Many of Scotland’s homes will fail to protect people against deadly heatwaves brought by global warming, experts have warned.

Long-term planners believe the nation’s housing stock, designed to withstand cold and wet but not scorching summers, must be future-proofed to avoid mass fatalities.

Experts, including those who formally advise governments, say modern flats and houses, especially from the 1960s and 1970s, will have to be retrofitted with new ventilation and shade systems to stop residents becoming insufferably hot, sometimes dangerously so.

Scotland recorded one of its longest, hottest summers ever last year and climate scientists predict such weather will become increasingly normal over the next three decades.

Last year, Westminster’s Environmental Audit Committee warned  Britain’s toll of heat-related deaths would reach 7,000 a year by 2050 if action was not taken to keep buildings cool, especially those in cities.

Those most at risk, MPs said, were people who had existing heart or lung conditions, the very old and the very young. In a landmark and detailed report last month, the UK Government’s independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said Scotland would suffer less than the south of England, but would still suffer.

It said: “Heat currently contributes to fewer deaths than cold in Scotland but the number of heat-related deaths is expected to increase. There may be between 70 and 280 heat-related deaths per year in Scotland by the 2050s in the absence of adaptation (compared to around 40 deaths per year at present).”

Scottish builders and architects admit they have rarely previously considered the dangers of heatwaves. Some insiders warn that enthusiasm for insulation could have intended consequences as old-fashioned ventilation was either blocked or neglected. 

Richard Dixon, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “A changed climate means increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather events, including extended warm periods, even here in Scotland. 

“Heatwaves pose a risk to vulnerable or elderly people and those whose homes were not built and designed to cope with such high temperatures. 

“We saw the devastation across Europe when the heatwave of 2003 claimed tens of thousands of lives, with dead bodies kept in refrigerated lorries when French mortuaries were overwhelmed. 

“That heatwave forced major changes for health and care services across Europe.  Climate change means every other year could be as hot as the 2003 heatwave by the 2050s.”

Dr Dixon stressed careful construction and reconstruction using traditional materials and skills could protect the vulnerable - and even keep down bills.

He said: “Good design can reduce or eliminate the need for energy-hungry cooling like air conditioning. 

“Planners, architects and house builders should be climate-proofing new developments to ensure that whatever the rising temperatures throw at us, people are safe and secure in their homes.

“In some case we can learn from high quality, long-lasting techniques and materials from the past but with energy efficiency at the foundations of all we do.”

Energy inefficient homes are contributing the very global warning they may not protect their residents from, Dr Dixon suggested.

The CCC said more work was need to test Scotland’s homes for heat-proofing. In its report, UK housing: Fit for the future? it said: Studies based on sample buildings in England show around 20% of homes overheat in the current climate.
“The south of the UK is more severely affected by indoor overheating problems, but there are few studies of overheating in buildings in northern England and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Dwelling types that have been found to be more prone to overheating include 1960s – 1970s and post-1990s mid- and top-floor purpose-built flats that lack sufficient ventilation and protection from heating by the sun.”

Scottish Greens’ parliamentary co-leader Patrick Harvie MSP saw an economic opportinity in making Scottish homes cooler.

He said: “Tackling the climate emergency we face will need radical action at all levels – not least in how we build and use our homes. 

“There’s a clear need for Government to regulate and set better standards for all new homes and to drive retrofit measures too. That in turn could help fuel a green jobs bonanza and lift people out of fuel poverty if we ensure the low carbon transition is fair and equitable too.” 

Nicola Barclay, Chief Executive of industry body Homes for Scotland, also stressed just building future-proofed housing would not be enough.

She said: “It should be noted that new anticipated supply of 1.5 million new homes across the UK will only account for 0.5% of the total housing stock, so retrofitting existing homes must be prioritised to deliver greatest results.

“However, we all have a responsibility to help meet our climate change objectives and builders in Scotland are playing their part, delivering new, highly-efficient homes to standards that result in 75% less carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels.

“In relation to the heat-proofing of Scottish homes, this is a fairly new concept given our historically cooler climate, and should be considered in a joined up way as we look to the future.  

“Whilst there will be many further climate-related challenges for the sector over the coming decades, we require a clear route-map (developed in partnership with industry) that aligns with the availability of proven, cost-effective technologies; ensures that there is a sufficient skills base to deliver; and doesn’t create additional barriers to meeting Scotland’s growing need and demand for housing, ensuring Scotland’s people have somewhere to call home.”