Winter is coming, but don’t forget the dangers of overheating

Guy Thompson, Director, Sustainability – Built Environment at The Concrete Centre, explores the link between well-designed homes and workplaces and wellbeing.

As a society, we’re becoming increasingly aware of the importance of safeguarding and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing.  Acknowledging that the buildings we live and work in can play a part in this is changing the way we think about design.

One of the many benefits of masonry and concrete homes is their provision of thermal mass, which helps to ensure that internal temperatures are maintained at an optimum level. Exposed concrete does this by storing coolness overnight and releasing it gradually over the daytime.

Used in combination with shading and ventilation, this can help to keep homes cool and mitigate the need for active temperature regulation. Not only does this contribute to a cosy environment, but it also ensures lower energy and cost expenditure, promoting peace of mind and financial comfort for owners.  

This same principle applies to workplaces, where rising prices per square foot mean developers are under increasing pressure to maximise useable space.  Buildings full of people and technology produce a lot of heat.  Concrete’s thermal mass can help to passively regulate temperature, contributing to a comfortable environment for occupants and enhanced sustainability.   

Another consideration is climate change – Al Gore’s ‘Uncomfortable Truth’ – which drives us to designing for comfort including constructing buildings fit to withstand extreme weather.  Ensuring homes can cope with heatwaves like the one that we experienced this summer is an important factor that we cannot forget as we rush to build 300,000 homes each year.

Modular homes, which are often of lightweight construction, are particularly vulnerable to overheating.  If we are to tackle the housing shortage without increasing use of energy-intensive air conditioning, we should take full advantage of passive measures like thermal mass to protect occupants’ comfort and wellbeing.  

The Concrete Centre welcomed a report by the Environmental Audit Committee expressing the link between lightweight construction and overheating.  Its ‘Heatwaves: adapting to climate change’ report states that ‘Modular homes are not resilient to heatwaves, and should not receive support from the government.’ While the seasons are now changing and thermostats are going up, we shouldn’t let this important issue slip down the agenda.  

Now is the time for meaningful conversations between the construction sector and policymakers about how we can create comfortable homes that promote wellbeing – without trading a housing crisis for an overheating crisis.

You can find out more about thermal mass in The Concrete Centre's technical guide