No home left behind; ensuring retrofit of the hard to treat
By Fraser Wallace
In the years 2004-2014, household energy use fell by a fifth. A number of factors have been attributed to this including more efficient boilers and appliances, adoption of low-energy light bulbs and high energy costs (before the current drop in fossil fuel prices). It is almost certain too, however, that fabric-based efficiencies made a substantive contribution toward these energy savings; 70 per cent of homes scored a D EPC rating or above in 2012 compared to only 45 per cent in 2008.
A report from the UK Committee on Climate Change stated householders’ bills would have increased by an extra £165 between 2004 – 2013 had an energy saving of a fifth not been delivered across this time period. This is a substantive macroeconomic achievement, which underlines the value of continuing this trend where possible.
This is of course a great news story, but it should be considered in context of the policies which helped drive these improvements; namely the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT), the Carbon Emissions Saving Programme (CESP) and more recently, the Energy Company Obligation. These policies were implemented largely, to reduce carbon emissions and also to address fuel poverty. The fuel poverty legal target for England – in place since December 2014 – states that by 2030, as many fuel poor homes as reasonably practicable must achieve a Band C energy efficiency standard.
This target is ambitious. There are additionally substantive challenges to delivering it, including the fact that some properties remain stubbornly inefficient. As early as 2008, solid wall properties categorized – amongst other problem properties such as rural and rented homes – as ‘Hard to Treat’ (HTT) by the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs.
The incidence of fuel poverty is lowest for households living in dwellings with the most energy efficient walls e.g. 6% of households with cavity wall insulation are classified as fuel poor whereas the highest incidence of fuel poverty is found in dwellings with solid walls (16%) according to the Annual Fuel Poverty Statistics Report, 2015.
It is of note that one common association with both fuel poverty and properties deemed ‘hard to treat’ is that of private rented sector (PRS) tenure. An astounding 78 percent of the worst properties (EPC F or G) of PRS properties lacked solid wall insulation. More broadly across the United Kingdom’s housing portfolio, if all measures recommended in EPC reports were installed, 641,000 dwellings would still remain in SAP bands F or G and 80 percent of these would be solid wall properties with no wall insulation.
Carbon reduction targets suffer from low delivery of SWI too- the CCC has indicated that the installation rate needs to increase by a factor of at least ten to meet the fifth carbon budget.
These correlations strongly indicate that policy needs to overcome significant barriers to the deployment of solid wall insulation (SWI).
There are some substantial costs associated with addressing this efficiency deficit in the worst properties. It has been estimated that to bring all properties (where cost was sub-£10,000) to an EPC rating of D by 2025 would cost close to £5,800 per installation. Another study noted that the ‘average house’ required £1,421 to reach Band E; however, this same study found that 30 percent of G rated properties required > £5,000 to reach (an arbitrary) Band E target.
Under the current context of Government spending priorities, it is clear that any public expenditure must be fully justified. However, it seems clear that both from a macro-economic level and from the perspective of creating progressive policy aimed at erasing persistent fuel poverty and reducing carbon emissions that every home matters. No house should be left languishing at the bottom of the EPC league tables and policy must deliver the resource to lance this boil.
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