Coronavirus restrictions caused a 14.3% increase in daytime home heating this winter, in the UK as workers swapped cubicles for kitchen tables and schoolchildren learned from home.
The research comes from smart thermostat company tado°, which drew on data from approximately 65,000 UK and 300,000 European homes. The survey tracked heating use in homes between 6 am and 8 pm, Monday to Friday and found that households across the continent were running their heating more often.
This is despite this winter being 0.6°C warmer than the previous winter in Europe.
Tado° said the higher heating costs were a result of home working. In the UK, more than a third of the workforce is working full-time from home during the current lockdown, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is compared to the just 5% who worked full-time from home before the pandemic.
Italy and Spain saw the highest increases in daytime weekday heating this winter—up 22% compared to the winter of 2019-20. Places with less strict lockdowns registered lower increases in heating. Sweden, which has thus far avoided a coronavirus lockdown, only saw heating use rise 5.7%.
But other countries with tough measures saw their heating use rise less sharply. For example, in Denmark heating use was up 5.3%, while Germans were heating their homes 9.4% more during the working week. These more modest rises in home heating have been attributed to better home insulation.
The UK in particular has draughty homes which are expensive to heat. Previous research by tado° found that British homes are the leakiest in Europe.
But with heating and hot water accounting for three-quarters of a home’s energy use, households across the continent are facing higher energy bills.
The environmental impact of this extra heating is also worrying. Heating and cooling buildings and industry is the largest use of energy in Europe, accounting for half of all consumption, ahead of transport and electricity. And two-thirds of the energy used for heating, cooling and hot water in residential buildings still comes from fossil fuels. In the UK, 85% of homes are heated with gas boilers.
Paul Hughes, head of PR and communications at tado°, told The I: “A hundred people working at home burns a lot more fossil fuels than a hundred people in one office. If we are in a situation where the home office or flexible working is here to stay, this might force governments to speed up the renovations of homes.”
However, plans to retrofit the UK’s draughty housing stock have stalled. The Green Home Grants scheme, a flagship part of the government’s “green recovery,” was scrapped at the end of last month, having issued just 28,000 vouchers for energy efficiency upgrades.
Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee concluded the scheme was “rushed in conception and poorly implemented.” The committee has warned that the government’s investment in energy efficiency has been “woefully inadequate” and cautioned that ministers have underestimated the cost of improving the UK’s housing stock, which could top £300 billion.
While insulation and double and triple glazing do the most to improve home energy efficiency and reduce fuel bills, there are smaller changes you can make to keep a rein on your energy consumption while you work from home. Turning your thermostat down just one degree can cut around £60 from your annual energy bills.
Additionally, installing a smart thermostat like one from tado° can ensure that only your occupied rooms are being heated. So you can keep your improvised home office warm without breaking the bank.
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