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Isn’t it ethical to use less heating?

Indoor Heating in Winter

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Isn’t it ethical to use less heating?” was written by Lucy Siegle, for The Observer on Sunday 24th February 2013 08.29 UTC

Voluntary heating refuseniks remain few and far between in the UK. I tried to find you an organised band of resistance to isothermal comfort, but I failed. However, there’s a small pocket of inspiration from across the (frozen) pond. There’s a challenge by US bloggers at Crunchy Chicken to live without central or space heating and also the coldhousejournal.com, which provides practical tips, such as what to wear (layers of natural fibres are essential; skiwear is useless) and letting your taps drip slightly in winter weather – 15-30 drips per hour apparently prevents pipes freezing.

Your family is, I imagine, terrified for your wellbeing. The World Health Organisation sets “adequate” indoor temperatures at 21C for a living room and 18C for a bedroom. Will going lower have dramatic consequences for your health? Hopefully not. Studies show links between low indoor temperatures and increased blood pressure in older people, and that the cold can affect the immune system’s ability to deal with respiratory infection. Strikingly, countries with lower winter temperatures than the UK, such as Sweden and Finland, have lower rates of excess winter mortality (there were 24,000 such deaths in England and Wales during the winter of 2011-12), but they also have more energy-efficient housing stock (meaning that inhabitants can afford to keep warm).

Our housing stock is the least energy efficient in Europe, with 6m UK households in fuel poverty. What environmentalists don’t acknowledge is that if these homes were heated to WHO temperature recommendations, carbon emissions would increase.

Strangely, we lack quality data on indoor temperatures. There’s evidence to suggest that we overheat because we’re nervous of tinkering with boiler controls (69% of homes have a gas boiler). Top-floor flats built in the 60s experience six times the overheating of ground-floor flats, and nine times that of a Victorian terraced house. Turning the heating up is probably paying to heat the sky, as most energy disappears through the roof. Remind people of this and that you’d rather be chilly by choice than warm by compulsion.

Green crush of the week

It’s Red Nose Day on 15 March – and it’s 25 years old. Comic Relief has elevated the charity tee to fashion icon status – this year’s designs by Stella McCartney depict British cultural icons, including Tommy Cooper and the Beatles, wearing red noses. The cotton is sourced from farmers in Mali who without Fairtrade status would be shut out of the cotton market. T-shirts from £5.99 at TK Maxx.

Greenspeak: Carbon bubble {kar-b’n bubb-‘l} noun

Created by energy companies whose value is based on huge reserves of fossil fuels. What happens when climate-change policy makes those reserves impossible to exploit? The bubble bursts, that’s what

Voting for this year’s Ethical Awards closes on 22 March

Don’t miss the chance to celebrate your green heroes and win a fantastic holiday in the process.

To nominate or enter go to guardian.co.uk/observer-ethical-awards

If you have an ethical dilemma, send an email to Lucy at lucy.siegle@observer.co.uk

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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