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Fuel Poverty

What is actually classified as an underheated home?

Everybody generally understands that underheating a home is bad for the resident and bad for the property but what exactly is an underheated home?

Lauren Grimes
Lauren Grimes

Aug 13, 2021

Recent estimates show that there are 2.53 million households within the UK that are currently at risk of fuel poverty. Many residents within these properties are unable to properly heat their homes which puts them at risk of adverse health risks as well as putting added strain on their mental health. Research shows that residents living in an improperly heated home are at high risk for health conditions such as high blood pressure, pneumonia, and hypothermia and those with pre-existing conditions are at risk of worsening their conditions if a property falls below a specific temperature.

Under-heated homes can also lead to extensive property damage. Improper heating can increase the likelihood of damp and condensation which encourages the growth of mould spores. If untreated mould can affect both the health of a resident and the stability of a property, if left to spread this issue can lead to huge costs for housing providers. The presence of mould puts additional strain on already struggling tenants, leaving them vulnerable to respiratory conditions and allergies as well as damaging the overall fabric of a property.

But what actually constitutes an under-heated home?

The consensus is that any property with an average household temperature below 16°C is classified as under-heated and that the residents are at risk of fuel poverty. Vulnerable groups such as infants, the elderly, and those with a pre-existing health condition are particularly susceptible to low temperatures, meaning that they are put at greater risk of ill-health or death if exposed to extensive under-heating

According to the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) property temperatures are broken down into the following categories:

  • Below 13°- if a property falls below 13°C the tenant is at risk for cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure.
  • 14-15° - homes heated to this temperature are likely to diminish a resident’s immune system, making them less resistant to respiratory conditions.
  • 18-21°is the recommended temperature range for occupied rooms.

Currently the UK ranks among the highest excess winter mortality rates in Northern Europe and coupled with ever rising fuel costs, this puts vulnerable demographics at an increased risk for fuel poverty. National Fuel Poverty charity NEA revealed that in winter 2020 an approximate 8,500 deaths were recorded as a direct result of cold homes, this is 20% more than the previous winter. Adam Scorer, Chief Executive, NEA commented that ‘low incomes, high energy costs and poor heating and insulation all combined to leave vulnerable residents in conditions which were unfit to help them survive the cold weather’.

But what can housing providers do to mitigate the risks of under-heating?

Evidence shows that technology can be an effective tool when it comes to combatting rising fuel poverty rates. The implementation of smart technologies, such as the Smart Thermostat offered here at Switchee, across a wider range of properties has helped optimise energy usage and reduce fuel costs for residents. These technologies learn the internal conditions of a property and automatically apply optimised heating patterns ensuring that the property is heated according to the resident’s needs and generates a personalised heating routine. Digital solutions such as Switchee’s Smart Thermostat can lead to savings of up to 17%  for vulnerable tenants which can help ensure that their property remains well heated thereby lowering the risk of adverse health effects.

When used effectively, technology can help revolutionise the housing sector and combat the rising risk of fuel poverty within social housing.

Digital solutions such as Switchee’s Smart Thermostat allows residents to heat their homes more effectively, while data-based alerts flag up areas of inefficiency for housing providers. With this information, and a remote notification sent straight to a housing provider, resident liaison officers can intervene quicker in cases of fuel poverty. This data-based approach gives providers the chance to identify which properties are at high risk of fuel poverty with greater accuracy allowing them to intervene before the situation can spiral out of control. This approach protects vulnerable residents, and the data helps housing providers dedicate their resources to those most in need of assistance.

Lauren Grimes

Lauren Thornton-Grimes is Switchee’s PR and Marketing Executive. She has a keen interest in Social housing and is focused on educating the housing industry on solutions to some of it's biggest problems. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Winchester.

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