Is this what the home of the future looks like?

We get the experts view on the measures we should be taking now to protect our homes from the current and future effects of climate change

Climate change. It’s a term we’ve all heard countless times in the media. We know it’s bad. But do we really know why? And would we be able to confidently state how it impacts us on a day-to-day basis, not only now but looking into the future? Like most people we’re a little unsure, so we set about finding out. Consulting the experts, we discover the real, tangible effects of climate change, how it could affect us between now and 2100, and, most importantly learn how to protect our homes against its impact. To illustrate our findings we created Climate-Proof House, an imaginary home that’s been modified in order to withstand the effects of climate change. With some adaptations costing as little as £50[1], we discover that protecting our homes against the effects of climate change might not be as costly as we think.

What is climate change, and why is it happening?

According to the Met Office, climate change is the ‘large-scale, long-term shift in the planet’s weather or temperature patterns’, and since 1901 the Earth’s surface temperature has risen by 0.89˚C [2]. While this might not seem like much, small changes in global temperature can have big impacts.[3]

So, what’s causing this warm up? It is widely accepted that this change is largely a result of an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from human activity [4]. In fact, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that man-made emissions have led to unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in our atmosphere in at least the last 800,000 years [5]. If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at this rate, it is estimated that that there will be even further increases in the Earth’s surface temperature – by as much as 4.8˚C by the year 2100, according to World Energy [6].

Cimate change is the ‘large-scale, long-term shift in the planet’s weather or temperature patterns’, and since 1901 the Earth’s surface temperature has risen by 0.89˚C.

What are the effects of climate change, and what does it mean for me?

It’s certainly food for thought, but what exactly is so bad about a rising temperature? Won’t it just mean warmer summers for us all? Well, while the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment does acknowledge that a warmer climate could present opportunities for us Brits – an increase in recreational activities like walking and cycling, expansions in tourism and even a reduction in the number of cold-related deaths, the long-term consequences are likely to outweigh any benefits [7].

Chief among these consequences is the emergence of extreme weather conditions. It is estimated that UK winters could be up to 23% wetter while summers could be up to 24% drier [8]. But it’s the knock-on effect of these conditions that’s the main cause for concern. According to recent studies, we’re facing a real risk of severe flooding, an increase in the number of properties prone to overheating (which in turn has serious ramifications on our wellbeing), and a rise in the spread of infectious diseases from as early as 2050. In fact, flooding and overheating pose such high risks to the UK population that they ‘require… additional action in the next 5 years’ [9].

Adapting your home to withstand the effects of climate change

If climate change is inevitable, we need to do something about it – after all, no one can say we haven’t been warned. So, what are our options? In the UK, our aging building stock is ill-equipped to deal with its effects, but modifications can be made. Climate-Proof House explores how a typical home could be adapted to counter the most likely effects of a rising temperature: flooding, overheating and the spread of infectious diseases.

Below we explore a variety of adaptations a typical house could make to help resist the effects of climate change.

If climate change is inevitable, we need to do something about it – after all, no one can say we haven’t been warned.

The Climate-Proof Home

1. Green roofs

Covering roofs with live greenery like grass and plants can have a number of benefits. Not only can it reduce heat penetration, therefore slashing the risk of overheating, it can also help alleviate any potential flood risks as more water runoff is absorbed. Studies also show that with just a 20% increase from current levels, green roofs could halve the urban heat island effect (the excessive temperatures of built-up areas caused by human activities) by 2050. And, as an added benefit, green roofs provide a habitat for biodiversity and will absorb gaseous pollutants too [10].

2. Solar shading

Homes in the UK have largely been designed to keep us warm, so when it comes to keeping us cool, they’re likely to struggle [11]. Installing shutters, curtains or reflective blinds at the window will help protect your home from the sun’s heat, reducing indoor temperatures.

3. Fit insect screens

Screens offer protection from insects carrying diseases, such as mosquitos, while still allowing you to keep windows open in the evening for natural ventilation [12].

4. Treat wooden doors, frames and sills, or switch to inherently resilient ones

Fixtures that can get wet and then dry out with minimal damage will increase your home’s resilience to flooding, and limit the time it takes to recover after an event, should the worse happen [13]. Options include treating existing wooden doors, frames and sills with a preservative to keep water out, or switching them to something inherently resilient. Considering that only 10% of people are aware that they live in a flood risk area, making small, precautionary changes like this could prove to be a good idea [14].

5. Switch to water-efficient appliances

Switching to water-efficient appliances is an easy way to reduce the amount of water we use in our homes. Installing a low-flow shower and ultra-low flush toilet can save a combined total of up to 15,000 litres of water per person per year. Water-efficient washing machines costs only slightly more than standard models yet could save round 5,000 litres of water per person per year [15].

6. Green spaces

Lawns are a natural way to reduce flood risk as they absorb more water than paving , so it pays to keep your garden as green as possible [16]. If a driveway is a necessity, use permeable materials like gravel that will let water soak through and drain away easily [17].

7. Harvest rainwater

Installing a £50 water butt can save an estimated 400 litres of water per person per year[18] and help curb energy emissions. For homes that have a water meter installed, a water butt could save you money too.

8. Replace timber floors with concrete

Replacing lower-level timber floors with solid concrete is a practical measure that will further increase your home’s resilience to flooding. Although costly, this solution could help reduce insurance claims by up to 80%[19] so is likely worth the investment over time, especially in areas at a high risk of frequent flooding.

9. Relocate appliances

Washing machines and dryers could be relocated to the first floor to keep them out of harm’s way, while boilers could be fixed to the wall above the likely flood level. Reduce payback time by making these changes when appliances are due to be replaced [20].

10. Raise electrical sockets

Repositioning electrical sockets so they sit above the likely flood level helps guard against flood damage [21]. The cost of carrying this out will vary from property to property, but could start at around £700 [22].

11. Introduce passive cooling measures

Passive cooling measures, i.e. those that require little to no energy consumption, are a practical way to combat overheating. Low-cost options include ceiling fans, or night purging, where you keep windows closed during the day and open at night to flush out warm air [23].

What now?

Will we all be installing green roofs and tearing up our original wooden floors by the end of the century? As with most things, it’s likely to come down to cost and, encouragingly, research suggests adapting our homes might not set us back as much as we think.

In fact, some of the smaller measures that we can take, like introducing an emission-reducing water butt, cost as little as £50. Even retrofitting an existing property with a robust package of measures like replacing doors, windows and frames with resilient options, relocating electrics and installing low-water appliances is likely to come in at under £10,000 [24]. It’s not what you’d call cheap of course, but it’s likely only a fraction of what it could be should disaster strike. Pair this with the likely reduction in insurance premiums and any adaptations we can make will be a more than worthwhile investment both now and in the future [25].

As we discover more about the implications of a rising temperature, we ask: are you worried about the effects of climate change?

Are you worried about the effects of climate change?

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