Converted offices being turned into ‘unfit’ homes, says insurer Zurich


Converted offices are being turned into ‘unfit’ homes that are in danger of overheating, warns insurer

  • Poorly-designed converted office spaces raise concerns about ‘unfit’ homes
  • The conversions are in danger of overheating in heatwaves, says insurer Zurich
  • Danger is greatest in smaller studio flats with only single aspect window

Poorly-designed converted office spaces are prompting concerns about homes being created that are unfit for future climate conditions.

Insurer Zurich UK claimed that some of these conversions lack appropriate ventilation and shading, creating homes that are in danger of overheating in heatwaves.

It warned that the danger is greatest in small, self-contained studio flats that only have single aspect windows, particularly in those converted offices in city centres.

Since 2015, more than 73,500 homes have been created from former office blocks following changes in planning rules

It explained that these blocks of flats are more exposed to the so-called ‘urban heat island’ effect, where temperatures are hotter than outlying areas.

Planning data revealed that the number of applications to convert offices into residential units increased in England from 1,765 in 2020 to 2,121 last year, a jump of 20 per cent as developers snap up blocks left empty by the pandemic.

And since 2015, more than 73,500 homes have been created from former office blocks following changes in planning rules.

And yet, an independent report commissioned by the Government claimed that so-called permitted development rules create ‘worse quality’ homes.

At the same time, the Climate Change Committee has warned that overheating in homes is among the eight top climate change risks for people in Britain.

And a Loughborough University study found 4.6 million homes in England suffer from overheating, while a Government survey suggested it affects nearly one in 10 homes.

Insurers have raised concerns about office conversions, particularly plumping systems not originally designed to service hundreds of domestic kitchens and bathrooms

Insurers have raised concerns about office conversions, particularly plumping systems not originally designed to service hundreds of domestic kitchens and bathrooms

North London estate agent Jeremy Leaf, said: ‘The problem with converted offices and many other buildings in this country is that in the past we have been fixated on ensuring they’re warm enough but now we need to think the other way round too.

‘For that reason, air conditioning, climate cooling, adequate ventilation and above-limit insulation are discretionary rather than obligatory.

In the past we have been fixated on ensuring converted offices are warm enough but now we need to think the other way round

‘On the other hand, some of our more savvy developers and builders have been allowing for overheating in their properties for many years.

‘They have recognised that living and working in comfortable surroundings actually improves saleability, letability and value.’

As well as risks posed by climate change, Zurich said it sees a high volume of escaping water claims from office to residential conversions.

One of the most frequent causes of this is the failure of plumbing systems not originally designed to service hundreds of domestic kitchens and bathrooms.

Paul Redington, Zurich’s major loss property claims manager, said: ‘The number of office-to-residential conversions has continued to rise, as new workplace flexibility leaves office blocks empty.

‘While many conversions will be well-designed and include cooling features, this is not always the case. Poor quality conversions are at serious risk of overheating, and suffer from other issues, such as escape of water.

‘Developers needs to ensure that retrofitted buildings are designed with increased ventilation and shading to keep temperatures down. Building more affordable housing is a priority but we must avoid creating swathes of homes unfit for a rapidly warming world.’

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