With price hikes being caused by the volatile energy sector, Paul Ciniglio from the National Energy Foundation explains what we can be doing to our homes to reduce our energy consumption and be better protected from rising bills.
Interview with Paul Ciniglio
Paul Ciniglio is refurbishment lead at the National Energy Foundation, where he spends much of his time being involved with their SuperHomes network. With a background in building surveying, he has over 30 years experience of working in the built environment sector, with a particular focus on sustainable development.
Renewable energy plays a key part in the UK energy mix
On some days England is able to produce over half its electricity needs from offshore wind turbines. As renewables are intermittent, however, an energy mix is necessary to keep the lights on. At a domestic level we could be making even more of a contribution with solar PV panels and heat pumps.
Energy bill rebates would be better spent on improving energy efficiency
Paul says that the UK government's plans to issue rebates to households for their energy bills isn't sustainable in the long term. The only way to bring our bills down to reasonable levels is to use that same money to improve the energy efficiency of our homes and cut out the waste. In order for us to achieve net zero carbon we are going to need to aspire to Passivhaus type approaches and super-insulating homes.
NEF is an independent charity
A common problem for people wanting to undertake a home retrofit is knowing where to start and who to trust. As an independent voice, NEF is able to bring that level of trust and support to those embarking on a retrofit.
Start with a whole house retrofit plan
NEF can arrange a whole house retrofit plan and this is carried out in accordance with the British Standard BS40104. It entails a survey of your property by a retrofit coordinator, who will then produce an options appraisal as to everything you could do to improve the energy efficiency of your home. It will show the benefits, so the predicted running costs and reduction in household emissions, as well as the estimated cost savings for each retrofit measure.
There are also risks involved in taking on a retrofit project but these will be flagged up in the retrofit plan at the start, so they can be managed.
By looking at the whole house view, it is possible to make decisions on what can be done now and what can be done in the future.
Fabric performance should be the first consideration
When using a whole house holistic view there is an energy design hierarchy, and the place to start is with the fabric performance of the home.
- Cut out the heat losses through the fabric of the building, so the doors, windows, insulation in the roof, walls and floors
- If making the house very airtight, it's important to factor in the ventilation to prevent damp and poor indoor air quality
- Look at efficient heating systems – it is likely that we will move towards electrification in the UK which really implies heat pumps
- Then consider other renewables, such as solar pv to generate clean electricity
By using a phased plan such as this it means that work is carried out in a logical order, and also that you don't unwittingly do something that prevents you from adding another measure in your plan later on.
The risks need to be managed
This is to ensure that retrofit maintains a good name, is worth doing, and is not going to cause lots of problems.
With the retrofit plan, each home is assigned a risk pathway, A, B or C (A being the lowest risk, and C perhaps being a historic building).
A suitable ventilation strategy is absolutely key, as condensation and damp can lead to mould issues. When insulating it's important to consider moisture, so that it doesn't get trapped in the fabric of the building and cause bigger problems.
To get rid of condensation you need three things:
Without those you are likely to get black mould forming.
NEF run a best practice retrofit network
This paid membership is operated by SuperHomes, and gives you access to events and seminars around retrofit issues. You can also then be assigned a retrofit coordinator, who will be someone that is an accredited professional that has achieved a diploma through the Retrofit Academy. These typically are architects, surveyors, and energy managers who have all been through this training.
The SuperHomes initiative also has a rating scheme, which is a benchmark for retrofit achievement.
A lot of retrofit can be done with residents in situ
Sometimes retrofit can be done on a room-by-room basis if it's carefully managed, but it can be very disruptive. Generally it's only for the deepest, most challenging projects that residents might need to temporarily move out, although all projects can be carried out more efficiently and easily without the residents living there.
At House Planning Help, we have followed a deep retrofit in Oxford. Get access to our in-depth video case study in The Hub
Look out for TrustMark and MCS certification
Paul explains that there is a massive skills shortage to deliver the amount of retrofit that is needed. Traditional builders are already busy and the energy efficiency market needs to be made more appealing to them so they can upsell skills.
The government's TrustMark scheme shows that contractors have been vetted, with the idea being to put the public's faith in the contracting sector. And if you're having a heat pump or solar PV installed, then make sure your contractor is accredited to the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS).
Paul is re-retrofitting his own SuperHome!
Paul lives in a 1989 mid-terrace cottage, which he retrofitted and became a SuperHome back in 2009. He upgraded the insulation, including putting it in cavity walls where builders were supposed to have put it when it was first built, but hadn't. He also upgraded the loft insulation, installed an air source heat pump, solar pv, solar thermal, and new windows.
“My comfort has gone up and I've got my own energy security protecting me to a certain extent with these price increases.”
At the time there were some things he wasn't able to do, so now he's taking on a further retrofit, including putting in ground floor insulation. He has also stripped out the solar hot water panels. They worked okay for the first seven years, then only intermittently until eventually being decommissioned. A preferred option now is solar pv that diverts the solar electric into an immersion cylinder to provide the hot water.
The reason Paul's solar thermal didn't work very well he says was because it was too efficient for the size of cylinder he had. By 10am it would be up to temperature and if water wasn't being drawn off or he was away on holiday, it would stagnate and get really hot, causing damage to the valves.
The Energy Performance Certificate isn't up to scratch
In the wake of the energy crisis, it seems natural that when people are looking for a new home they will be asking how much it costs to run, and this is something the EPC isn't very good at. NEF is doing some research working with a team of chartered valuation surveyors to carry out property valuations pre and post retrofit. It makes sense that a more energy-efficient home should command a higher price, and Paul says there is emerging evidence that this does seem to be the case.
Once a SuperHomes retrofit has been completed, they install monitoring equipment for 12 months to gather and evaluate data about household emissions to see how well the property is performing. It's on that basis that they certify the SuperHome and what level it has achieved. The metrics they use for this are the space heating demands (which are a proxy for the fabric performance and tell you how well insulated your home is), temperature (including checking for overheating in the summer and making sure it doesn't get too cold in the winter) and humidity and indoor air quality levels.
Know where you're going to “get the biggest bang for your buck”
Having a whole house retrofit plan will mean that you know what improvements are going to make the biggest difference and save you the most amount of money. It's important to note however that you don't always get a payback with every retrofit measure, just as you wouldn't with a new kitchen, car or conservatory.
Insulation is the most cost-effective way to retrofit, and is simple for lofts and cavity walls. It's much more of a challenge for the 7 million homes which have solid walls.
But where funds are limited, Paul explains there are government grants to help private homeowners insulate their homes. There was a local authority delivery grant program administered through regional energy hubs that can help households with incomes of less than £30,000. There is also a new Energy Company Obligation (ECO4) which is another source of funding. Sometimes there are local grants available too.
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