Written by Natasha Wills
With the “Beast from the East” striking three times in succession this month and the threat of Storm Toby over Easter, this March has certainly been one of the coldest I can recall for a long time. This, of course, means that people need to heat their homes for longer periods than they would normally and for those on low incomes and those living in fuel poverty this can sometimes mean making difficult choices about whether to heat or eat.
The consequences of fuel poverty are well-documented and include discomfort, ill health, mental illness and debt. Fuel poverty is also linked to increased winter mortality with a rise in winter deaths associated with cold homes. Such is the problem that according to a study by the Association for the Conversation of Energy (ACE), living in a cold home kills more people than road accidents, alcohol or drug abuse.
But it is not just the vulnerable, frail, and elderly who become a statistic. A cold home can mean lower educational attainment and lead to social exclusion for young children. There are also links to rising costs within the NHS in the fight to treat conditions worsened by insufficiently heated homes, particularly heart and respiratory diseases.
We all know that energy efficiency improvements should play their part in helping those in fuel poverty to keep up with rising energy costs, but with the government-backed delivery of home energy efficiency improvements stalling, we inevitably end up playing political football with the issue whilst the poorest and most vulnerable in society suffer.
The government’s 2015 Fuel Poverty Strategy, which introduced a statutory target to ensure that as many fuel poor homes as practically possible achieve a minimum energy efficiency rating of Band C by 2030, will only be reached if we can upscale installation of high-performance thermal insulation, to the nation’s housing stock. In short, we have to agree on the process, ensure that the work has been carried out to a decent standard and is value for money. This is the real challenge we face.
Firstly, is the need to provide an accurate upfront assessment of the existing building by a competent assessor, who can then interpret the findings and prescribe appropriate energy improvement measures.
There will be various measures required to refurbish a building, but to ensure the right result is achieved there has to be coordination between all retrofit activities. Getting the fabric of the building well insulated should always be the starting point. With examples of poor practice in retrofit on the increase, it is important that a comprehensive set of standards: the assessment, installation and commissioning, are all carried out correctly; and the consumer has a retrofit that works. Professional co-ordination coupled with consumer motivation, will deliver a successful retrofit and this is one of the key objectives of the Each Home Counts1 review which recommends that there be a quality mark for all energy efficiency and renewable energy measures to ensure that the consumer receives excellent levels of consumer protection, companies adhere to a strict code of conduct when operating in the energy efficiency arena and that products are installed to approved codes of practice.
Retrofitting insulation works for a whole host of reasons from saving money to reducing carbon and being good for our health. Whether it is an internal or external insulation application, it is vitally important we bring the nation’s homes up to or beyond an acceptable standard by getting the fabric of the building as energy efficient as possible. Using the highest performing products, such as PIR insulation, will go a long way to achieve this. Only then will we be able to provide a long-term asset that can be passed onto future generations.