London: Too Hot to Handle?

London is experiencing hotter summers, according to the latest data from the Met Office. While temperatures in general are higher due to global warming, London is particularly affected as a result of the Urban Heat Island effect – a phenomenon that causes the city to be up to 10 degrees warmer than neighbouring rural areas.

Global warming is the gradual heating of the earth’s atmosphere, surface and oceans. It is being caused by human activities, including burning fossil fuels. This pumps carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, eroding the ozone layer.

The UHI effect occurs when the sun’s rays are absorbed by the hard surfaces of the buildings, rather than when they are soaked up by vegetation such as grass, plants and trees. Radiation from hard surfaces is then released as heat. This means cities remain hotter than rural areas – affecting our ability to maintain a cooler body temperature.

Effects of city heat

London’s population is expected to increase to 11 million by 2050, so more homes will be needed to accommodate the growing number of people. City planners must ensure managing the heat risk is paramount at all stages of planning and development.

Heat is impacting us all, particularly people who are vulnerable – including elderly people, young children and those with health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular conditions. London’s demographic is changing, and it houses an ageing population, as well as more under-fives.

In fact, back in 2003, when London had a heatwave, 600 mainly elderly people died. The city recorded the highest number of deaths in the UK. With temperatures getting warmer, there are likely to be more days when the heat is extreme, and temperatures rise to more than 30°C.

Planning policies

London City Hall is working with the capital’s boroughs, community groups, public health officials, universities and others to research the risks of excess heat. The aim is to make living and working in London a positive experience for everyone.

Planning policies will manage the heat risks in new developments and increase the amount of green spaces to play a part in cooling the city. The London-specific Severe Weather and Natural Hazards Framework has been updated to include information on how to manage the risks caused by heatwaves.

Rising temperature and the effect it has on cities such as London begs the question of whether air conditioning will be more a part of everyday life. While most people have become accustomed to air conditioning while travelling abroad, it’s surprising that many properties in London don’t have it installed.

A lot of British homes don’t have AC systems. Nor do some restaurants, pubs and cafes. Even some hotels don’t have air conditioning. At present, it isn’t widely used in Britain, apart from in shops and other workplaces, while in other countries, such as the US, it is commonplace.

How much are temperatures rising?

With climate change accelerating and the temperature getting higher, the days when London’s summer temperature was a comfortable 21°C may soon be a thing of the past. When the city is hot, it can feel stuffy and humid for the population and air conditioning is a welcome addition.

In the first decade of the 21st century, the average temperature in London in July and August was 23°C. This started to change in 2018, when a massive heatwave saw the temperature rise to more than 30°C. This lasted for a few weeks and was so severe that even the grass in public parks died. People felt like they were melting in the heat and shops sold out of fans, including the battery-operated hand-held ones that can be carried round.

People were urged to carry water, so they didn’t become dehydrated while walking round, travelling in the car, or on public transport. There has been an increase in water fountains at National Rail stations so people can refill water bottles.

These temperatures are becoming more common and the prospect of not having air conditioning indoors is becoming unthinkable. Considering how people are sweltering outdoors, it has become increasingly important to consider the indoor ambience.

Can air conditioning help?

Advocates of air conditioning realise it isn’t something you will use only in July and August – it can keep the temperature comfortable all year round. When living in a regulated temperature, research concludes it helps us to sleep better as well.

London residents don’t have to bake in the heat every summer when there’s the opportunity to have AC installed. Even those people living in older buildings or apartment complexes can have an air conditioning system retro fitted. Installations today are so advanced that whether you live in an historic period home, or a new-build apartment, it can be seamlessly fitted to provide consistent temperatures all year round.

Impact on older properties

There are positive implications on fitting air conditioning in an older-build property. It can be a worthwhile investment that will pay for itself over time in terms of energy savings.

According to research, installing air conditioning in the UK can also increase the value of your home by an average of 10%, which can be useful when you’re thinking of selling. When the climate gets hotter, selling your house for a good price might be more difficult if potential buyers find out you don’t have an amenity such as an AC unit.

If your property already has air conditioning, but it’s getting old, it might be worth investing in an upgrade. The average lifespan of an air conditioning system is around 15 years, while the heat pump lasts around 14 years. If your AC system is fairly modern, you won’t need a new one, as long as you have it maintained regularly. However, if you have an older system – say more than 15 years old – you may wish to look into getting a newer model, especially when the temperature starts rising.

What about energy costs?

Upgrading your system, rather than using an old one, can be more economical in the long run. It is likely to work more efficiently, leading to cheaper bills, and it will require less money to be spent on repairs.

The best air conditioners today use up to 50% less energy to create the same amount of coolness as air conditioners did in the mid-1970s, as technology has advanced so much. Even in the past decade, there have been further advances, so the experts say you can save 20% to 40% on energy costs by installing the latest model.

As the temperature rises in the city, make sure the climate isn’t too hot to handle! Contact LH PLC – one of the UK’s leading air conditioning companies.

With more than 25 years’ experience in creating comfortable indoor climates, our teams of specialist engineers are located around the UK to serve clients across the country, providing an unrivalled service for residential and commercial premises alike.