Thermal comfort and energy

With energy costs rising, cold homes and energy poverty are becoming potential new health threats. Issues of thermal comfort, energy demand and energy vulnerability have hence received increasing attention in recent years. At the same time, interventions to improve the energy efficiency of homes, especially the strong trend towards thermal insulation and tight building envelopes, can also pose risks to health since they may result in insufficient air exchange and increasing levels of damp, mould and indoor pollution.

A WHO/Europe review of housing and energy policies reveals that affordable energy for the maintenance of thermal comfort is often not considered a health issue, despite its relevance especially for households with lower income levels. WHO/Europe also assessed the environmental and health consequences of thermal insulation, showing that adequate thermal insulation can improve health-related living conditions and thermal comfort if the insulation is done properly and considering the need for air exchange.

A WHO assessment of environmental health inequalities in Europe also dealt with thermal comfort and energy, suggesting healthy and affordable ways to keep homes warm in winter and cool in summer.

Ongoing work investigates the health impact of energy efficiency policies, as well as the health co-benefits of urban climate change mitigation activities that are most often targeted at housing, transport and energy generation. Thermal comfort and climate change issues will play a major role also in the ongoing update of WHO housing and health guidelines.