gaps around frames and any signs of draughts.
- Check for damaged or old seals that might compromise insulation.
- Examine doors for gaps along the edges and at the threshold.
Flooring and Floorboards:
- In rooms above unheated spaces, assess the flooring for cold spots.
- Inspect floorboards for gaps and consider adding draught-excluding materials.
Heating System and Radiators:
- Test the heating system to ensure it’s functioning properly in all rooms.
- Check radiators for cold spots, indicating air pockets that might need bleeding.
Ventilation and Draughts:
- Evaluate ventilation systems for efficiency and balance between air exchange and insulation.
- Use a lit candle or your hand to identify draughts around windows, doors, and electrical outlets.
In this section, we’ll delve into the aspects you can observe about residents and the questions you can ask to gauge if they are being impacted by a cold home. Understanding the human aspect is essential for addressing the challenges posed by inadequate heating and insulation.
Understanding the human aspect is essential for addressing the challenges posed by inadequate heating and insulation. Here we’ll delve into the aspects you can observe about residents and the questions you can ask to gauge if they are being impacted by a cold home.
Clothing and Layers:
- Observe if residents are wearing heavier clothing indoors, even when it’s relatively mild outside.
- Note if they are seen wearing multiple layers or blankets.
- Pay attention to how residents use heating sources. Are they concentrated in one area of the home?
- Observe if they use space heaters or electric blankets to compensate for coldness.
- Notice if residents spend most of their time in a single heated room while avoiding other areas.
- Observe if they limit activities to heated spaces.
Comfort and Well-Being:
- How comfortable do you feel in your home? Are there any specific areas that feel colder?
- Have you noticed any changes in your health or well-being during colder months?
Energy Usage and Bills:
- Have you noticed a significant increase in your energy bills during colder months?
- Are you using any alternative heating methods, such as space heaters, to stay warm?
Sleep and Quality of Life:
- Are you able to sleep comfortably throughout the night, or do you find it difficult due to cold conditions?
- How has the quality of your daily life been affected by living in a cold home?
- Do you find yourself spending more time alone in one heated room?
- Have your social interactions or activities been impacted by the temperature inside your home?
Physical Health and Symptoms:
- Have you experienced any health issues that you think might be related to the cold environment?
- Do you notice any increase in allergies, respiratory symptoms, or joint discomfort?
By keenly observing residents and asking thoughtful questions, you can gain insights into how their living conditions are affecting their daily lives and overall well-being. This understanding is crucial for tailoring interventions that address their specific needs. In the upcoming section, we’ll explore practical strategies to mitigate the challenges posed by cold homes and support vulnerable individuals effectively.
Clear and empathetic communication can be a powerful tool in addressing concerns and making meaningful changes.
Clarity and Simplicity: Use simple language and avoid jargon. Explain concepts in a way that’s easy to understand, especially when discussing technical details like insulation and heating systems.
Addressing residents about their living conditions, especially when they might be embarrassed about a cold home, requires a compassionate and understanding approach. Here’s how you can engage in a sensitive conversation while offering support and empathy:
1. Create a Comfortable Environment
Choose a quiet and private space where residents feel at ease to share their thoughts.
Ensure that the conversation is free from judgment and criticism.
2. Open with Empathy
Begin by expressing genuine concern for their well-being and comfort.
Let them know that your goal is to understand their situation and offer assistance.
3. Normalise the Experience
Share that many people face challenges related to home conditions, and they’re not alone.
Emphasise that the purpose of the conversation is to explore solutions together.
4. Use Non-Judgmental Language
Avoid using terms that might make them feel defensive or embarrassed.
Use phrases like “challenges with heating” instead of directly mentioning a “cold home.”
5. Listen Actively
Let residents speak without interruption, allowing them to share their feelings and experiences.
Show genuine interest in their concerns and feelings.
6. Validate Their Feelings
Acknowledge that living in a cold home can be difficult and impact their well-being.
Let them know that their feelings are valid and understandable.
7. Offer Supportive Information
Share information about the common challenges of cold homes and the resources available to address them.
Explain that seeking assistance is a proactive step toward improving their living conditions.
8. Focus on Solutions
Shift the conversation toward potential solutions and improvements.
Discuss the various options for support, grants, and interventions that can make a difference.
9. Respect Their Privacy
Assure residents that any information shared will remain confidential.
Let them know that you’re there to help and support them, not to judge or share personal details.
10. Follow Up with Compassion
After the initial conversation, follow up to check on their progress and well-being. Continue to offer your support and remind them that you’re there to help. Remember, the key is to create an atmosphere of empathy, respect, and support. By approaching the conversation with genuine concern and understanding, you can make residents feel comfortable sharing their challenges and open to receiving assistance.
In this section, we focus on the practical interventions that can truly transform cold homes into warm and inviting spaces for vulnerable individuals.
Low-cost home improvements
You can make small improvements to help make homes more energy efficient. They’ll usually cost between £10 and £150, but should save money on your energy bills.
Install an energy-low-cost shower head to save £40 a year:
Energy-efficient shower heads reduce the amount of water used by either regulating the flow or aerating the water. If the water is metered, it could also save you an additional £40 on the water bill. They’re not suitable for electric showers, which should be switched to ‘eco mode’.
Get the boiler serviced:
An annual service helps keep your boiler running safely. Faulty boilers can be very dangerous. During your boiler service, a Gas Safe registered engineer checks for leaks and issues and they will ensure that your boiler is running properly, which can save money on future repairs.
Switch to energy-saving light bulbs to save up to £40 a year:
Standard or incandescent light bulbs are very inefficient. Switching to energy-efficient bulbs, such as LEDs, can save money on energy bills while keeping your rooms well lit. LED light bulbs also last longer than traditional bulbs, saving on maintenance costs. The amount of light, or colour of the light (white to yellow) is not linked to a bulb’s energy usage, so you can get the same light at a much lower energy cost.
Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs):
Thermostatic or smart radiator valves can help improve a home’s energy efficiency by controlling the temperature of a room. Having TRVs installed on radiators allows you to set the temperature in individual rooms. This makes it easier to keep rooms at a comfortable temperature and save on heating bills by only heating the rooms you need to.
A deep clean of the heating system:
Radiator systems can often build up dirt and rust, known as ‘sludge’. This stops hot water flowing through the system properly and can create cold areas in radiators, reducing efficiency and increasing energy bills. An engineer can carry out a ‘power flush’ of the heating system to remove sludge and add chemicals to the system to stop it from building up again.
‘Balancing’ the heating system:
Heating systems can become ‘unbalanced’, meaning that one or more of the radiators in a property are not heating up properly, causing cold and hot spots to emerge in a house. An installer can carry out a process called ‘hydronic balancing‘ which ensures that the right amount of water is distributed in a heating system so that all your radiators heat up evenly.
Find and fix draughts to save up to £60 a year:
Draught-proofing is one of the cheapest and most effective actions you can take to stop or prevent heat escaping and reduce energy bills. Block unwanted gaps around windows, doors, chimneys and floors that let the cold air in and warm air out. Window film is a form of temporary secondary glazing which helps stop heat from escaping through glass.
Spend-to-save home improvements:
You can find ways to save energy in a home by making larger improvements to help make it more energy efficient. They can cost more upfront but should save money on energy bills over time. They may also improve health and wellbeing by reducing dampness, mould and condensation in the home.
Insulate the hot water cylinder to save up to £50 a year:
If there is a hot water tank, you can invest in a hot water cylinder jacket. It reduces the amount of heat the cylinder loses and keeps water hot for longer, making it more efficient and cheaper to use.
Install smart thermostats and heating controls to save up to £50 a year:
Smart thermostats and heating controls offer greater flexibility and control over energy use. Smart controls do everything that conventional heating controls do but are connected to the internet and offer more functionality such as allowing you to adjust your temperature settings when you’re not at home via a smartphone.
Install roof and loft insulation to save up to £285 a year:
Loft insulation is one of the most straightforward ways to increase insulation in a home. According to the Energy Saving Trust, if you don’t have any, adding 270mm thickness could save £285 a year. If you already have 120mm, increasing this to 270mm could save £35 a year.
Replace the boiler with a heat pump with the help of a government grant:
Heat pumps use cleaner electricity and are significantly more efficient than traditional boilers so will reduce a home’s energy usage. The government is offering grants of £5,000 off the cost of a heat pump to properties across England and Wales through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. Check if you’re eligible for a heat pump grant on GOV.UK.
Install solar panels on the roof to save £305 per year:
The Energy Saving Trust estimates that you can save around £305 per year by installing solar electricity panels on a roof. These panels capture the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity that you can use in a home. Once you’ve paid for the initial installation, you can generate your own renewable electricity and reduce your electricity costs.
Upgrade to double glazing to save £175 a year:
According to the Energy Saving Trust, upgrading from single to double glazing could reduce the cost of bills by £175 a year. It will also reduce cold draughts and sound pollution from outside.
Install underfloor insulation to save £85 a year:
Floor insulation can not only make floors feel warmer and more comfortable in a home, but it can also help reduce heating bills.
Cavity wall insulation could save £300 a year:
Cavity wall insulation is installed in the space or ‘cavity’ between the inner and outer walls of a property and can typically be fitted in homes built after the 1920s. This type of insulation helps to keep heat inside a home, making it more comfortable and lowering heating costs.
Financial Assistance and Grants
There are a wide range of financial assistance and grants available in the UK to support the transformation of cold homes into warm sanctuaries for vulnerable individuals. These opportunities can be game changers in ensuring better living conditions and enhanced well-being.
In England, there are several grants and schemes available to support homeowners in making their homes warmer and more energy efficient. These initiatives are designed to alleviate the challenges posed by cold homes and improve living conditions for vulnerable individuals. Here are some notable grants you can share with your clients:
Support through Installers:
The Boiler Upgrade Scheme offers grants to property owners for the installation of low-carbon heating systems like heat pumps. This can make a substantial difference in energy efficiency.
Support through Local Authorities:
The Home Upgrade Grant (HUG) aims to enhance energy efficiency and provide low carbon heating for low-income households in off-grid homes. Successful local authorities are awarded grant funding to implement HUG, contributing to tackling fuel poverty and moving towards net zero by 2050.
The Sustainable Warmth Competition allocates funding to local authorities, allowing them to upgrade energy-efficient homes of low-income households. This includes schemes for both homes heated by mains gas and those off the gas grid.
The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) works towards upgrading social housing stock below the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) D rating. It involves funding waves that target improvements in energy efficiency for social housing.
Support through Energy Companies:
The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) mandates energy suppliers to assist households in reducing home heating costs by implementing energy-saving measures. Eligible households can receive grants for insulation, boiler upgrades, and other energy-saving measures. The scheme particularly focuses on low-income and vulnerable households.
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