How to future-proof social housing

  • Climate change is forcing registered providers (RPs) of social housing to think about how they can adapt their properties against future risks
  • From flooding to droughts, extreme weather conditions can cause serious damage to homes, and these risks need to be mitigated against
  • We discuss some simple ways RPs can ‘future-proof’ their property portfolios

Extreme weather events can have a devastating impact on communities, and can cause serious damage to properties.

It is not just huge storms of the kind seen last winter that registered providers (RPs) of social housing need to guard against. RPs also need to mitigate against the long-term impact of climate change, and protect their housing stock for generations to come.

Here, we discuss how RPs can ‘future-proof’ their housing stock against the effects of climate change.

Managing flood risk in social housing

Protecting properties against floodwater should be a priority for all RPs, not just those in high-risk areas.

The recent experience of our customer, the Aberdeenshire Housing Partnership, demonstrates that even areas that have not seen significant floods for generations cannot be considered safe.

Practical steps you can take to reduce the impact of flooding include:

  • Installing flood barriers
  • Installing electrical sockets higher up walls
  • Raising boilers above flood level
  • Using water-resilient plaster
  • Using double-skinned oil tanks or putting oil tanks on plinths
  • Replacing timber flooring with concrete

Efficiencies can be made by incorporating some of the features mentioned above at the design or refurbishment stage of any development – rather than making ad hoc adjustments to individual properties at a later date.

How heat waves can lead to subsidence

As we have previously reported, some experts predict UK summer temperatures could rise by up to 4˚C by 2050.

Higher temperatures can cause a number of potential problems in social housing – including overheating and subsidence.

During heat waves, trees and shrubs suck up moisture in the soil, and as the soil dries out, the land loses its load-bearing capacity, increasing the risk of homes sinking. During the 2003 heat wave, insurers faced £400m worth of subsidence claims.

In order to reduce the risk of subsidence, you should bear the following in mind when building or renovating homes:

  • Certain parts of the country, particularly areas with high levels of clay in the soil, are at greater risk of subsidence
  • You should avoid planting certain species of trees and shrubs, such as Oak, Willow, Sycamore, Ash, Plane and Poplar, too close to homes
  • If you see any sign of subsidence occurring, act fast – small cracks can widen quickly and cause extensive damage

With climate change expected to paradoxically increase both flooding and long periods of drought and heat, it is important to adapt and make sure housing stock is as resilient as it can be to protect tenants.

Renewable energy

As changes to the climate increase the likelihood of extreme weather events, technological advances are helping to meet the new challenges presented and to make buildings more sustainable and less impactful on their environment.

There are a range of measures you could consider to help your tenants manage their energy consumption, from installing smart meters to give them a clear idea of how much energy they are using, to raising awareness of smartphone apps that can allow them to control their heating systems remotely.

RPs are choosing a variety of approaches to make their homes more eco-friendly and make the most of renewable energy sources, from installing heat pumps to biomass boilers.

Many have also begun installing solar panels on social housing in recent years, although future take-up may be affected by cuts to government solar subsidies.

If you are considering installing solar panels, it is vital you consider the potential fire risks. You should work closely with your local fire service, to ensure they are aware of the location and design of any panels you are planning to install.

You should also develop a written fire response plan and share it with the fire service.

It is important to consider how your buildings can be best prepared to meet the challenges of the future. Intelligent design, adaptation and effective resistance measures will enable you to ensure disruption to your organisation and your tenants is kept to a minimum.