Preston Retrofit Disaster

An external insulation contract in Preston, run under a government energy saving scheme five years ago went horribly wrong. Up to 390 homes were affected with water penetration, mould and damp.

Four years on the problems, some of them severe, have only been rectified for some of the affected households. Occupants, many elderly and on low incomes, have in some cases reportedly been forced to pay for repairs themselves.

Although the story was well-known to many directly involved with retrofit policy-making, the story had hardly been told outside those circles, but with the help of Preston Council and some of the other people involved, I wrote an article for Passive House Plus, which also features a number of Preston Council’s photographs showing just how extensive the damage was to some of the affected homes. It can be read here: Disastrous Preston retrofit scheme remains unresolved

I did get to visit the area after that article was published, and have since given a couple of talks on what I saw. You can view/download the slides to the one given at an event in April 2018 (organised by Community Energy England and Carbon Co-op): Lessons from Preston – when retrofit goes wrong

 

A healthy retrofit scheme for London residents

Retrofit case studies for Passive House Plus

South London scheme delivers better health for residents

The original houses, with the new build homes beyond

A sensitive development of social housing in Lambeth combines three new passive houses with six low energy flats carefully constructed inside an old Victorian terrace. With the emphasis on good indoor air quality, residents are already reporting improvements in health & well-being since moving from their old accommodation. Oct 2106

 

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Community deep retrofit

Working with design consultancy URBED, Manchester-based community energy group Carbon Co-op has pioneered a way of supporting ‘able-to-pay’ homeowners to invest in making their homes warmer and more comfortable – while reducing their energy use by around half.

By upgrading the fabric of homes and adding PV panels, cuts of 40-60% or more were made in  energy consumption and emissions and £1,000/year was knocked off bills, at a level of capital spending that homeowners were willing and able to invest.

As well as dramatically reduced energy bills, homeowners who participated in the project say:

–        Their homes are warmer, including first thing in the morning.
–        They feel less damp and the air feels fresher.
–        Homes are less draughty.
–        Homes are cooler in summer when it’s hot.

Customer research showed that the project’s success resulted from the combination of a community base with expert technical advice and supervision, along with a modest financial incentive (in this case a zero-interest loan).

By bringing a group of householders and their homes together under one umbrella, important elements such as site crew training and the detailing of insulation installation could be shared, while specifications were individualised to each home in line with the needs of the building and the wishes of the owners.

This combination gave customers the confidence to invest, and enabled them to transform the performance of their homes.

I visited the project and spent time with the project team – and met some of the co-op members: a great bunch of people and an impressive project. The report I wrote for them is on their website here: Carbon Coop – Powering Down Together, with a shorter summary here Powering Down Together – summary

ECO3 consultation response – in one unwieldy string

For masochists (apologies for the lack of formatting):

 You can download a pdf here

  1. Do you agree with the proposal to increase the Affordable Warmth obligation so that it represents 100% of the future scheme?

There should certainly be wider provision of support for fuel poor households in England, as there is in Scotland and Wales. It would be better for this support to be delivered through taxation as that is a non-regressive funding mechanism. The government should also encourage DNOs to do more, due to the benefits to them, primarily through avoided infrastructure investment, of reducing energy demand in homes. But While ECO remains the only publicly mandated funding stream for home energy efficiency in England, I agree that it should be focused on the people who most need help with their energy bills.

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‘Icebox’ modern house gets cosy makeover

1960s ‘icebox’ transformed into warm and bright eco home

Generous insulation behind timber boards on this 60s retrofit

 

A deep retrofit of this 1960s block-built home turned it into a modern ultra low-energy home that emphasises wood, light and natural materials. Aug 2016

 

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Deep retrofit – the big prize?

Simple home energy efficiency improvements (such as new boilers, cavity wall insulation etc) can bring valuable comfort and health benefits to the occupants of inefficient homes – especially those in fuel poverty – as the last article revealed (see here). However, energy, carbon and bill savings tend to be modest, rarely topping 15% or 20% – and sometimes energy use actually increases!

If housing is to contribute its share of the 80% cuts in carbon emissions this country is committed to, in order to play is part in tackling climate change, retrofits will need to go deeper – a lot deeper. But will occupants benefit from the extra work? And is it affordable?

In the first part of this article we looked at the damage fuel poverty and cold homes do to occupants’ health, and found good evidence that when these twin evils were tackled, occupants could enjoy measurable improvements in their health. Encouragingly, some local health bodies are recognising this and investing in home retrofit to help improve people’s health.

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Fixing fuel poverty – is there a healthier way?

Fuel poverty causes misery and ill-health – and alleviating fuel poverty by retrofitting homes could potentially offer valuable savings to the health services. However, different approaches to retrofit are likely to have different impacts on health.

The first in this two-part series, published in Green Building in December 2014, looks at how cold, damp homes can harm people’s heath, and at the evidence to date that retrofit can improve matters.  It also explores some pioneering efforts by concerned health organisations to tackle the ill health of their vulnerable patients where it starts – by fixing their cold homes.

The second part, due to be published in Spring 2015, will look a little more closely at different retrofit strategies, and the risks and benefits to occupants – and to the buildings themselves.

PDF download: Fuel poverty and health – Part 1

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