As most of the UK glides blissfully into spring, the winter we leave behind has left a disturbing mark on many households.
A study carried out by the University College London (UCL) – and brought to public attention via BBC News and a BBC Panorama documentary – has calculated that an estimated 9,000 people died last winter in England and Wales because their homes were too cold.
Why? The unacceptable issue that seemingly will not go away: fuel poverty. People being priced out of acceptable living standards due to high energy costs; people not being given suitable access to the energy efficient technologies that can sidestep a reliance on costly fossil fuels.
The consequences of cold homes run far deeper than simply discomfort or putting on an extra jumper. They can be a direct source of serious illness. In fact, studies by Age UK indicate that illnesses caused by fuel poverty costs the NHS £1.3 billion each year.
Considering we have had one of the warmest UK winters on record, the statistics are that much more damning. The simple fact is that these deaths are entirely preventable, if action is taken to ensure people are supported in making their homes considerably more energy efficient.
By installing more fuel efficient means of heating in a household, the running costs will naturally drop. Looking at the energy efficiency of the radiators could be the first step, with newer technologies using 1/10th of the water used by a standard steel panel, there is less demand on the boiler meaning people will get a lot more heat for their money. Installing low flow water systems such as heat pumps is another option, making the most of their minimal energy usage by pairing them with the same effective low water content radiators, which are highly responsive even at low temperatures, unlike steel panel radiators most commonly used in residential buildings. The end result is that it improves the comfort of the residents whilst helping them save money on their energy bills.
Unfortunately, despite the technologies being readily available, there are arguably misconceptions that allow them to be bypassed. If people are worried about the initial cost outlay, we need to do more to champion long term savings and the fact they get more heat for their current budget. The government also has support measures come in the form of the Renewable Heat Incentive which can help to offset the costs of installing renewable systems – such as heat pumps or biomass boilers – by effectively paying back on the energy produced in the long run. Then, by installing the Low-H2O radiator technologies that allow for affordable warmer homes the residents bills will drop to more manageable levels, year after year.
For housing associations and local councils that oversee the operation of social housing, the residents of which are arguably the most vulnerable to fuel poverty, energy efficient heating technologies should be considered a top priority.
Affordable heating all year round should be the goal. We have the technologies to support this notion – now we just need to hasten their implementation.
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