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Better homes, warmer homes

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Quality housing standards can help save lives in winter, says Christine Murray

This season is marked, every year, by obituaries in the paper and the passing of loved ones. For many of us, Christmas will not be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. There are approximately 18 per cent more deaths in the UK during the four winter months than the rest of the year. This seasonal variation is a global phenomenon, although percentage increases vary from country to country, from five to 30 per cent.

Interestingly, along with fuel poverty, healthcare and socio-economic status, there is a strong correlation between a country’s seasonal death rate and the thermal efficiency of its homes. According to a study by JD Healy of the Urban Institute Ireland, housing standards are a key influence on the rate of seasonal deaths, which explains why Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland’s rates are lower than the UK’s, despite much colder winter temperatures.

Healy’s study tracks the percentage of houses with cavity wall insulation, double glazing, and roof and floor insulation. In Sweden, where all homes are insulated and double glazed, deaths in winter are 12 per cent higher than for the rest of the year; in Portugal, where just six per cent of homes are insulated and three per cent have double glazing, deaths rise by 28 per cent.

Apologies for the grim subject matter, but these statistics justify quality housing standards. This month, reports revealed that an alarmingly high death rate was putting strain on the NHS, and it’s been estimated that fuel poverty costs the service £1 billion per year. Another reason why there is a critical need, not just for more homes, but better homes.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Yasmin Shariff

    Aspirations for where and how we live seem to be reduced to the whims of developer greed and well blanketed building regulations.

    Most housing developments are mono-cultured- designed for isolation. Little more than boxes for the living dead with little thought for socialising inside the home or with neighbours.

    Mixed use designs where people share common assets, use local shops and have a sense of belonging stand little chance of getting through our archaic planning laws designed to clean up the industrial revolution with its sterilising and now largely irrelevant use classes.

    Jackson's Lane, Highgate and the Ryde in Hatfield, examples from the infamous 60s, hold many answers of how to design so that people get to know their neighbours and can look out for each other.

    Allowing the vulnerable to unnecessarily die at a time when we can design homes that require little or no heating and the fact that many families have to choose between eating and heating is a sad reality as we enter 2013.

    The UK has some of the best architects in the world who could easily transform existing areas and provide stimulating and creative centres that people can thrive rather than die in. There is no other profession that can look at the built environment in a multi faceted way and exploit the opportunities of the physical and ethereal environment. Until every housing association and government department has an architect on its board and leading the design team we will continue to waste money and allow thousands to suffer and die needlessly.

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