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Hot homes under red warning, U.K. not prepared for extreme heat

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A swimmer in water in the Canary Wharf docklands in east London on Tuesday July 19, 2022.

A swimmer in water in the Canary Wharf docklands in east London, on Tuesday July 19, 2022. Britain shattered its record for highest temperature ever registered amid a heat wave that has seized swaths of Europe. The national weather forecaster predicted it would get hotter still Tuesday in a country ill prepared for such extremes.

Victoria Jones, Associated Press

The United Kingdom’s first ever red warning for extreme heat was given on Monday and homes across the country are not prepared for the sweltering climate.

The U.K. Met Office said in a press release, “For the first time temperatures of 40 (degrees Celsius) have been forecast in the UK and the Met Office has issued the first ever Red warning for exceptional heat.” 

The record-breaking heat has set London to be one of the hottest places in the world with temperatures soaring above the Western Sahara and the Caribbean.

The concern regarding the heat wave is that most homes in the U.K. don’t have air conditioning. A 2017 questionnaire revealed that 44% of English households used no cooling equipment, 50% used portable fans and just 2% reported using a fixed or portable air-conditioning unit. 

Another concern is that while the extreme heat affects the people without air conditioning it’s also damaging the structure of the homes.

Marialena Nikolopoulou, professor of sustainable architecture at the University of Kent, tells Time that both old, Victorian-era architecture and newly-developed properties in the U.K. are inadequately prepared for hot weather. While the thick, stone walls of older homes help to keep internal environments cool, large windows and unsuitable insulation can counteract the benefits.  

“Frequently nowadays, developers buy a flat and refurbish it to sell for profit. So they try to do it the cheapest possible way,” Nikolopoulou said, referring to buildings that crowd many apartments within it. Doing this reduces the likelihood of cross ventilation from windows across the building.

Inappropriate building materials used to improve appearance or provide cheap insulation in large apartment blocks can lead to what Nikolopoulou calls a “greenhouse effect” in summer, where heat has nowhere to go.

According to Climate Check, extreme heat typically doesn’t do sudden damage but can cause dramatic upset to your home over time. Heat can cause significant harm to the outside structure of housing, can cause paint to bubble and chip, wood siding can shrink and crack, and foundations can shift.

NPR reported the heat is part of a wave of dry, hot and sunny weather in Europe that has resulted in deaths and fueled explosive wildfires in countries such as Portugal, Spain, Greece and France.

“The extreme heat has been blamed for more than a thousand deaths in Spain and Portugal alone, with fear those numbers could climb as the heat wave makes its way across the continent,” reporter Rebecca Rosman said on the “Morning Edition” radio show.