Europe has been preparing for the cold for years. Now he has realized his big mistake


A few days ago, during the worst heat wave in the UK (all-time record 40 degrees), a Twitter user illustrated a growing problem in the country: “This is why being over 36ºC is devastating here, when in another country it would only be something annoying: houses without awnings, without air conditioning, small windows and designed to trap heat and not let it out at night “. Hell in capital letters is what has been experienced in the British country these days.

However, it is not the only country in Europe now facing extreme heat. These sun-starved nations for most of the year are not used to long periods of high temperatures. Not only are people ill-adapted: almost all of their homes are.

Current problems. Houses in northern European countries like the UK or Germany have been built for decades with one goal: to keep people warm in winter. For this reason, air conditioning has almost never been included in them, because the summers were normally mild. Now, climate change is turning all this upside down. Did they want energy efficiency? Well, there they take it.

In 1970, after the oil crisis, governments began to focus on a more airtight urban planning, sealing houses to prevent heat from escaping and thus reduce fuel consumption for heating. That meant retrofitting buildings and insulating new ones. But as temperatures rose, experts became aware of the problem: reduced airflow. A problem that becomes bigger in cities where the exterior concrete also absorbs heat during the day and radiates it at night. The so-called urban heat island effect.

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The UK case. Millions of homes across the country were built when heat waves were rare weather events. And now, the price to pay is this: 20% of homes already overheat in summer. After a decade of criticism, the government ended up introducing the “Future Homes Standard” policy in 2021: all houses from now on will have to be well ventilated and temperature resistant. The wave of this 2022, however, has caught them off guard.

Transport and urbanism. As we have told in other Magnet articles these days, some countries have canceled trains due to the risk of the steel tracks melting or overheating. Keep in mind that some railways in France or the UK are very old and were built with steel tracks that tend to be 20 degrees above ambient temperature. The London Underground dates back to 1863 and many of the trains still don’t even have air conditioning.

Then there is the heat island effect, where the concrete buildings and surfaces of large cities absorb the already scorching heat and amplify it. Green spaces have been reduced in much of Europe and it has become necessary to replant trees in pedestrian areas to create shade and prevent concrete and asphalt from overheating.

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It's so hot in the UK they've started wrapping their bridges in aluminum foil

The architecture. Experts explain in this article that one key to avoiding all of this is to make sure homes have windows on opposite sides, allowing breezes to flow through. However, modern apartments often have windows on only one side, making it difficult for airflow. And that’s only if the window can be opened. Materials can also help. But of course, due to costs, floors are built with materials with a lower thermal mass that cannot absorb heat in the day and release it at night.

Impact. They are disastrous, as we are seeing. At a skyscraper in Shenzhen, China, high temperatures were blamed for shaking the structure and evacuating it, as the steel was cracking from the heat. Materials, especially metals, expand as they are heated, which can cause them to bend. Extreme temperatures can even cause them to melt.

This wave has shown that the English have no idea how to cope with the heat: here are their tips

All this comes together in a common point: climate change and its consequences. As we have seen, wealth does not protect against the effects of global warming and all nations (even the rich ones) are going to have to adapt quickly to curb its impact. Because yes, the damage will be indiscriminate, no matter where you are in the world. In fact, modern buildings in rich countries are more at risk than simple traditional structures.

Solutions. Even in less developed countries that suffer from this problem, projects are being carried out to revive architectural styles that use vernacular materials as they cool naturally. For example, as discussed in this Surface article, handmade houses built with sun-dried mud bricks to absorb heat are being revived in India. Keep in mind that this country adopted cement as the dominant construction material at the end of the 20th century. It doesn’t seem to be working.

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Image: Unsplash


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