Are You Sitting Comfortably? The Green Deal and Thermal Comfort

By Jen Dickie

By Jason Kuffer from East Harlem, USA (Air Conditioners  Uploaded by Adrignola) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Initially unveiled in 2010, the government’s eagerly awaited Green Deal finally got started on Monday 1st October.  Under this scheme, bill payers can implement energy saving improvements through an ‘install now, pay later’ plan.  As winter approaches, this scheme will be particularly welcome in rural communities where many households are poorly insulated and cannot access mains gas supplies, two factors that contribute to the high levels of fuel poverty seen in rural areas. Whilst the overall goal of the scheme is to improve a buildings’ energy efficiency, much of the media focus is on its potential to reduce household heating bills.  In The Guardian last Friday, Miles Brignall outlined how the scheme will operate and how it should particularly benefit ‘hard-to-treat’ houses.

Although affordable heating is undoubtedly an important issue, thermal comfort applies to both hot and cold conditions.  Whilst the UK did not benefit from the European heatwave this summer, where temperatures in parts of Central and Eastern Europe reached up to 15 oC above their seasonal average, some scientists believe that we will experience more extreme weather events as a result of climate change.

In an article for Area, Sara Fuller and Harriet Bulkeley explain the importance of understanding how people might respond and adapt to ‘new regimes of heat’ to achieve thermal comfort.   By investigating the everyday activities of recent UK migrants to Spain, they determined that people often achieve thermal comfort in a variety of ways.  Rather than solely relying on air conditioning, which is often the assumed response to increasing temperatures, people adjusted their daily routines and clothing choices.  These are promising findings, where more sustainable options are being chosen rather than relying on energy guzzling technology.  However, if the UK does start to experience more extreme heat events in the future, there will undoubtedly be an increase in the installation of air conditioning units and thermal comfort, particularly in the workplace, will become a more prominent issue.  Whilst the Green Deal does include heating, ventilation and air conditioning measures, it is unclear to what extent these cover cooling technologies.  With energy demands rising, perhaps more investment into the development of sustainable cooling technologies is needed.

 Green deal: insulate your home from rising energy bills, The Guardian, 28th September 2012

 Sara Fuller and Harriet Bulkeley, 2012, Changing countries, changing climates: achieving thermal comfort through adaptation in everyday activities, Area, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01105.x

 Extreme heat becoming more likely under climate change, The Met Office, 10th July 2012

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