Warmer, greener homes with lower fuel bills?
That sounds like a dream doesn’t it? But it isn’t impossible, and some people living in this town have already carried out home improvements so they can enjoy year-round comfort with annual fuel bills no more than the pensioners’ £200 Winter Fuel Allowance.
Whilst comfortable, climate-friendly homes aren’t an impossibility, they are a necessity because the energy used to heat our houses is one of the “big three“ when it comes to our carbon emissions. The other major contributors are the food we eat, and the way we move ourselves and our goods around.
To compound the problem, our draughty and sometimes damp and mouldy houses are making many of us poor, miserable and unhealthy.
Against this background, it sounds like undiluted good news that the government is making billions of pounds available to help us improve our homes. Money spent in this way is a good investment, as the improvement in our health and well-being is worth even more than the considerable financial benefits which come from living in decent, efficient houses.
We should also consider the incalculable cost of not tackling climate change.
It serves no purpose to labour the point that the amounts of money being offered are entirely insufficient to make up for the years of neglect that make our houses amongst the worst in Europe in this respect, but we do need to take care to spend the money wisely.
There are many measures that people associate with green living: Solar panels, batteries, solar hot water, double and triple glazing, heat pumps, biomass boilers, underfloor heating, draft proofing and insulation, and there are plenty of companies that would happily take our money and install these things for us.
However, without proper planning and a coordinated approach, there is the risk that the results will be disappointing, expensive, or even damaging. For example, without first insulating the house to reduce the enormous heat losses from it, a heat pump would be every bit as expensive to run as a gas boiler, or possibly even more so. Without first dealing with an existing damp problem, insulation and draft proofing could actually make matters worse, with adverse effects upon the structure of the building and its occupants.
Whilst the people installing and applying these various energy-saving appliances and measures doubtlessly have great knowledge in their own areas, this Is rarely sufficient to enable them to offer expert, impartial whole-house advice. The issue is complicated further by the fact that there are so many different types of houses; some old, some new, some of common construction and some unique.
According to PAS2035 (a recent document from the British Standards Institution), a home improvement of this type should be supervised from beginning to end by a Retrofit Coordinator whose expertise and experience will ensure that the measures to be undertaken are understood by the homeowner, and planned and executed, by suitably trained craftspeople, to the high standard needed.
Other roles – Retrofit Advisors, Assessors, Designers, and Evaluators- are also identified by the BSI, but as there are currently very few suitably trained and qualified people for these positions, it is likely in the first place that their services will also have to provided by the Retrofit Coordinator.
Suitable people, with a background in, for example, architecture or building standards, are currently being sought to become Retrofit Coordinators, with additional training as necessary.
It is highly advisable for a whole-house plan to be created at the outset, so that if funds are not available for the job to be completed in one go, the various stages of the work can at least be carried out in the appropriate order and in ways which will complement each other. It would obviously be wasteful to install a huge, expensive, power-hungry heat pump at an early stage, only to find that when the house is subsequently properly insulated, 75% of its capacity is not needed.
So what can we, as householders, do to improve our homes, given the current scarcity of suitably trained and qualified people to advise us, and to plan, carry out and oversee the work to the necessary standard and in the right order?
There are a few low-risk measures which could well be appropriate in many circumstances. For example, single or double glazed windows in poor condition could safely be replaced by modern triple glazing from a reputable supplier. Even here, some foresight is called for. New windows should be fitted in such a way as to maximise the amount of insulation which can be fitted to the reveals, (i.e. the sides of the window openings) at some future time, as inadequate insulation in these areas could give rise to damaging condensation.
A good starting point would be to find as much reliable information on the topic as possible and read it thoroughly. Following this, the views of an architect, or indeed a Retrofit Coordinator if one can be found, should be sought, who can then help with the creation of a whole-house plan for doing the work, or at least determine which task to carry out first. This will be a sound investment of some of the cash being handed out, with the potential for saving money, time and disruption in the future.
It would also serve as a signal to suitable professionals that a step into Retrofit Coordination would be a smart and worthwhile career move.
At Otley Energy, part of Otley 2030, we are working with the UK Green Building Council, Leeds City Council, Leeds Climate Commission and many more to fill these gaps so please sign up to our mailing list on our homepage and watch this space for further details on how to spend your ‘Green Homes Grant’ wisely.