Insulation in UK Homes

Why British homes are badly insulated?

Badly insulated homes are costing British families around £643 per year, according to the Energy Bill Revolution, a lobby group who have the support of over 244 MPs, along-with big names like Asda, Carillion, IKEA, Saint-Gobain, Scouts, WWF, Save the Family and UK Green Building Council.

It is a fact that the UK has some of the most poorly insulated housing in Europe, and the effects of this range from having to spend more money to heat the home, or being unable to afford to do so and ending up in fuel poverty. Cold homes are costing the NHS £1.36 billion every year in hospital and primary care as older people struggle with respiratory problems, stroke and heart attacks triggered by the cold.

Building and governmental policy can be partly responsible for our poorly insulated homes. Superior building standards in countries like Finland and Sweden which insist on insulation and double glazing mean they have warmer homes than in the UK, despite its milder climate. Many homes don’t have proper depths of insulation in the loft and a large number of houses have unfilled cavity walls. Homes built before 1925 generally have solid – and very expensive to insulate – external walls.

Numerous studies have shown that home insulation as the best and most effective way to reduce home energy use. Other things can help, including double glazing and draught proofing, but better insulation of the external surfaces of the house offers the best scope for cutting energy bills.

Yet it seems that we are actually falling further behind when it comes to insulating our homes. Figures released at the end of 2013 by DECC (Department for Energy and Climate Change) show that the rates of new wall and loft insulation are running at less than a quarter of 2012 figures.

Pressure groups have blamed government for falling rates. Installation rates for loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and solid wall insulation have fallen by over 75% from 2012 with the fall in loft insulation being the most dramatic. One explanation is the end of the old programmes and the introduction of the Green Deal. The high interest rate on the Green Deal financing is stopping many people from using it. According to The Times in Dec 2013, British Gas also fought hard to weaken unofficial government targets for insulating Government homes, could this be because under suppliers’ energy efficiency responsibilities, they didn’t want to have to fund too many projects?BG, the country’s largest energy supplier helped to convince the Government to cut by two thirds the number of homes with solid walls that will receive subsidised insulation. Under the revised target, energy companies will have to insulate 100,000 solid-wall homes by 2017, 200,000 fewer than expected.

Another reason for the poor levels of home insulation is that until recently, there has not been an enormous amount of financial pressure on UK families forcing them into looking at ways to be efficient. As at 2011, the UK had the lowest gas prices on a per unit cost for small domestic users across major Western European economies and was 4th cheapest for electricity prices within the same comparison scope behind Greece, the Netherlands and France. Despite this our overall spend is higher than average, and climate is not the only reason for this. Countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Germany, each of whom can experience very harsh winters, have better insulated homes. Spending on energy may be associated with higher energy consumption per dwelling in the UK, which is constantly above the European average.

UK average electricity prices experienced also experienced one of the lowest growth rates from 1998 to 2011. Our data doesn’t go beyond 2011, since when we have experienced inflation-busting energy cost rises. And the cost of energy is already biting. Hard hit families are seeing their budgets stretched at levels only previously imagined. Rising energy costs may encourage households to become more energy conscious, and ensuring a good level of insulation is possibly the best way to improve their energy efficiency. Given that all homes up for sale these days are given an EPC rating, it is also in homeowners’ interests to ensure their energy efficiency level is improved. The Green Deal may be one way for vulnerable households to improve their insulation levels, but it only tells half the story. In many cases, homeowners with low mortgage rates are able to pay for insulation measures themselves. Since the government is unable to capture this information, we do not have a true picture of the level of insulation, only what we can see from geo-thermal imaging!

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