Retrofitting could worsen overheating risks, government warned

The government is not doing enough to tackle the increasing risk of buildings overheating in summer, its climate advisory body has said, warning that inappropriate retrofit strategies could inadvertently worsen the problem.

In a report to Parliament published today, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) says that regulations on making new buildings resilient to overheating, introduced last year, are “welcome”.

But it adds that there is “no policy in place to incentivise adaptation in the existing building stock”. According to the UK Green Building Council, 80 per cent of homes that will exist in 2050 are already built.

The CCC’s report assesses the government’s progress in adapting to climate change. It says that higher summer temperatures and more intense heatwaves will increase the risk of buildings overheating, which can lead to health problems as well as affecting productivity.

To be resilient to climate change, vulnerable existing buildings should be retrofitted with cooling and insulation measures – primarily passive – the report says.

But the CCC warns that “there remains a lack of policy to address overheating in existing homes and buildings and a lack of understanding of the scale of efforts needed to mitigate the risk today”.

It also highlights a danger that inappropriate retrofit programmes could inadvertently worsen the risk of overheating and poor indoor air quality. The government should ensure that strategies “take a holistic approach” to improve performance throughout the whole year, it says, considering ventilation and shading as well as energy efficiency.

The report also recommends expanding the ‘Part O’ Building Regulation requirement – which concerns overheating risks and was brought in last year – to cover refurbishments of existing buildings, conversions of non-domestic buildings to residential, and prisons.

The CCC notes that a new cross-government working group on overheating provides “a forum to develop a coherent approach… across the building stock”. It says this group should make sure government is “actively addressing” the need to mitigate overheating risks when installing energy efficiency measures.

The report adds that ministers should make finance available for installing adaptation measures to tackle overheating as well as flood resilience.

Overall, the report found “very limited evidence” that the UK is adapting to face climate risks at the required scale. Despite recognition of the issue increasing, the CCC said “it is clear that the current approach to adaptation policy is not leading to delivery on the ground and significant policy gaps remain”.

The committee is calling for a “step change” from government in adapting to climate change.

Some of the other deficiencies highlighted concern the planning system. The report warns that although flood risks appear to be rising across the country, developments are still being built in areas at future risk. And it says incentives for developers to install green infrastructure and plan for future climates “lack ambition”.

The report calls for planning policy to be reformed to make climate resilience a priority, with adaptation interventions required for all project applications.

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