Comfort’s good, but should we risk the climate?

Eva Wiseman’s article on Why you should never take comfort for granted in The Observer on 3 November 2013 and The Guardian’s earlier piece (25 October) pushing Public Health England’s recommendations about how to heat homes overlook one chilling fact.

Raising thermostats to 21C in the living room and 18C elsewhere inevitably pushes up energy use and – more importantly – climate change emissions. Using the Government’s current model for analysing household energy use, the Cambridge Housing Model, we have found that changing heating controls like this through the whole winter would increase climate change emissions from housing by 8%. (Running in direct opposition to Britain’s commitment to cut these emissions by 80% by 2050.) It would also raise energy use in homes by 19% – at a cost of around £240 for the average household.

This year’s UK Housing Energy Fact File, which we write on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (published in December 2013), suggests that average winter temperatures in homes (averaged across the whole home, and over time – including when people are out, and asleep) rose from a frosty 12C in 1970 to 17.6C in 2011.

Of course, we must do all we can to help poorer households keep warm in winter. But simply turning the dial of thermostats is not sufficient, and will only create more problems for the future (both here and, terrifyingly, in even poorer, more vulnerable households in less developed countries struggling with climate change). Instead, we need better energy efficiency in homes. It’s harder than turning a dial, but we can and must improve a housing stock that remains one of the least efficient in Europe.

Jason Palmer, 17 November 2013