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Future Proofing Our Roofs For Climate Change

1.27.2022

Recent research by the University of Southampton for NFRC highlights the importance of preparing our roofs for the changing climate.

We need to adapt to climate change as well as mitigate it.

Attention recently has, rightly, been on reducing the UK’s carbon emission in the hope of achieving ‘net zero’ by 2050 to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees. Whilst this is critically important, even if we achieve this there will be significant changes to the climate over the next half-century. In the UK context we can expect to experience warmer, wetter weather in winter, with hotter and drier summers, along with a greater frequency of extreme weather events such as heatwaves and intense rainfall.

But resilience has not had the attention it needs.

Therefore, we must also seriously consider how to prepare for those changes: attention must be paid to adaptation to climate change, as well as its mitigation. We must build resilience for the changes that are coming. However, the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) recently stated that “climate resilience remains a second order issue, if it is considered at all” and that “policies are being developed without sufficient recognition of the need to adapt to the changing climate”.

New research on building resilience in the built environment.

To understand how we can use roofs to build resilience to climate change, the NFRC Charitable Trust commissioned the University of Southampton’s Energy and Buildings team to look at climate modelling over the next 50 years and apply this to different building types and see the impact.

Flooding and overheating are the greatest risks.

The research found that the two greatest risks to the built environment from climate change over the next 50 years in the UK are flooding and overheating. If we do not prepare for these changes now, it could lead not only to economic damage and the loss of productivity and livelihoods, but even people’s lives. There are already 2,000 heat related deaths each year, and this is only set to increase as summer heatwaves become more common. Those living in flats, and homes with loft extensions and dormer conversions, are at most risk, particularly for those living in cities in the South of England such as London, Plymouth or Southampton.

Roofs hold the solution.

The good news is that roofs can play a central role in help the UK’s built environment to adapt to the changing climate. Good roof design can reduce the impact of overheating and flooding as well as insulating against the cold in winter. Not only this but roofs can be used to the harness energy from the sun.

We already have the technology, but barriers remain to its take-up.

We already have the roofing technology to adapt to the changing climate through roof insulation green, blue and cool roofs, as well as and solar PV and solar thermal. However, many barriers remain to a greater take-up of these technologies at the industry, planning and government level. We therefore make 15 recommendations in the report on what we believe needs to change to unleash our roofs’ potential.

Government can help unblock the barriers.

The government can help launch the roof revolution through making a few key policy changes. Currently planning policy makes very little direct reference to the benefits of green, blue and cool roof technology in its National Planning Policy Framework and its related guidance.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Devolved Nations should make the benefits of these technologies much more explicit and encourage Local Authorities to adopt their own policies related to green, blue and cool roofs.

Government can also help incentivise homeowners and business owners to retrofit their roofs to prepare them for climate change. In our report we outline a number of ways government can do this.

Industry must invest in green skills.

The roofing industry have a role to play here too and now is the time for roofing contractors to consider diversifying their business and upskilling their workforce to include green technologies. For example, roofing contractors involved in new house building should take advantage of the uplift in Part L and offer Built-In Solar PV installation as part of a whole roof system solution. Flat roofing contractors should consider offering blue and green roof technology if they don’t already.

NFRC will continue to lobby government on the recommendations of the report and work with industry to help prepare it for the roof revolution that is coming.

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