Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Home insulation targets in sight

It has been a very long and eventful journey from April 2014 when the Cambridge Green Communities fund was first announced but the target 1000 'hard to treat' homes to be insulated is now in sight. The deadline for registering is the end of March so if you are still thinking about it you need to do so quickly. More than 950 homes have already signed up and nearly half of those completed.

I heard the latest news yesterday from Justin Smith, home energy officer at Cambridge City Council. We were both at a workshop discussing the Cambridge City Council Climate Change Strategy (consultation now closed). The strategy is for the whole city, not just managing the council's own carbon footprint, and the Green Deal Communities funding has been a significant plank in the actions for objective 2 'Reducing energy consumption and emissions from homes and businesses in Cambridge and tackling fuel poverty, ...'.

Homes are classified as 'hard to treat' because they are unsuitable for cavity wall insulation, typically because they don't have cavity walls. Cambridge and the surrounding areas have an awful lot of homes with solid walls and also homes with 'system build' constructions that don't have fillable cavities. Insulating them makes a big difference: improving the comfort of the residents, and reducing energy use and carbon emissions. There are also grants for a variety of energy saving measures for houses in the private rented sector. The total funding provided was  £7.8 million.

The TC energy group have done our best to support this project from the start. Soon after the launch we ran a forum on Thermal Comfort in Older Houses and put links on our advice pages to encourage people to sign up. Also there have been several events run by Cambridge Carbon Footprint. At each one there were experts to answer questions on solid wall insulation issues and Justin Smith explained the funding on offer. However, in the initial stages it was slow going. It was a learning experience both for the council team and for their Action on Energy delivery partner, Climate Energy. To be fair, Climate Energy were very experienced working with social housing but for private home owners the requirements are a bit different.

One problem was that Climate Energy were rather limited in their expertise. They could supply external wall insulation but if you wanted anything else done at the same time - such as insulating a flat roof or doing maintenance on the eaves, then that was difficult if not impossible to arrange. In the beginning, when Climate Energy was the only approved installer these limitations were a serious problem but gradually other local installers have won approval and now there are nine with a wide range of expertise including other types of insulation and windows as well as wall insulation.

Then in October last year Climate Energy went into administration causing consternation for Justin and the council team - and hundreds of home owners who had already contracted with Climate Energy and paid their deposits but not yet had the work done. Fortunately Climate Energy had subcontracted installations to other firms such as Thrift Energy and they have been very flexible about taking over the individual household contracts - sometimes even honouring the deposits already paid if they could not be recovered.

The deadlines for completing the installations is still tight and there is very little money left now (so if you want to take advantage of the £4000/home grant still available you had better get to it right away). The whole project has been a nightmare to administer and Justin definitely has a few more gray hairs than before. However the benefits will be felt for many years. The residents of the homes that have been insulated will appreciate the extra warmth and lower bills - and the installers who have been involved in delivering those schemes have gained experience in delivering insulation to difficult homes. These skills will be invaluable in the future as there are a lot more houses to retrofit as we transition to a low carbon economy in 2050.

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