The holly trees are full of red berries. The leaves are burning brighter and falling late. The acorn shells are thick. The houses are full of spiders and the birds are leaving early. If old wives’ tales are anything to go by, we could be looking at a harsh winter ahead. How should the industrious housing professional best prepare for the cold? Joe Bradbury of Housing Association Magazine investigates.
Long-range weather forecasts claim Britain could be braced to face the coldest and harshest winter for almost a decade. The brutally cold weather is expected to be driven by a plunge in solar activity and the El Nino warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean, bringing the first snowfall as early as November and “potentially crippling snowfalls and ice storms” between Christmas and New Year.
James Madden, forecaster for Exacta Weather said “All our long range projections have been showing for quite some time that December is likely to be a colder than average month overall and we are expecting several widespread snowy periods early in the month.
“The period between Christmas and New Year is looking interesting as there are likely to be some major low-pressure storm systems hitting the UK and these will clash with much colder air over the country bringing potentially crippling snowfalls and ice storms.
“This year we are expecting potentially hazardous winter conditions from early on in the season.”
England currently has around 2.5 million fuel-poor households. That’s one in ten families that cannot afford to heat their home. Fuel poverty is a perpetual annual cycle of misery for those affected. In a bid to try and struggle through the winter many tenants resort to either using their central heating sporadically, or using small space heaters instead. Unfortunately, this often leads to high levels of condensation within a household, where small sections of the house are warm and the surrounding rooms are cold. Where cold air meets warm surfaces is the perfect environment for mould and damp to flourish, leaving poor health implications and damaged property in its wake; plaster soon crumbles and requires replacement after being subjected to excess moisture for long periods of time, furnishings can be ruined by mould. There are so many consequences to an inefficient home. Indeed, if left unchecked for long enough, damp can actually damage the structural integrity of a house. The house can then be condemned until it is fit once more to be inhabited.
The financial repercussions of fuel poverty actually extend far beyond just that of the affected tenants household, into society as a whole - from avoidable winter burden on the NHS to increased sick days at school and work. Fuel poverty puts enormous pressure on hospitals and doctors surgeries across the country. This is not only because of the physical and mental impact of living in a cold home, but also because it can actually extend the period of time a vulnerable patient is kept in hospital, with some actually not being discharged until their home is renovated to habitable state once again.
Mould and damp is unhealthy, unsightly and damages furnishings; at its worst it can render a house entirely uninhabitable and unprofitable. Repairing its damage is a time-consuming and needless expense, because without addressing the underlying cause of the damp, you only serve to lay hard work and money to waste.
Heat pumps are one such technology that can immediately help alleviate fuel poverty. By extracting renewable energy from outdoor air, the system maximises the energy provided to the household and can offer a reduction in run costs; studies suggest by up to as much as 10% of the UK national average.
Heat pumps are best suited to more continuous running; as such they provide a more constant level of comfort for vulnerable residents throughout the year. Heat pumps allow tenants to heat all of their homes cost effectively, rather than just one or two rooms, which is great for health and wellbeing and better for the property also.
Air source heat pumps are easy to design and install, reducing installation time and minimising any disruption to your property.
Maintenance on a system is also much simpler than gas or oil and doesn’t need any annual gas safety certificate, and with a professionally maintained system offering an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years, savings on maintenance can be made and disruptions to your property are very infrequent.
If, as a landlord, you want to winter-proof your assets and protect your tenants from becoming yet another heartbreaking statistic on the annual ‘Excess winter mortality in England and Wales’ report, take a look at your heating system now before the cold truly sets in. Is it up for the challenge of winter?