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Housing Association Magazine’s Joe Bradbury discusses the need to tackle fuel poverty to keep people out of hospital and help curb the spread of COVID-19

We live in difficult times. The rapid increase in energy prices coupled with the pandemic is forcing good people into debt for necessities such as warmth and water.

It seems that despite living in the age of great excess, many find themselves existing day-to-day – surviving Britain.

At the time of writing the spread of COVID-19 throughout British hospitals is still a major problem for both healthcare workers and patients.

This is despite tried and tested procedures to minimise infection spread in hospitals being in use, such as separating COVID-19 infected patients from uninfected patients, extensive cleaning, the use of PPE, continual hand-washing, etc,

Breaking the chain of these transmissions is critical. COVID-19 transmission to patients and staff is still occurring daily and has sadly proven fatal. So it is essential that we try out new tools such as viral sequencing to find out why this is happening and to help reduce hospital spread.

Heat pumps provide a more constant level of comfort for vulnerable residents

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Digital Editor of HA magazine

The damage caused by the cold

Research by Friends of the Earth indicates that cold homes lead to many more people in England than notoriously cold Sweden ending up in hospital with respiratory problems, despite England’s much milder weather.

Over the past ten year’s hospital admissions for chronic lower respiratory diseases have been 40% higher per 100,000 of population in Britain than in Sweden.

Bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia account for approximately 3.2m bed days in NHS hospitals per year and cost the health service an estimated £875m in bed costs alone at a rate of £275 per day, with the cost of GP and social care services pushing the bill up even higher.

Needless to say, something must be done about this. Now more than ever. Figures such as these are alarming, even before you factor Coronavirus into the equation.

We must do everything in our power as social housing providers to ensure the heating within our housing stock is up to scratch in order to keep people out of hospital, limit the impact of fuel poverty on people and the NHS and hopefully curb the spread.

Tackling the cause to prevent the symptoms

Each home deals with heat and moisture differently, so it is important to look at each individual home as a whole system, thinking about measures that might affect the way it functions and how heat is distributed throughout the property.

On average, about 25% of heat loss is through the roof, 35% through the walls, 15% through the floor and 25% from windows and draughts.

With this in mind, here are 10 cheap and easy tips to keep the cold at bay:

  1. Ensure radiators are not blocked by furniture
  2. Lay down carpets and rugs to block cold air coming in through the floor and keep feet warm
  3. Hang thick, heavy curtains with linings to stop cold creeping in through the windows
  4. Fit draught excluders to letterboxes and outside doors
  5. Consider draught-stripping windows
  6. Increase loft insulation - in particular the loft hatch
  7. Install programmable thermostats on your boiler and radiators
  8. Install a heat pump to maximise the energy provided to the household and reduce run costs by as much as 10% of the UK national average
  9. Make sure heating and hot water pipes are well insulated
  10. Clear out gutters and drains to prevent mould and damp build up within a property

The increasingly important role of renewables

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 also 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. 

In summary

According to the NHS, keeping warm over the winter months can help prevent colds, flu or more serious health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.

With this in mind, it seems that the biggest way the housing sector can help the NHS in its hour of need is by alleviating some of the pressures a cold house can cause, by ensuring our housing stock consists of warm, healthy and efficient homes.

If, as a landlord, you want to winter-proof your assets, bring an end to the coronavirus crisis and protect your tenants from becoming yet another heartbreaking statistic on the annual ‘Excess winter mortality in England and Wales’ report, then I urge you to start by taking a look at your tenants’ heating systems.

Joe Bradbury Digital Editor of HA magazine