Although ‘the great British summer’ is often a laughable prospect (think washed-out BBQs, gusty winds and rain stopping play!) the reality is that the UK is getting hotter and temperatures of 40°C and over could become a reality in the next few years. Apart from increased tan lines, frequent heat waves have much more serious consequences. 3,400 people lost their lives between 2016 and 2019 in the UK alone due to excess heat in their homes; those living in high-density dwellings are most at risk.
Here we explore what constitutes excess heat and how property managers can better identify and prevent this hazard in their rented properties.
So what does excess heat mean?
It’s hard to pin ‘excess heat’ down to a precise definition because it changes depending on the climate and the environment but the World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that internal temperatures of 24°C and above can be classified as excessive. The HHSRS operating guidance simply describes excess heat as “threats from excessively high indoor air temperatures”. It also pointed out that when the temperature exceeds 25°C, strokes and deaths are more likely. Therefore, it’s important to remember it’s not just about the number on the dial; factors like humidity and the levels of air movement also have to be taken into account.
Which properties are most at risk?
Flats are more at risk from excess heat because they tend to be poorly insulated (particularly those that were built pre-1945). Tower blocks and apartment buildings tend to retain heat due to the volume of people living within. Flats directly underneath an uninsulated roof or with only south-facing elevation are particularly at risk.
Health issues caused by excess heat
For vulnerable residents, like the extremely young, the elderly or those with compromised mobility, excess heat can be lethal. It can also increase the risk of strokes and exacerbate underlying cardiovascular or renal concerns. Heat waves have also been linked with excess mortality due to mental disorders. Even amongst those who do not normally fit into an at-risk category, it can lead to dehydration and other health concerns.
Preventative measures for excess heat
One of the most obvious solutions to excess heat is installing air conditioning or ventilation systems but these can be costly. Simpler solutions such as increased shading (through shutters and external awnings) are more cost-effective ways to reduce temperatures and are generally quicker to install. Investing in stand-alone fans for your residents is another easy but effective way to get air circulating and reduce temperatures.
Resident engagement is key
Property managers should also ensure residents have sufficient blinds or curtains to minimise solar heat gain during the day. Nevertheless, it is not enough to simply provide these. The best way to deal with excess heat is to educate residents. Make sure they open windows and use curtains or blinds first thing in the morning. Tell residents to ventilate effectively after dusk, allowing trapped heat to escape through open windows. These might all sound basic but they can make a big difference to internal temperatures. Vulnerable residents should try and stay in cooler parts of the property (north-facing rooms get little sunlight so would be cooler) in the afternoon.
It's a legal obligation
As the mercury rises more regularly, so too will your risks of breaching the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, which clearly requires property managers to look out for excess heat, a hazard forming part of the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS). As such, it’s worth conducting a thorough risk assessment especially for flats in multi-occupied buildings. Fortunately, should issues arise, there are simple and cost-effective ways to counter them without having to get all hot under the collar.
Apart from excess heat, there are many hazards one should look out for when managing a rented home. Download this free HHSRS checklist today and make sure your rented homes are safe.