Retrofitting homes would bring huge health benefits, study finds

rolls of insulation
Image © Shutterstock

Implementing net zero policies would result in substantial reductions in mortality by 2050, according to a modelling study by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) that was  published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

The results suggest that all policies combined would lead to at least two million additional years lived across the population of England and Wales by 2050. Retrofitting homes would account for 836,000 out of the two million additional years lived, as long as ventilation measures are provided for upgraded homes.

The study measured health benefits by looking at reductions in mortality alone. However, as well as driving reductions in mortality, evidence from other research suggests that net zero policies may also result in people living with fewer health conditions. It looked at six net zero policies across the electricity supply, transport, housing, and food sectors. It used modelling to estimate how these policies affect health, taking into account how much they reduce air pollution, make diets healthier and increase exercise.

Lead author Dr James Milner of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said:

Our modelling confirms that there are significant health benefits to implementing net zero policies. Not only are these policies essential for mitigating climate change, they also make us healthier. If we move faster in adopting more environmentally friendly diets and active ways of travelling, the health benefits will be even greater.

The central role played by retrofitting homes with insulation in delivering these health benefits is particularly striking. Housing in England and Wales is poorly insulated compared to other countries, so actions taken towards improving home energy efficiency prove particularly beneficial to reducing carbon emissions and improving health. The energy and cost-of-living crises this winter have provided a long list of reasons for the UK to adopt an ambitious insulation policy; our study adds better health to that list.

The results of the study suggest that retrofitting homes with insulation resulted in 836,000 life-years gained by 2050, driving the largest benefit to health.

This was followed by switching to renewable energy to power homes and reducing red meat consumption – which resulted in 657,000 and 412,000 life-years gained, respectively.

Subsequently, replacing car journeys with walking or cycling resulted in 125,000 life-years gained, while switching to renewable energy for electricity generation resulted in 46,000 life-years gained, and finally switching to renewable energy for transport led to 30,000 life-years gained.

The research was funded by National Institute for Health Research and the Wellcome Trust.

Read the publication: James Milner et al., Impact on mortality of pathways to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in England and Wales: a multisectoral modelling study. Lancet Planetary Health. DOI 10.1016/S2542-5196(22)00310-2