Why Insulating your Home should be a top priority?
Insulating more homes would reduce energy bills, carbon emissions and would create tens of thousands of new jobs. Most importantly, it would benefit society’s poorest the most significantly, because these households spend a far higher proportion of their income on energy, especially in the current crisis.
Fuel poverty is when a household spends more than 10% of disposable income (after housing and childcare costs) on energy. This was 30-35% of all households in Scotland last year, and likely much higher with the cost of living crisis now. A quarter of these were also in extreme fuel poverty with a spend of more than 20% of their income.
Having a well-insulated home can help you keep a comfortable, healthy temperature in your house all year round, protecting it against cold in winter and excess heat in summer. A well-insulated house is very energy efficient and should need little additional heating and keep energy bills to a minimum. In fact, the Energy Saving Trust estimates that a typical three-bedroom semi-detached house can save up to £310 per year on energy bills by installing loft and cavity wall insulation.
Rather than focusing on renewables (and especially heat pumps), the focus should be on removing the need for energy and the best way to do that is via insulation, insulation, insulation.
Case Study – Bringing a Victorian semi into the 21st Century
The owners wanted a house that could easily be maintained at 20 degrees – as an elderly couple, a warmer home is essential for their health. As a sporty couple, they also wanted copious hot water for showers and wanted to reduce their carbon footprint.
First, the house is a typical Victorian home in Highland Perthshire – solid stone walls, lathe and plaster interiors with ornate plasterwork, wooden sash windows. Added to this, the house is spread over three floors, has a mansard roof (very hard to get access) and is in a conservation area.
Before considering how to heat any building, you have to reduce the heating demand. This means insulation, draft proofing and glazing.
We suggested internal insulation using icynene foam. This is a product that allows existing lathe and plaster to be retained, is flexible, vapour permeable (often referred to as breathable) can be injected into hard-to-reach areas including underfloor and that tricky mansard roof – and has been used by Historic Environment Scotland in some of their properties.
To address drafts and glazing, we suggested secondary double glazing. Professionally installed, this option is much cheaper than replacing whole windows, can look great and significantly reduce heat loss. It is also a perfect solution for a conservation area. We also suggested replacing skylights with conservation roof lights – they look the same but are double glazed.
Having developed a solution to keep heat in, we then looked at sustainable heating solutions.
Ideally, we would have loved to see an air source heat pump, with solar PV and a battery. Sadly, the conservation area restrictions meant that PV was not a viable option and the size of battery required would have been prohibitively costly. So, we advised a heat pump only.
All of these recommendations are legible for an interest-free loan from Home Energy Scotland, repayable over 10 years. There would also have been a cashback option at the time (now replaced with a £9,000 grant for the heat pump, or £7,500 for those outside of the highlands).
The homeowners bravely decided to follow all our advice. After 18 months, the work is complete (including a small extension and a new second bathroom which added to the timescales, especially due to material shortages). When we first looked at the house, the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rated the property at a band E with an estimated annual energy bill of about £5400 (ouch!). After the improvements, the building now scores a good D with annual bills of £3300 and the owners report a warm and comfortable house.
But rather than figures, the photograph says it all. The house on the left is our case study. This was taken mid-morning after an overnight snowfall. The house on the right is very similar to the position our owners found 2 years ago. As the snow shows, not only is the house obviously retaining more heat but this is despite the untreated house being about 5 degrees cooler inside.
Story By Craig Thompson and Martin Mathers