There has been much in the British media in the run up to COP26 about funding towards new energy efficiency technologies with heat pumps being the most publicised. Retrofit measures require a significant level of match funding, that the even the average household doesn’t have, let alone those living on the lowest incomes. The new technologies are also baffling, making it difficult for households to understand the best solution for their home.
The discourse around climate change and energy is cloaked in complex language, detailed targets and a myriad of expensive technological solutions. When, in fact, the majority of homes in the UK would simply benefit from deep insulation, with new building techniques which prevent damp – because, lets face it, the UK’s housing stock is the oldest in Europe*.
32% of cavities are uninsulated and 90% of solid walls are uninsulated in England. When you combine that with 19% of homes not even meeting the Decent Homes Standard, we still have a long way to go to do even the basics to improve properties. (2017 English Housing Survey).
It has been estimated that 90% of the buildings that exist today will still be with us in 2050 and insulation and upgrades to heating are the most effective means of reducing a building’s energy use.
Across Europe the rate of deep retrofits (those that cut energy use by 60% or more required to achieve climate targets) is only 0.2%.
Whilst the UK Government is currently favouring heat pumps as the flavour of the moment solution, when added to a poorly insulated property they wouldn’t make any real difference to saving energy.
They also use electricity which is currently a higher price than gas and would have to work overtime to produce as much heat as a gas fired boiler. Why are they preferred? As they’re easy to do and sound sexy. Deep insulating a home is dull and requires installers to learn new methods and techniques to prevent structural issues such as damp, to homes.
In the UK we also have the added issue of 82% of our homes being on piped gas with a continued push from the District Network Operators to connect homes to mains gas over the last 10 years.
With poorly insulated homes, primarily on gas central heating, the typical family has to wonder if the investments in trendy new technologies are worth the money. While the Green Homes Grants are paying up to 50% towards measures, there is still a significant outlay that most households cannot afford.
Social Housing is set to benefit the most with Local Authorities gaining funding to complete major projects in their areas. The greatest challenge they face, is convincing households that the disruption is worth their while.
There is also currently a national shortage in qualified Retrofit Assessors and Retrofit Coordinators to work on these projects – to be able to properly advise, impartially, on the measures most suitable for households.
Over the last 6 months Groundwork has worked with Local Authorities and Housing Associations in Kirklees, Dudley, Barnsley and Leeds to provide pre and post Energy Performance Certificates, Assessments and Coordination of Retrofit projects to enable projects to meet the complex and rigorous PAS2035 standard.
Our staff not only assess the property but work with the household to ensure that their energy needs are met. Where households are also in fuel poverty we provide them with basic energy saving advice and support to access grants and social tariffs to reduce their energy bills further.
As the Green Homes Grant rolls out to owner occupiers there needs to be clear communication about the benefits of retrofit measures and access to Assessors and Coordinators able to advise on the measures best suitable for their property and the investment v payback.
We’re on a journey which has had stalled a few times in the past few years, but one which requires a significant boost in delivery if we’re set to meet our 2050 Net Zero targets.
Emily Thompson, Fuel Poverty & Climate Change Director
*BRE Trust, 2020. The Housing Stock of the United Kingdom.