Worrying times for Britain's ageing and inefficient housing stock

Thu 18th Jun 2015 - 10:20pm Energy and Heating Worrying times for Britain's ageing and inefficient housing stock

Benjamin Clarke

The heating industry completely understands the positive impact that renewable energy can have on society and the world. Things like biomass, solar power and heat pumps, along with more recent smart technologies, have massive potential in reducing harmful greenhouse gases and lowering energy bills. However, all this makes minimal difference if your home is very old and inefficient.

Unfortunately, over half of the housing stock in the UK was built before 1960 and only 10% of homes have been built. It’s estimated that the pre-1960 homes can use up to twice as much energy as those in other European countries. This includes some Scandinavian countries, who obviously have a colder climate than the UK.

A recent survey showed the following worrying figures:

- Britain has the oldest housing stock in the EU
- Out of 12 EU states that have similar climates and income levels, Britain ranks 12th (bottom) for fuel poverty.
- Britain also ranked 11th (next to bottom) for the proportion of income spent on energy bills. (The lower down the list, the more people spend on their energy bills)
- Britain ranked 9th for homes in a poor state of repair
- Britain has one of the highest rates of excess winter deaths

An additional problem was that many of the Government’s renewable energy schemes helped those with savings to benefit. Although an effort was made to help lower income households get funding for insulating their homes, some of the interest rates on loans were so high that people simply could not afford it.

However, in 2010, the Feed-In Tariff Scheme was introduced which was designed to promote the uptake of a range of small-scale renewable and low-carbon electricity generation technologies. The FiT scheme, along with the Renewable Heat Incentive, encouraged the likes of homeowners, landlords and local authorities to install solar panel electricity systems as a way to save money in the long-term.

The Uk does have a major problem with housing with projections estimating that the UK needs to have 230,000 new houses built per year in order to meet demand. However, new house-building is at its lowest level since the 1920s and is nowhere near hitting the yearly projections.

This means that many old houses are having to be upgraded at considerable cost. Although there are financial incentives available, completely insulating your house, fitting double glazing and installing new boilers can prove to be a very expensive in the short-term, even if the long-term efficiency benefits make the upgrades worthwhile. The high upfront costs can put many people off improving their homes and it’s often hard to convince people who are living from month to month that they need to think of the long-term gains they will make.

It has been very encouraging to see old practises coming back in the form of straw bale housing and this kind of innovation is great, particularly with impressive figures such as 90% reductions in heating bills and 20% lower build costs.

However, the fact is there are not enough new homes being built and with climate change targets of reducing emissions by 80% by 2020, more effort needs to be put into Britain’s rickety housing stock to improve their energy efficiency. Focus on this will lower heating bills, reduce our carbon footprint and help many people to move out of fuel poverty and improve the quality of their lives.

Article by Benjamin Clarke

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