Are you pulling out all the stops to climate-proof
your home? Have you installed ceiling fans, planted trees for shade
and taken our flood insurance? It’s unlikely you have, according to
a new study of household actions in the UK.
While we make simple actions to deal with a cold snap
or heatwave, the research finds, households are struggling to
prepare for long-term changes in climate.
What action can you take?
As global leaders prepare to convene in New York to
discuss how to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a new paper discusses
another side to limiting climate change – adaptation.
Adaptation means taking steps to increase our
resilience against climate change that our past emissions have
already committed us to, impacts that are now
The study, published in the journal
Climatic Change, looks at adaptation measures people can take
in their own homes. And the good news is, some actions are easy.
You’ve probably done many without even realising. Putting on an
extra jumper in a cold spell or eschewing the Sunday roast in
favour of a salad during a heatwave are both adaptive
Some actions aren’t as simple as changing your diet or dipping
into your wardrobe, however.
The study looks reviews published research on climate
adaptation in UK households and finds that while we’re pretty good
at doing the easy things, we’re not so great at making plans for
The paper runs through some adaptation options
available to UK households, which we’ve illustrated in a checklist
below. The list on the left are examples of actions for managing
current risks, while the list on the right shows how to
climate-proof for the longer-term.
Examples of UK household adaptation actions in the
short term (left-hand list) and long-term (right-hand list). Porter
et al. (2014). Infographic created using Piktochart
What affects our actions?
So what makes us take measures to protect our
homes? Previous experience of weather extremes is one factor,
according to the research – a simple case of once bitten, twice
Other reasons include the potential to make
long-term gains from money invested. And how socially acceptable
the action is perceived to be – you may be happy to sit in a cold
house surrounded by blankets, the study argues, but it’s unlikely
you’d make visitors do the same.
If we’re less likely to make adaptation plans
for the long term, as the study argues, what’s stopping
Cost is a key reason, say the researchers. Evidence
suggests that investments to minimise extreme cold or hot
temperatures are closely linked to the ‘payback time’; for example,
how long it would take saving on fuel bills to add up to the cost
of double-glazed windows.
Other barriers the study identifies include
difficulty finding the right people to do the work, and coping with
the disruption. Major changes to a house will require qualified
professionals and maybe even planning approval.
For flood risk, the study finds householders act
to protect their own property and preserve the value of the house.
The incentive to reduce insurance premiums – or threat of losing
cover – can influence householders to invest in flood protection
for their home, as can ensuring that a future buyer would be
granted a mortgage.
Do we act of our accord?
So what would encourage householders to do more
to adapt their property?
The study shows households don’t need government
intervention to choose the easy, low-cost adaptation actions. But
financial incentives are necessary to encourage longer-term
That said, the study finds available financial
incentives are going unused. For example, less than a third of
government grants to help with insulation and flood-proofing have
been taken up, suggesting the public is either unaware of them or
disinclined to take advantage.
In the case of flooding, many householders
assume the government takes responsibility for protecting their
house and so don’t see the need to take preventative action
themselves, the researchers suggest.
Householders are unlikely to take action towards
making their homes climate-ready without a fair bit of help, the
study concludes. The implication is that new initiatives from
government or the private sector would be needed to encourage
Porter, J.J., Dessai, S. and Tompkins, E.L. 2014.
What do we know about UK household adaptation to climate change? A
systematic review, Climatic Change,
doi10.1007/s10584-014-1252-7 [This article is open-access
and available to download for free]