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Why is Home Insulation Always Lagging Behind in Energy Efficiency Strategies?

Insulating Britain’s draughty and efficient housing stock is seldom at the top of the list for policymakers. Plain and simply, home insulation is not a sexy policy topic that grabs headlines. However, it does affect a staggering number of homes in the UK. In most cases, the energy performance and efficiency of homes are measured by the EPC rating. Rightmove has recently published a report that presents some eye-opening figures for home insulation and EPC ratings.

What is an EPC, and what does the Rightmove report say?

An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is a document that assesses the energy efficiency of a property in the UK. It rates the property on a scale from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient) based on factors such as insulation, heating, and lighting. The EPC also includes recommendations for improving the property’s energy efficiency.

According to the Rightmove report, at least 18 million homes in the UK, which accounts for more than 55% of the housing stock, have an EPC rating of D or below. This suggests that a significant portion of UK homes are not energy efficient. The report highlights the financial impact of poor energy efficiency, noting that the average energy bill for a three-bedroom house with an EPC rating of F is significantly higher at £4,431 per year, compared to £1,669 for a similarly sized house with a C rating. This underscores the economic benefit of improving a property’s energy efficiency for environmental reasons and substantial cost savings on energy bills.

What impacts the EPC?
  • Insulation: The level of insulation in the roof, walls, and floors significantly affects the property’s ability to retain heat, impacting the EPC rating. Better insulation leads to a higher rating.
  • Heating System: The type, efficiency, and age of the heating system, including central heating boilers, heat pumps, and radiators, play a crucial role. More efficient systems that use less energy for the same heat output improve the rating.
  • Windows: Double-glazing or triple-glazing windows can improve thermal efficiency by reducing heat loss, thereby improving the EPC rating.
  • Lighting: The type of lighting used throughout the property affects the rating. Energy-efficient lighting, like LED bulbs, contributes positively to the EPC.
  • Renewable Energy Sources: Integrating renewable energy systems such as solar panels, wind turbines, and biomass heating systems can significantly boost a property’s EPC rating by reducing dependence on non-renewable energy sources.
  • Hot Water System: The efficiency of systems used for heating water, including the insulation of water tanks and piping, influences the EPC rating. More efficient systems that provide the same amount of hot water using less energy score higher.
  • Building Materials and Construction: The materials used in building construction and their inherent thermal properties also affect energy efficiency. Buildings constructed with materials that have better thermal properties will typically have a higher EPC rating.
  • Ventilation: Proper ventilation helps control moisture and reduce the need for heating, improving energy efficiency. However, excessive ventilation can lead to heat loss, negatively impacting the EPC.
  • Age and Condition of the Property: Older properties might score lower due to outdated construction methods and materials unless they have been retrofitted with energy-saving features.
  • Draft Proofing: Preventing unwanted drafts through gaps in windows, doors, and other areas can improve heating efficiency and EPC rating.

How much do these improvements cost?

The cost of making energy efficiency improvements to a property can vary widely depending on several factors, including the type of improvement, the size and condition of the property, and the location.

  1. Insulation:
  2. Heating System:
    • New boiler installation generally costs between £1,500 and £3,500, depending on the type and size of the boiler.
    • Air-source heat pumps can cost from £6,000 to £10,000, while ground-source heat pumps may cost from £10,000 to £18,000.
  3. Windows:
    • Double glazing typically costs between £ 150 and £600 per window, depending on size, material, and quality.
    • Triple glazing costs around 20-30% more than double glazing.
  4. Lighting:
    • Switching to LED bulbs is one of the cheaper improvements, typically costing between £5 to £20 per bulb.
  5. Renewable Energy Sources:
    • Solar panel installation ranges from £4,000 to £6,000 for a typical domestic system.
    • Solar thermal systems usually cost between £3,000 and £5,000.
  6. Draught-proofing:
    • Simple draught-proofing measures can be very cost-effective. Materials often cost between £100 and £200 if you do it yourself.
  7. Ventilation:

Is it just the cost of home insulation that makes it lag behind?

Home insulation often lags behind other energy efficiency measures for several reasons, not just due to the initial cost, though that is a significant barrier. Installing insulation, particularly in older properties, can be technically complex and disruptive. This complexity might discourage homeowners, especially if the project requires significant alterations to a building’s appearance or structure. Furthermore, insulating such properties, especially those with solid walls, involves a substantial upfront investment. Homeowners may be hesitant about the return on investment, questioning whether the energy savings will adequately offset the costs.

However, there are also non-financial barriers. Homeowners might lack awareness about the benefits of insulation and the variety of options available. This knowledge gap can lead to uncertainty about which type of insulation is most appropriate for their home, potentially leading to decision paralysis. Moreover, aesthetic and practical concerns can arise, particularly with external wall insulation, which might alter the property’s appearance or reduce internal space in the case of internal insulation.

On the other hand, insulation can significantly reduce energy bills, making it an economically sound long-term investment. This is particularly relevant given rising energy costs. Additionally, improved home insulation contributes to environmental conservation by reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Regulatory and permission issues also play a role, particularly in listed buildings or conservation areas, where restrictions on allowable modifications might exist. Homeowners planning to stay in their properties for a short time might also see less value in investing in insulation, as they may not personally benefit from the long-term energy savings.

How much funding can you receive for home insulation?

The initial outlay is undoubtedly significant. However, several initiatives, schemes, and grants are available for homeowners to improve energy efficiency with home insulation.

The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) Scheme aims to reduce carbon emissions and address fuel poverty. It mandates larger energy suppliers to help low-income and vulnerable households improve their homes’ energy efficiency. These improvements include insulation upgrades, heating system repairs, or replacements, all funded by the energy companies without direct costs to eligible households.

Another initiative, the Great British Insulation Scheme, focuses specifically on boosting insulation in British homes. This scheme generally supports homeowners and landlords by providing financial aid, such as grants or vouchers, to cover the costs of insulation projects partially. This financial assistance aims to make it easier and more affordable for property owners to enhance the energy efficiency of their buildings.

Lastly, the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund is designed to upgrade the energy efficiency of social housing. Managed by local authorities and social housing providers, this fund targets properties with poor energy performance. It allocates substantial financial resources for comprehensive improvements, including installing advanced heating systems, insulation, and renewable energy technologies. This fund is part of a broader effort to create warmer, more energy-efficient homes in the social housing sector.

You can learn more about some of the above initiatives and how to access them on our sister company’s podcast.

Is there more money committed going forward?

Most of the money committed from various parties’ manifestos is going towards different energy solutions. However, retrofitting should be far more prominent in plans as it presents one of the most impactful solutions to improve the EPC of all of the UK’s homes by 2035. Home insulation would also contribute significantly to net-zero targets.

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