Social Housing Energy Efficiency and Health Risks

Social housing is low-cost accommodation provided by a housing association or local council. It is designed for families and individuals who are on low incomes and are unable to afford rents in the private sector and who have no means to buy houses on the open market.

Handing over keys to new house
Fuel poverty and health issues associated with badly insulated social housing can lead to poor mental health and physical wellbeing as well as decreased life expectancy

Social housing is similar to council housing but is maintained by not-for-profit organisations that own, manage and rent their portfolio of properties directly to eligible people based on their circumstances.

Social homes are designed to be accessible to people who need them most, offer secure tenancy agreements with protection from eviction and are more affordable than private rentals as rent prices are determined by local incomes.

As the number of council houses has dwindled due to the right-to-buy scheme and lack of new council housing or affordable homes being built, the demand for social housing is ever increasing.

It is estimated that there are over 1 million households currently on waiting lists for social housing in England alone. With high demand and lack of homes available, housing associations are struggling to meet demand and provide high-quality, energy-efficient homes for those in need.

A characteristic of social housing is that it should be energy-efficient, well-insulated and provide a safe and secure environment for the social tenant. As with all low-income groups, the risk of fuel poverty and associated mental and physical health issues by poor standards of living is high.

The energy efficiency of social housing

Housing associations and social housing providers need to manage their portfolios of housing stock properly to be able to fully understand the energy efficiency and thermal performance of the houses they are providing.

Having poorly insulated homes, low-performance windows & doors, inefficient or outdated boilers and low levels of airtightness will inevitably lead to high energy costs for the tenant, poor indoor air quality, the potential for mould growth and a generally low standard of living.

More often than not, social housing tenants are on pre-payment meters that typically have higher per unit energy costs than other tariffs. Ensuring efficient thermal performance is one of the highest factors in helping to alleviate fuel poverty.

Build Test Solutions portfolio of building performance solutions can help any housing provider to measure the energy efficiency of their housing stock quickly and cost-effectively. Specifically, measuring thermal performance and airtightness can determine priorities over what particular assets to retrofit.

Energy assessment solutions for housing providers

Our portfolio of building performance solutions can help housing providers to measure the energy efficiency of their property stock quickly and cost effectively.

Temperature sensors

SmartHTC Measured Thermal Performance

A low-cost and non-invasive way of measuring the true thermal performance of a house. It requires temperature and meter data to calculate an accurate heat loss rating over a 3-week period.

Learn more about SmartHTC Measured Thermal Performance
Pulse air receiver, controller and compressor

Pulse Air Permeability Testing

A pioneering approach to fabric air permeability measurement that releases a low-pressure pulse of air for realistic and accurate measurement of airtightness of buildings in seconds.

Learn more about Pulse Air Permeability Testing

What is fuel poverty?

Not just specific to social housing, fuel poverty can affect any family that spends a high proportion of their household income on heating and powering their home. The driving factor in fuel poverty is the relationship between income, the current energy cost (and the households per unit prices) and the energy efficiency of the house they live in.

The threshold levels for being fuel-poor or living in fuel poverty vary by region. But with the increase in the energy price cap in April 2022, it is estimated that over 6 million households will be pushed into fuel poverty.

A home's energy efficiency plays a large part in constituting fuel poverty. The worse a home performs from an energy perspective, the larger the energy that is being wasted and the higher the proportion of their income the household is having to spend on gas and electricity bills.

Health risks associated with fuel poverty

The link between fuel poverty and health problems is well known. Public Health England's own report finds a direct link between living in fuel poverty and cold-related health risks. Groups that are already vulnerable such as young children, older people and those with pre-existing health problems will be particularly susceptible when living in cold or damp conditions caused by energy-inefficient housing.

Evidence shows that living in fuel poverty can impact on the physical and mental health wellbeing of both adults and children in many ways, including:

  • Respiratory issues caused by living in cold or damp conditions that impair the functioning of the lungs,
  • Circulatory problems caused by low temperatures, especially in winter months, resulting in poor circulation of the blood and a higher risk of heart disease,
  • Mental health symptoms, particularly in low-income or young adults, increase the likelihood of depression or anxiety,
  • Exacerbated existing conditions and longer recovery times for people living with long-term medical conditions,
  • Excess deaths in vulnerable or older people during cold periods.