When it comes to heating and ventilation, focus on the long-term cost, not the upfront cost

We’re willing to bet that very few people spend their evenings thinking about the state of heating and ventilation in Britain’s social housing.

As a topic, it’s extremely niche – one where discussion is limited to a few thousand professionals, experts and politicians.

Or at least that’s normally the case.

Earlier this year, however, it was suddenly thrust into the mainstream when ITV uncovered the appalling condition of social housing in South Norwood, Croydon.

Millions of people saw shocking images of walls and ceilings totally caked in black mould, and flats so damp that some tenants had been forced to unplug all electrical appliances.

Residents explained how they’d made repeated complaints to Croydon Council, but received little or no help in return.

At least one family was found to be living out of a single room – the only one on the property that was fit to live in.

Not fit for human habitation

In the days that followed, experts condemned what they’d seen. Dame Judith Hackitt, formerly Chair of the UK Health and Safety Executive, said there “isn’t really any possible way those properties are fit for human habitation”.

She and Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, agreed these were the worst living conditions they’d ever come across in the UK.

And there’s no question – the fact that anyone in Britain is living in accommodation like that is appalling, let alone social housing tenants.

But given the attitude governments and councils have taken to social housing in recent decades, it’s not especially surprising.

In fact, it’s arguably the natural endpoint of an extremely short-term, short-sighted approach to heating, ventilation and social housing in general.

The consequences of short-term thinking

In this situation, it would be very easy to lay all the blame at the feet of Croydon Council.

But according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, council funding from central government has been cut by 26% since 2010. In November last year, in fact, Croydon Council went bankrupt.

Local governments have always had to watch the pennies. But over the last decade, those budget reductions have inevitably led to even more corner-cutting and short-term thinking.

Let’s take heating and ventilation – our own area of expertise – as an example.

If, like many councils across the country, you’re very strapped for cash, but have housing stock with a mould problem, the most affordable response is to do nothing much at all. Maybe put in some dehumidifiers, or encourage residents to leave the windows open.

But as we see in Croydon, those sort of piecemeal measures don’t work – they just delay a problem that, eventually, can make the properties you manage virtually unliveable.

A more lasting solution – that’s more expensive at first, but will prove much more cost-effective over time – is to invest in proper ventilation.

A high-tech modern ventilation system, like our own AirUnit product, can replace stale air from inside a home to fresh air from outside it – all while retaining up to 98% of the heat.

A heating revolution

Both to prevent mould, and to reduce the huge carbon footprint of home heating, we believe there needs to be a fundamental shift in how we heat properties, too.

Mainstream convection heating works by heating the air – and when that warm air comes into contact with colder surfaces, like windows, it forms moisture.

But infra-red heating, another Energy Carbon speciality, is different – it warms surfaces rather than the air. That means the air doesn’t get as hot, and there aren’t any cold surfaces on which condensation can form.

In our view, heat recovery air ventilation combined with infra-red heating provides the best way of beating mould – and making the built environment more sustainable, too.

Better homes, greener planet

Ultimately, when it comes to heating and ventilation, we believe that we need to focus on the long-term cost (financially and environmentally), not just the upfront cost – and that government has to give councils the funding they need to make the most sensible long-term decisions.

Give us a call on 0203 507 1659 or visit www.energycarbon.co.uk.