Published On: Mon, Jun 7th, 2021

Helping the aged and our precious planet

An ageing population and climate change are two of the biggest challenges facing the world today. They both will have significant impacts on the way we all live in the not too distant future. The built environment has a major role to play in tackling these issues offering solutions that will hopefully ease the impact for future generations. Climate change and an ageing population may not be on the top of the agenda for many as we recover from the catastrophic pandemic. However, a lesson we should have all taken away from the last year is that preparing for future events is the best way to navigate choppy waters. Those that kept pushing for the norm were often left disappointed.

By 2066 26% of the population will be aged 65 years and over. An ageing population has different requirements on building design which focus on accessibility and ease of operation. New build projects designed for senior citizens usually incorporate features tailored for the inhabitants. It’s a different story when we come to existing housing stock that forms that majority of accommodation for elderly residents. As a nation, we won’t be able to house 26% of the population in purpose built homes or care homes. In addition, this type of accommodation costs money, and with a pensions crisis not too far away, who will foot the bill for this extra housing? The answer lies in adapting and retrofitting existing housing and making it suitable for elderly inhabitants. The fenestration industry can do its bit by continuing to innovate products that focus on accessibility, ease of operation and safety. Low thresholds and wider door openings are a good starting point. Hardware is a key consideration, and designers can still produce aesthetically pleasing items that are also easy to operate. Smart technology has a huge potential in this field. Automatic openings are, I believe, still work in progress. Smart security sensors and locking mechanisms are making headway, it would be encouraging to see automatic window openers suitable for the domestic market gain similar traction.

The theme of adapting existing housing stock is also in the spotlight when it comes to climate change. UK housing is amongst the most inefficient in Europe and is responsible for one-fifth of our carbon emissions. 19 million homes in the UK fail to meet a minimum Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of ‘C’. Research by estate agent Emoov revealed 85 percent of Brits are concerned about climate change. With 84 per cent of new homes being built having an EPC of A or B, the focus is firmly on existing housing. With the shambolic Green Homes Grant eradicated from Government Policy, there needs to be a final workable solution to support homeowners in upgrading their homes. A regulatory move backed by a government-backed low interest loan could be a solution. A minimum EPC rating in order to sell a house would be a good starting point – as long as it is backed by financial support – basically a sales ban similar to the one that is encouraging car manufacturers to shift production toward electric vehicles. What we can be sure of is windows and doors will have an important role to play in the challenges of climate change and an ageing population. It is all about how you embrace this and make the most of the opportunities – if you stand still and close your eyes the world will be unrecognisable in the not too distant future….

John CowieEditor