Friday, 2 May 2014

Why ‘Thermal comfort in older houses’?

The energy group have chosen ‘thermal comfort in older houses’ as the topic for their next forum on 17th June. How come? Seeing as we did solid wall insulation only a year ago in June last year? Back in February we agreed this one would be on solar energy for water heating and the renewable heat incentive. The RHI for homes was expected imminently (and has now been announced - see our finance page).

We changed our minds because of the news that Cambridgeshire has won £5.7 million from the government’s Green Deal Communities fund. The bulk of this cash will be used to subsidise insulation of hard to treat homes including in conservation areas through the Action on Energy scheme ( This is a wonderful opportunity that we must make the most of. For most people the insulation still won’t be free but there will be up to £6,000 support available per home. The money is supposed to be spent within one year so there is going to be a lot of pressure on Action on Energy to work quickly – we want to do what we can to make sure it is spent wisely.

‘Hard to treat’ is the term DECC uses for houses with solid walls, narrow cavities, steel frame construction and some other categories. They are called ‘hard to treat’ for good reason, especially our lovely old homes with traditional features like bay windows, decorative tiles and plaster on the outside and other special features on the inside. Whether we live in a conservation area or not, we love our homes the way they are so we want to be careful about how we improve them.

 The worst scenario would be if insulation led to damp – there was a presentation given at Ecobuild this year about external insulation leading to all sorts of problem due to poor workmanship and sloppy design. We don’t expect anything like that to happen here. South Cambridgeshire has a good track record with insulation for council tenants and work done under the Green Deal is guaranteed for 25 years. However, especially if you are contemplating work done by other suppliers it is sensible to be aware of the risks. At our last meeting we were discussing damp in general and heard about several examples where it seemed there was more condensation after insulation was installed. There was one case where both loft and cavity wall insulation were installed but because of the shape of the house some areas were missed out – and those were the areas where mould developed. In this case it should be easy enough to fix but it would have been even easier if the installer had predicted the problem and put in extra insulation at the start.

This is why we have chosen to explore insulation and other options in more detail and we are delighted to have found expert speakers - Jason Dorks from Natural Building Technologies and Jim Ross from Cambridge Architectural Research - who have many years experience of retrofit in older homes, including listed buildings. Our aim is to give people who might be considering insulation an idea of what to expect and what choices they will need to make. Some may decide not to go for wall insulation at all, preferring to concentrate on windows or managing draughts and ventilation. No two homes are the same and what is right for one won’t be right for another. Also we will have two group members as householders with recent experience. Patrick has just got to the end of a big building project on his home and Peter will be in the process of getting work done by Action on Energy. It is going to be a very interesting evening.

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