Big freeze highlights problem of UK's cold homes

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

One in three people – 34% – in the UK felt uncomfortably cold in their home during the big freeze in early December 2010, a new survey has revealed. The environmental lobby group Friends of the Earth therefore calls for urgent Government action to improve the shoddy state of British houses.

The poll, commissioned by the environmental campaigning charity, found that 57 per cent of Britons kept the heating on non-stop for more than 12 hours to try to stay warm – despite energy price hikes that have seen the average annual gas and electricity bill rise to £1,228.

About a quarter, 24% in fact, of people admitted to keeping their coat, hat or gloves on at home in an attempt to ward off the chill, while a 30% tried to protect themselves at night by wearing more than one layer in bed.

Tenants renting from a landlord or through a letting agency fared the worst during the snowy weather, with about half of them saying they felt uncomfortably cold at home, 34% turned off the heating because they were concerned about the cost, despite being cold.

These tenants were also the least likely to think their home had adequate insulation – in numbers we are talking about well over half, namely 54% – compared to 86% of that own their homes who thought their home was adequately insulated and 30 per cent of home owners who found their house uncomfortably cold.

In fact, Government figures show just 0.3 per cent of English homes are properly insulated to a high standard of energy efficiency that would make them really cheap to heat, and 17% of homes are so cold they can be officially classified as a health hazard to the people living in them.

Friends of the Earth's Warm Homes campaigner Dave Timms said: "Just because it's cold outside doesn't mean you should be shivering in your home too.

"Many people mistakenly believe their home is properly insulated - in fact, £1 in every £4 we spend heating our homes is wasted due to poor insulation.

"We're calling for the Government's Energy Bill to help keep the chill out of our homes with a nationwide refit - this means a commitment to ensure the coldest two thirds of British houses are improved by the end of the decade.

"Our survey shows tenants renting from a landlord or letting agency have been unacceptably cold at home during the big freeze - to protect them, we need a new law making it illegal to rent out the coldest, health-hazard properties until they are improved."

According to the new poll, 54% of Britons want the Government to do more to help people insulate their homes. Friends of the Earth is calling for the Energy Bill - published in Parliament this morning - to include a pledge to ensure that by 2020, the coldest two thirds of British homes are improved to an energy efficiency standard that is better than the average house today.

Making the UK's homes energy efficient is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to slash carbon emissions - we need to cut C02 from housing by 42 per cent this decade to help avoid dangerous climate change, warns the environmental campaigning charity.

The 'Green Deal' at the heart of the Government's Energy Bill, published also recently, aims to give the UK's homes a green makeover – but Friends of the Earth is warning that it will leave millions out in the cold. The environmental charity is calling for it to go much further with a strategy for eliminating fuel poverty and cutting climate-changing emissions from houses by 42 per cent this decade, as well as ensuring every community does its bit to slash CO2.

The UK is lagging behind, especially in the public rented sector (not to even speak of the private rented sector), a great majority of other European countries when it comes to double glazing and proper insulation in the loft and wall cavities.

Many council – now, more often than not housing association – homes have but single glazed windows and often the cracks around the windows are such that the wind is – literally – whistling through those.

Much is being made of the targets of cutting CO2 emissions but the way we are going in this field in the UK we will not arrive there, as far as housing stocks are concerned.

However, does anyone see a landlord, whether public or private, worry as to how much energy and thus money tenants waste to heat their homes? I don't. They don't care about the tenants' costs but only about their own bottom line.

© 2010