Raising the alarm when the temperature drops

During an average winter, more than 25,000 people die as a result of cold weather in England and Wales. It is a silent killer with a death toll which far exceeds carbon monoxide poisoning, compounded by growing fuel poverty in the UK. Can plumbing and heating engineers add value to their own service and help their customers to reduce the risk?
Dave Rigby, Spares Director at City Heating Spares, considers how raising the alarm early could help save lives.
The number of excess winter deaths in the UK is both staggering and alarming, especially when you consider the highest risk groups include the elderly, infirm and very young.
One of the most concerning points is that the risks can often be alleviated and deaths can be prevented; Scandinavian countries for example have fewer excess winter deaths than the UK, despite significantly lower winter temperatures.
But despite high-profile campaigns from national charities including Age UK, the figures remain worryingly high. What’s more, for every excess winter death there are also around eight admissions to hospital, 32 visits to outpatient care and 30 social service calls.
Much has been made of the contribution that fuel poverty makes to excess winter deaths. For many people it remains a struggle to keep their home warm enough to combat the cold weather but winter conditions and poorly heated homes pose a severe risk to health, particularly amongst the elderly and infirm.
Research suggests as many as 5.5million UK households (21% of all households) are currently in fuel poverty and with the ever spiralling cost of heating bills there is a danger this figure will rise.
There are products available to engineers that can increase the efficiency of heating systems and reduce the impact of rising bills: A rated systems and additional products such as thermostatic radiator valves, for example, can aid system efficiency. However, such improvements are not always viable to homeowners and must also be considered against other contributing factors such as building fabric and insulation, which will both impact on efficiency.
Instead, cold alarms are the latest, low-cost, product available to homeowners. Designed to highlight the risks before they become critical and give residents time to take action, they are already being noticed by registered social landlords and residential organisations as an invaluable tool to help mitigate the risks of cold weather in winter.
But with elderly residents in private households across the UK facing the same risks, cold alarms represent a huge opportunity for engineers to get ahead of the game and add value to their own service.
The FireAngel CDA-9X, now available at City Heating Spares, is believed to be one of the first of its kind available for retail purchase. More importantly, at less than £17.50 each, it is not beyond the reach of any homeowner.
Cold alarms combine visual and audible warnings to highlight the risks of room temperature before it becomes dangerous, giving residents time to concentrate heating in a single room, move to a warmer area or seek outside help before hypothermia or worse occurs.
At City Heating Spares, part of the Travis Perkins Group, we have worked closely with suppliers Sprue Safety Products and we are expecting cold alarms like these to become an essential product over the next few years – not just for landlords and care homes, but for plumbing and heating engineers too.
Easy to install and completely portable from room to room, cold alarms give a series of visual and audible warnings when room temperature falls. A warning LED will flash yellow every five seconds when temperature falls below 17°C; below 12°C the light turns to red and an alarm sounds briefly every two minutes. Crucially, the multisensory operation means this equipment is suitable for those residents who are hard of hearing or sight.
If the temperature gets below 6°C, which is critical temperature particularly for key risk groups, the alarm will repeatedly sound in 30 second intervals and the warning light will flash every second. It is about highlighting the risk points and giving people the advance warning needed to take action before the drop in temperature affects their health.
These alarms will give plumbers an opportunity to highlight the dangers and offer a solution to their customers. With awareness slowly creeping up and national charity campaigns beginning to take shape, the issue of excess winter deaths (and the resulting opportunity for engineers) will only increase.
For more information visit www.cityheatingspares.co.uk.