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
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
The team behind a series of passive house schools in Wolverhampton have used the lessons learned from in-depth monitoring of the first two buildings to make the third even better — and cheaper to build. Oct 2015
This document was written in response to a NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) 2014 consultation on producing guidelines for health authorities on tackling excess winter deaths and illnesses. It was written (mainly) by me, on behalf of the AECB, teaming up with Severn Wye Energy Agency and the STBA (Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance) – who also contributed information.
While at the time of this consultation the deleterious impact of cold living conditions on health were well known – prompting the consultation – poor indoor air quality was less discussed.
Yet of course, air quality can be very poor in cold homes: people will block out any draughts they can – including the intended fresh air supply from a ventilation fan or vent – especially if they are in fuel poverty. This only increases the risk of condensation and mould – already high in a dwelling with cold, uninsulated surfaces. And more and more evidence is piling up of just how bad mould in particular is for people’s health and wellbeing. Continue reading →
Natural ventilation often fails – but what is the evidence that mechanical ventilation succeeds? – Investigation for Passive House Plus
There have been a number of studies showing that natural ventilation, dependent as it is on random gaps in the building fabric and the vagaries of wind and weather, is not a reliable source of fresh indoor air. (see here for my article on this)
In theory, mechanical ventilation is under more control, and should work more reliably. But does the evidence bear this out? Does mechanical ventilation deliver good air quality in practice?
I looked into the research to find out whether MVHR, in particular, lived up to the ideal. Continue reading →
A well-designed and well-executed retrofit will not only save energy, it should offer a more comfortable, healthier indoor environment, and protect the building fabric as well. However, there have been a number of warnings about what might go wrong – sometimes, even suggestions that in some instances retrofit measures should not be undertaken at all.
Are these warnings justified? What might go wrong? What is the evidence in practice? In this article, first published in Green Building in 2015, I look at some of the concerns, examine the reasons behind them, and suggest ways to protect building and occupants so retrofit really delivers.
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.
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.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recently ran a consultation on the guidance they give to health bodies and local authorities on reducing the burden of winter deaths and illnesses from cold homes.
The response welcomed the idea that health professionals should be involved in identifying and tackling unhealthy homes. It also emphasised that excess winter deaths and illnesses were almost certainly due to a combination of low indoor temperatures and poor indoor air quality (exacerbated by cold surfaces in uninsulated homes, and by occupants restricting ventilation to keep out cold draughts), and that an emphasis on low temperatures alone could miss significant causes of ill-health – and valuable remedies.