Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Refit for purpose: green deal or no deal?

From Big Issue in the North magazine 

The results of a York refurbishment project have cast doubts on the government’s flagship energy and carbon saving programme for housing.

Due to start this winter, the Green Deal will allow for the installation of new energy saving measures without any up-front spending by home owners and tenants. The incentive to do this relies on people being able to meet the costs through savings on future energy bills. The fear is that costs will exceed savings and installation in the fourteen million homes that need to be retrofitted will stall. Consequently, Britain will struggle to meet its target to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

The majority of Britain’s 26.7 million homes were built in the 1930s. To test how the Green Deal might work in practice the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) conducted a refurbishment experiment at one of its two-storey, semi-detached homes in York from that period.

JRF undertook two refits at 67 Temple Avenue. First they spent £18,250 on, amongst other things, rewiring and plastering, loft insulation and a new heating and hot water system. Residents would have remained at home during the works. In the second, JRF increased the total spending to £56,000 by adding in a solar hot water system, high-performance doors and windows, underfloor and external wall insulation.  Under this radical refit, residents would have required temporary alternative accommodation.

The Government’s Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) is complicated, but estimates energy efficiency and cost savings from proposed refits. To assess how 67 Temple Avenue performed, Leeds Met University Centre for the Built Environment evaluated the energy efficiency rating of the refits using a forensic visual and thermographic survey.

Under the standard refit, CO2 emissions fell from 5,751kg a year to 3,121, and then fell to just 1,269 when all the works had been completed. This was 27% and 29% less than SAP predictions.

One of the biggest problems was that cavity wall insulation levels were found to be uneven. This was despite JRF employing a registered experienced installer and a committed and knowledgeable team during the whole project. The development charity is concerned that current skills levels in the building trade may result in predicted improvement levels across the country being even less than they achieved in York.

In terms of reduced costs in heating, hot water and lighting these fell from £803 a year to £423 and then down again to £163, a drop of £380 and £640 respectively. In the vast majority of Green Deal cases a loan to home owners and tenants from an energy supplier will be used to pay for improvements. Although the amount has yet to be announced, there will be an interest charge. Even without one the combined savings at Temple Avenue would take 48 and 87.5 years to meet the costs of the two refits.

Owen Daggett, Sustainability Manager for Joseph Rowntree believes “the findings from this report need to be understood in terms of risk to the consumer.”

JRF are now sending the report to a cross sector of policy makers and practitioners including the Federation of Master Builders. (FMB)

The FMB has cautiously welcomed the Green Deal and a spokesperson said it was “working to raise members awareness in order to deliver the skills and knowledge needed for successful energy saving refurbishments.”

However, FMB believes making Britain’s homes more energy efficient would be better achieved by making it cheaper for householders to upgrade their homes by introducing a cut in VAT on home repair and maintenance work.

It also backs a campaign called Energy Bill Revolution, whose supporters are calling for the £40 billion that the government hopes to raise form carbon taxes to be spent on energy efficiency programmes. They say this would upgrade more than 600,000 homes annually and rescue households from fuel poverty, whilst also slashing carbon emissions.

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which will oversee the Green Deal, said they were confident of its success “as our modelling shows many properties will have the costs of improvements compensated by savings in energy costs and for the poorest households subsidies will be available.”  

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