Climate Ready Homes: Preparing for the Future

I was invited to speak at the Scottish Federation of Housing Association (SFHA) Property Repairs and Asset Management Conference on 7 October 2014; and also contributed a feature article to the October issue of their magazine Housing Scotland – which I will reproduce below. It is great to see the social housing sector taking an interest in climate adaptation, alongside the many other challenges they are addressing – for example I shared a plenary session with Morton Duedahl who described how Denmark had setup their district heating network. 

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Housing Scotland (Issue No. 105) 

Climate change is happening. The evidence is clear. It is a global problem, but the impact will be felt locally, here in Scotland. In our homes.

The impacts could be serious, exposing homes and their occupants to greater risks, unless action is taken. Although the challenge is significant, with some forethought, it should be possible to prepare our housing stock over the coming decades through ongoing maintenance, responsive repairs and refurbishment programmes.

Scotland has begun to address the challenge of adapting to our climate, now and in the future. In May 2014, the Scottish Government published the first statutory Scotland’s Climate Change Adaptation Programme, which lays out its objectives and the policies and proposals to meet these. It also highlights key consequences for the performance of our buildings:

“The built environment is made up of existing and newly constructed buildings. Climate change will have an impact on the design, construction, management and use of these buildings and surroundings including the man-made surroundings such as green and blue spaces. Our buildings are largely constructed to cope with the extremes of weather conditions found across Scotland, but most of them will need to continue functioning throughout this century under a significantly different climate.  Whether retrofitting existing or building new, it is likely that there will be issues with water management (in flood and drought), weather resistance and overheating.”

The social housing sector has made great strides in providing quality homes that can cope with the impacts of variable Scottish weather. This includes cold winters, flooding, damp, wind-driven rain, storm damage, and, surprisingly often, over-heating.

However, the overwhelming majority of the housing stock has been designed for climate conditions prevalent at the time of build or to standards based on historic climate data. This is a challenge when the climate is already changing, and we are set to see much greater change in the future.

Over the coming decades we expect to see a temperature increase that creates conditions unlike anything experienced today in Scotland, or even the UK. Rainfall patterns are also likely to change, becoming more seasonal with typically wetter winters and drier summers, and producing more extremes of rainfall and drought.

Our homes will need to cope with:

  • potentially significant increases in severe weather events like heavy downpours, flooding, high winds, and heatwaves – and be resistant to damage from these;
  • hotter summers that could mean overheating becomes an increasingly common issue – as well as health problems, this could increase energy use if natural ventilation can’t cope; and
  • milder winters which will reduce heating demand, although cold spells will still occur, and damp could become even more of an issue.

Scotland’s Sustainable Housing Policy (2013) estimates that “around 85% of homes in Scotland today should still be in use when our final emission targets are to be met in 2050.” How will they perform in the climate of 2050?

We will need to adapt our housing stock in the coming decades. This will include:

  • reducing exposure – avoid locations at flood risk and improving surroundings of buildings (green- and blue-space influence local climate);
  • weather resistance – protection against flooding, heavy downpours and storm damage; improve ventilation for overheating and damp; and
  • response and recovery – monitoring and early warning systems, planned response (evacuation and rehousing), and support for the vulnerable.

There is a significant drive across the social housing sector to retrofit existing homes to improve both quality and energy efficiency. To secure these benefits into the future, they will also need to be climate ready.

Whether new build or retrofit, we have an opportunity to embed adaptation measures into ongoing maintenance, responsive repairs, and refurbishment programmes. This will save cost in the long-term and minimise disruption to occupants, we should avoid going back to a property.

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