New homes are becoming much better in terms of energy efficiency and insulation values. Whilst this is good news, the UK still has a massive amount of existing poorly insulated homes that are going to be around for a long time to come – in fact 80% of the homes we will have in 2050 are standing today. It is estimated that there are 9 million un-insulated cavity walls and 6.3 million lofts with poor or no insulation. In 2007 British Gas stated that: “As a result of poor insulation, £1 in every £3 spent heating homes in the UK is wasted – the current trend of focusing on the standards of new build housing fails to address the issue.” That’s a lot of wasted energy, wasted money, and excess carbon emissions.
So what can we do to remedy this situation? Well, we should be getting insulating, after all energy efficiency is the cheapest and easiest way to reduce carbon emissions. It also has a raft of other additional benefits – social, environmental and economic. The primary one is reducing energy use, and this then results in reduced carbon emissions, reduced reliance on fuel imports, reduced fuel bills, and lifting people out of fuel poverty. Furthermore, the fitting of insulation also aids job creation through both its installation and production, so these would also be ‘green’ jobs. Given the longevity of an insulation installation, all of this would be achieved by this pay once solution.
Green Job Creation
In Birmingham alone, if the City Council insulated buildings and fitted green energy systems, it could create 433 ‘green’ jobs, according to independent research released by social enterprise and environment experts Carbon Descent. This new research analyses the manpower required to insulate homes and businesses and install green energy in buildings – which are two of the key ways in which the Council could achieve its policy of reducing carbon emissions by 60% by 2026. New jobs could be available as loft laggers and insulation specialists, but could also extend to architects, plumbers, builders, electricians, and plasterers, with new admin, manufacturing, transit and warehouse positions also created to support the installation of these insulation and renewable energy products.
Fuel poverty is another major problem that can be helped considerably through home insulation. In 2007 there were about 4 million households in fuel poverty in the UK (which is defined as a household spending 10% or more of its income on home energy), and since then fuel prices and unemployment have risen sharply. In fact every 1% increase in household fuel prices puts about 30,000 households into fuel poverty. The government also has a policy to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016, so fast action on insulation would reduce energy costs for those in fuel poverty, as well as creating jobs and cutting carbon.
Local and National Government should be pushing ahead with a massive insulation programme, rather than the rather modest measures currently being undertaken. You can be sure that Birmingham Friends of the Earth will be pushing Birmingham City Council to take up the challenge in our forthcoming ‘Get Serious’ campaign, but more about this in a later newsletter.
So what should we be insulating, how is it done, and what’s the best order? It is recommended for maximum impact that energy efficiency measures in the home should be implemented in this order: loft insulation, wall insulation, hot water cylinder insulation, draught proofing, low energy lights, and finally adding controls and upgrades to the heating system. Let’s have a look at the first two of these, which would have the greatest impact and be best value for money.
About 25% of heat is lost through your roof, and the Energy Saving Trust calculates that you could save up to £205/year and about 800kg of carbon if you have insulation in your loft. In fact, if everyone insulated their lofts to the recommended depth of 270mm (using mineral wool) then around £710 million and 4 million tonnes of carbon would be saved each year!
Insulating a loft is fairly easy, and if you’re confident and good at DIY then you can even do it yourself. This usually involves laying a quilt of mineral wool over the floor of the loft, although other products are available, such as sheep’s wool quilt or celullose fibre (which is made from recycled newspaper). If you want to use the space in your loft as another room, then you’ll need to insulate the underside of the roof, which is usually done with rigid insulation boards rather than quilt. A variety of different products are available to do this job.
There are generally two types of external wall in homes, solid walls and cavity walls (i.e a wall with an inner and outer masonry wall with a void between). About a third of heat is lost through cavity walls, and even more for solid walls, and the Energy Saving Trust calculates that you could save up to £160/year and 600kg of carbon by insulating your cavity walls, and up to £400/year and 2 tonnes of carbon by insulating your solid walls.
Cavity walls (which are pretty common construction if your house was built after the 1920s) can be filled with insulation, and if your house was built from the early 1990s then it is likely it already has insulation in. Usually this is done by drilling small holes in the joints of the wall (which are filled in afterwards) into which insulation is blown in, either mineral fibre or polyurethane foam.
Solid walls (in mainly pre 1930s homes, although some 1960s and 1970s prefab homes also) have two options, either insulate the outside or inside. Insulating outside involves fixing rigid insulation boards to the outside face of the exterior walls, which is then finished with a decorative and protective finish, such as render, metal or timber cladding. This approach does tend to change the look of the house, which is fine for a rather dull looking 1960s concrete building (it might even look much better), but perhaps not for a nice ornate Victorian house (of which Birmingham has a lot), and especially so if your home is listed or in a Conservation Area.
So, you can insulate the inside (also known as ‘drylining’), which involves fixing rigid insulation boards to the inside face of the external walls. Over this sheets of plasterboard are fixed to create a new internal wall finish. There are even products available that have the insulation board bonded to the plasterboard to make the job quicker and easier. Obviously this does cause a certain amount of disruption to your home and you’ll need to redecorate the walls in question, so if you’re having a redecorate anyway, it would be a good time to insulate the walls too.
The information above is only a brief outline of how to go about insulating your home and you should always seek professional advice, but more information can be gained (as well as many other ways to save energy and carbon) from the Energy Saving Trust at: http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/ Look in the ‘Home Improvements’ section.
The Energy Saving Trust also has information on getting a grant or subsidy to cover some or all of the cost of energy saving improvements in your home, many of which are provided under the CERT (Carbon Emission Reduction Target) programme, which is largely funded by energy suppliers. Find out more here: http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/What-can-I-do-today/Energy-saving-grants-and-offers/Search-for-grants-and-offers