Cavity wall and loft insulation vehicles arrive at a cottage in Wandylaw, Northumberland.

Many homes in rural Northumberland are old and off the gas grid, with a high proportion well below modern standards of heating. However, many were constructed with cavity walls and which could benefit from insulation.

The Energy Audit Company (EAC) has managed a successful programme in which cavity wall and loft insulation was installed free to all householders whose homes could benefit, in three districts of rural Northumberland.

People will not have insulation installed if it means that the neighbours think they are on benefits. This scheme avoids social stigmas, because it is free for everyone.

Head of Public Protection, Tynedale Council

Background

The rural area of Northumberland covered by Tynedale District, Alnwick District and Berwick Borough Councils includes small towns, villages and isolated hamlets. The housing is largely old, much of it is off the gas grid, and a high proportion is well below modern standards of heating. There is a large variation in household income. 

Many homes in the area have been constructed with cavity walls for the past 100 years (longer than in the rest of the UK) and could benefit from cavity wall insulation. But insulation companies are not enthusiastic about working in these sparsely-populated areas, and many householders don’t know what efficiency measures are avaiable. The Energy Audit Company (EAC) therefore set up a scheme where eligibility for free cavity wall and loft insulation was based on whether the property was suitable, rather than on the financial means of the householder.

The organisation

EAC was established in 1991 to provide specialist services on energy efficiency to the housing industry - social housing in particular. It is a limited company with offices in London and Northumberland, and works in all parts of the United Kingdom.

Royal Northumberland is very beautiful, but many houses are off the gas grid and poorly insulated.

The programme

The scheme targeted one community at a time. In each community, a ‘warm-up’ phase was carried out, during which every property received a letter from the council explaining the benefits of the scheme. This visible endorsement from the local council was reinforced by information sessions at village halls, where questions could be answered, and publicity in the local media. Householders received an appointment letter from the installer, to carry out a survey visit. If they chose to go ahead, then the installation was completed within two weeks. Surveyors were trained in energy auditing as part of the programme, so they could provide additional energy advice whilst carrying out the survey visit.

The insulation brings improved comfort and reduced energy bills to householders.

The technology

Standard rockwool cavity wall and loft insulation were used. Keeping Newcastle Warm (KNW), a not-for-profit insulation company, installed the insulation, and could complete a cavity wall in about two hours. This included drilling holes in the brickwork, blowing in the rockwool and filling in the holes. If the householder had the correct external paint, then KNW painted over the filled installation holes before they left the property.

How was it financed?

Cavity wall insulation was installed free of charge in all qualifying, privately-owned housing (whether owner-occupied or privately rented) within the programme area. In order to qualify the property had to have standard thickness brick cavities, with no existing insulation. For free loft insulation, the property had to have no more than 30 mm of existing insulation. In cases where the house already has a greater depth of insulation, EAC offered top-up loft insulation for about £100. The scheme was financed by Scottish Power (£670,000) under the mandatory Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC), with additional funding of £90,000 from the Innovations Programme of the Energy Saving Trust. Costs were kept low by working systematically through the project area, community by community.

Maintenance

The insulation is expected to last for 35 years. Householders are given a Home Energy Conservation Act (HECA) certificate, which gives a 25-year guarantee against any problems arising in the property as a result of the installation.

The EAC targeted one village at a time with a Council-backed publicity drive, offering free insulation. 

Benefits 

The take-up on the scheme was very high: 80% of eligible households in the project area went ahead with an installation. The initial programme was to insulate 1,120 cavity wall and 120 lofts, but these targets were greatly exceeded. By 2006, a total of 1,692 cavity walls and 555 lofts (294 with no insulation, 261 requiring top-up) had been completed.

Environmental benefits

Standard factors from the Building Research Establishment and Ofgen were used to estimate CO2 savings. Cavity wall insulation saved an average of 1.2 tonnes/year CO2 per household, and loft insulation 1.8 tonnes/year CO2 per household. These savings are high because many homes are off the gas grid and are therefore heated by carbon-intensive fuels. For the homes which received cavity wall insulation, about 37% were heated with oil, 24% with coal and 13% with electricity. Total savings were 3,030 tonnes/year CO2.

Houses after cavity wall insulation has been installed. The one in the foreground has still to be painted.

Other benefits

The energy savings translate to significant financial savings for householders, estimated at about £110/year per household for cavity wall insulation, £324/year for full loft insulation and £66/year for a loft top-up. The total saving of £307,000 per year means that the cost of the programme is recovered in just over two years from savings in fuel bills. It is very likely that some households were lifted out of fuel poverty and others protected from it in the future. 

All those involved liked the simplicity of the scheme, which resulted from the detailed planning and preparation carried out by the EAC. The paperwork was minimal and this benefited all parties. For the householder, there was no means-testing, with its potential associated stigma.

People tended to keep their homes warmer and, in consequence, drier when their fuel bills decreased so the project has provided more comfortable, and healthier living conditions. Often, people in small communities can feel marginalised, but the EAC work brought them into the mainsteam. As a result of being offered free insulation, some householders decided to pay for other energy efficiency measures, and some private landlords were motivated to carry out other improvements to properties.

KNW was able to employ approximately five additional staff as a result of the project, and upgrade staff skills.