Will rising temperatures change the way we design homes in East Anglia?
PUBLISHED: 09:58 10 August 2019 | UPDATED: 13:08 10 August 2019
With heatwaves predicted to become more frequent, how are architects responding to climate change?
When Richard Miles and is wife moved their young family into a brand new house in the west Suffolk village of Thurston at the end of 2012, they had, he says, secured their 'dream home'. But their experience during the recent heatwave has made them aware of the downside to living in a modern dwelling.
"Everything has been fantastic with the house," said Mr Miles "but the trouble with new building regulations is that there is so much insulation - it is roasting during the hot weather."
Upstairs, temperatures topped 30°C at night, forcing Mr Miles to move with his two children, aged eight and 10, to his parents house - a 1940s bungalow - to get some much needed shut-eye.
"We had tried sleeping with windows open, windows closed and had fans running but that only circulated the hot air," he continued.
"It seems such a British problem, we all say we want the sunny weather but then we struggle when it arrives."
And this "British problem" looks set to get more problematic. A World Weather Attribution report, published this month, stated that every heatwave in Europe since 2003 has been made "much more likely and more intense due to human-induced climate change". Another recent study predicted London's climate will feel more like Barcelona's by 2050.
Scientists have warned for decades that temperatures across the world will rise due to greenhouse gas emissions but the record highs of recent years have brought the issue into the mainstream. They also present a challenge for UK architects and house builders to design and construct dwellings that people can live (and sleep) in when the going gets hot.
While the modern mantra for the construction industry has been around energy efficiency, maximising sunlight on buildings and retaining heat, a growing number of UK house designers are also thinking about the problem of overheating during the height of the summer, says Craig Beech, a director of Beech Architects in Eye near the Suffolk-Norfolk border.
Mr Beech says more home designs are incorporating external shutters, awnings and roof overhangs which allow the sun to shine into a building during winter months when it is lower in the sky but create shade against the full glare of the sun overhead in summer.
"Having a large area of south-facing glazing is a no-no today," he said.
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"One office I know in Bury St Edmunds has south-facing glazing, and during the heatwave temperatures reached up to 40°c internally and people were sent home. It's important that building designers incorporate features that control solar gains."
Mr Beech is an advocate of the Passivehaus school of house design, which seeks to make homes energy efficient and airtight, and create a stable environment inside, which is not too hot in summer or too cold in winter. Central to this type of approach is a design that allows a flow of air through a building.
"House designers need to think a lot more about ventilation," he said.
"A standard home in the UK does not have windows on both sides of the room - typically they are designed with two box bedrooms next to each other, so you can't get any cross ventilation. To get air flowing through you need to have windows on both sides of a room, or design it so air flows up through the stair case and out a roof light or vent. Mechanical ventilation heat recovery systems are another option for well-insulated, well-sealed houses.
"Design has to change but most mass-produced houses are based on the same designs that were around in the 1980s and 90s," added Mr Beech, who says these features need not add to the price of a house if they are "designed in from the start".
At Tricker Blackie Associates, an architectural firm in Sudbury, James Blackie, agrees that house builders need to start addressing the implications of rising temperatures. Mr Blackie says in some of his designs he uses a 'brise soleil' literally a 'sun-breaker' made up of a series of horizontal or vertical blades to control the amount of light and solar heat that enters a building.
He said: "Styles in architecture originate from the climate and for centuries we have designed to cope with colder weather.
"Obviously, in countries in the Mediterranean, where people live with heat all the time, they design their houses differently. The houses that you find in Moroccan villages are designed to keep the heat out to make life bearable."
Mr Blackie said homes from this region typically have solid floors of tile and stone, and don't have many windows on the outside, instead they look inwards into an internal courtyard. Thick, solid walls that don't heat up and the use of trees and vegetation for shading are also common in Morocco, he said.
Mr Blackie added: "Architects can be quick to adapt and hopefully they will solve the problem of overheating, which will become an issue over the next 20 to 30 years. One of the problems is that most people in the UK still want their home to look like a traditional Georgian house, which doesn't help the cause."
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