Cold Homes and Health

Author:
Organisation:
Health and Housing Group
Date: 1999

Rationale

The report was based on the comments of the author as the referee of a separate EAGA-funded paper ‘Fuel Poverty, Energy Efficiency and Health’ by Melanie Henwood. EAGA subsequently issued the comments as a supplementary resource to their existing body of work on fuel poverty and health.





Key research Question

The original aim was to address particular points raised by Henwood’s report and to provide additional research or evidence that clarified arguments made by the original author to strengthen the draft report.



Summary of activity

The report comprises a set of narrative commentaries on particular statements and conclusions contained within Melanie Henwood’s paper.



Findings

The report presents a number of arguments, which it proposes should be considered in discussions on the impact of cold homes on health. These include the view that assessing the efficiency of appliances and the provision of hot water is integral to addressing domestic fuel poverty and focusing on heating systems alone is insufficient. It also explores the evidence on, and the challenges in, defining affordable warmth, as well as references to the literature demonstrating the link between negative health outcomes and cold homes, particularly for vulnerable groups such as the elderly.

 

The author offers a critique of Henwood’s recommended research agenda. This includes querying the robustness of the English House Condition Survey and European fuel poverty data. It is suggested that Henwood is incorrect to claim that research into the health effects of damp and house mites is not well established, and a number of references are provided.



Recommendations

The author outlines alternative topics for further research. These include:

  • A detailed review of available literature across different sectors (e.g. building, health and social sciences) to examine the impact of low internal temperatures on householders’ physical and mental health, their use of space and levels of mould and dust mites, including the challenges of defining comfort. The findings would clarify the current state of knowledge.
  • Original research on the scale and character of the consequences for residents’ mental health of living in a cold home, with a view to assessing whether current government-recommended temperatures are adequate; a statistical analysis of which groups of fuel poor households are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of cold homes; before-and-after studies of the health consequences of the refurbishment of and/or rehousing in cold homes; an analysis of the extent of CO poisoning in fuel poor housing; assessing the results of various practical interventions aimed at reducing humidity and dust mites in homes where residents have asthma/allergies; a feasibility study of the most productive ways of disseminating evidence on best practice to policy-makers, professionals and other stakeholders; and research into the potential health risks for fuel poor households of dangerous practices in energy efficiency work.


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