Thermal comfort, thermal bridging

Improving thermal comfort is good for your health


The link between cold weather and mortality may not be straightforward, but it’s no surprise that harsh winters tend to see a greater number of what are called ‘excess winter deaths.’

Figures released in the autumn by the Office for National Statistics tell us that last winter – a memorably difficult one from a meteorological point of view – saw the greatest number of such deaths in England and Wales in more than 40 years.

Just over a third of the 50,100 deaths were caused by respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia – conditions exacerbated when living in cold, damp conditions which encourage bugs to thrive.

Living in cold, inadequate, poorly insulated housing can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and even falls can be put down to being too cold to walk properly.

It may sound a bold statement – but having a properly insulated home can actually be a life saver.

Northern European countries like Scandinavia, whose occupants are habituated to cold winters, see fewer excess winter deaths than England and Wales because their homes are correctly insulated, while those in Southern Europe, caught on the hop by an unexpected cold snap see higher than average rates, according to the ONS. This lends credence to the fact that insulation does play a role in helping stem the tide of unnecessary deaths.

Cold doesn’t just affect elderly people – it harms children too. The government commissioned Marmot Review into health inequalities, published in 2010, showed that one in four teenagers living in cold housing is at risk of multiple mental health problems compared to one in 20 who have always lived in warm housing. It also diminishes dexterity and increases the risk of accidents and injuries in the home.

While there are clearly huge social, political and financial hurdles which need to be addressed, these shocking figures hammer home the importance of creating a well-insulated, thermally comfortable home in the first place.

As thermal bridging makes up approximately 25% of a building envelope’s heat loss, ensuring this is avoided is crucial. Thermal transmittance makes up a further 45%, with lack of airtightness counting for an additional 30%.

Using insulation which wraps around like a blanket makes thermal bridging must less likely than using rigid products which can leave air gaps in awkward shaped corners unless they are cut to a very precise shape. At the same time, it’s important to maintain an airtight layer against air leakage and a windtight layer to prevent air infiltration with a vapour control layer and a breather membrane.