Sunday, 11 November 2012

Warm Homes in Trumpington (review)

I am extremely busy at the moment and sadly have no time for research for this blog, so instead I will tell you about an event I was involved in yesterday: Warm Homes in Trumpington, organised by Cambridge Carbon Footprint in collaboration with Transition Cambridge including yours truly. This was a day of talks and workshops intended to help people to reduce their energy bills and carbon emissions in a wide range of ways. A lot of the local houses were built immediately post war when need was great and materials were scarce so there was a big focus on insulating walls and lofts but also DIY jobs (this workshop ran twice and was full both times) like lagging water pipes or fitting a radiator shelf and basic 'housekeeping' activities which cost nothing at all to do. I ran a workshop on zero cost measures, and to prepare for this I made a list of some things you can do and calculated approximate savings - see the table below.

Judging by what was said most of the people with cavity walls have already had them filled, but in some cases this was a long time ago - up to 40 years - and they worry the filling may have sunk. Standards in those days were lower than they are now. Rather than making holes in the wall to see, it is possible to check this quite easily with a thermal camera so I think the CCF camera is likely to be quite busy in the next few weeks. However this is not the only potential problem with old cavity wall insulation: resident Dave Fox (featured on this video) found that when the previous owner got his cavity walls done they filled the front wall but not the back!

There are also a lot of houses in the area which were built with a steel frame, which is not suitable for cavity wall insulation. Some have been insulated externally and the new render looks a lot nicer than the old panels. This insulation is extremely effective and can help against condensation, a problem which quite a few of the houses also seem to be suffering from. It is expensive, however, and is not covered by current grant schemes which only include cavity wall insulation and loft insulation.

Which brings me to the government's grand scheme for upgrading old housing stock - the Green Deal. I am beginning to wonder if this will ever arrive, it has been delayed so often. The same goes for the Renewable Heat Incentive and I am not taking bets on which will come first. The Green Deal is complex involving whole house energy audits, delivery partners to install energy saving measures and financing through a loan which is paid for through your electricity bills. There have been trials and it is due to start next year but there are still no answers for important questions like how much the loans will cost and how the energy audits will be paid for. The full price of an audit is likely to be £80 to £150 which is enough to deter most people but this may be subsidised either by Green Deal providers or by other grant schemes. Presumably the cost would be included in the loan, if you took out a Green Deal loan, but if you can get a secured loan such as a remortgage on your house that would almost certainly be cheaper. The advice seems to be that if you need a Green Deal loan you had better wait. There is a cash-back scheme for early birds - from 28th Jan 2013 you can get some grants towards a whole range of Green Deal measures such as £650 for solid wall insulation. However, the pot is limited and you will need to get in quick.

Also on the subject of wall insulation here is some advice on the Transition Cambridge website. Please let me know what you think - I wrote some of it and edited all of it. We published this on Friday just in time for the event.

My workshop on energy saving housekeeping actions went very well. I was surprised by the apparent relish with which some of the older participants told us how they managed in bygone days when bedrooms were unheated. For example, it was too cold to undress there at night so they undressed in the living room, or got into bed fully clothed and changed under the covers. No-one admitted to taking such measures these days, even though they did not seem to have considered it a great hardship.

Here is a table of zero cost measures for which I have calculated approximate financial and carbon savings. In my experience most people say they already do all these things but complain that other people in the household are not so careful. Perhaps the other parties should be alllowed to defend themselves.

The classification scheme is: medium (M) up to £10 or 35 kg CO2/year, high (H) up to £30 and 100kg CO2; very high (VH) is more than that. (Savings based on 4.5p/kWh for gas and 14p/kWh for electricity).  Of course there are a great deal of assumptions in these estimations - your savings may be more or less. If your heating isn't gas you will save a lot more on those items.

Turn down the thermostat 1C.VH
Turn down the radiator valves in unused rooms and close the door.H
Turn off the heating 30 minutes before you go to bed.H
Close curtains at dusk.M
Don't let curtains hang in front of radiators.VH
Close the windows to keep the heat in.H
Take a shower instead of a bath, two times per week (depends a good deal on the size of your bath and the length and flow rate of your shower).M
Take shorter showers - 5 minutes instead of 7 minutes, 4 times/week (assumes 8 litres/minute).M
Don't leave the hot tap running when you are washing up (based on 10 minutes at 3 litres/minute).H
Turn the thermostat on your hot water tank down to 60C.M
If you have a combi boilers, set the tap temperature as low as is comfortable.M
When cooking, always put the lid on a saucepan to keep the heat in (and also don't put more water in the saucepan than you need).M
Turn lights off when not in use (savings depend on how bad you were before).H
Fit energy saving lightbulbs on all fittings in regular use.VH
Turn off the TV when you aren't watching it (based on about 80 minutes/day).M
Don't boil more water than you need when making tea.H
Wait for a full load before running the dishwasher.H
Wait for a full load before running the washing machine (takes less energy/cycle than the dishwasher).M
Run the washing machine on a low temperature cycle (in which case you also don't need to separate coloured clothes from whites). NB. You must run a hot cycle every once in a while to keep the machine clean.M
Dry clothes outside.VH
Defrost your fridge/freezer to keep it running efficienctly.M

By the way, my favourite tip of the day was to cover your rotary washing line with some plastic sheet so you can use it even when it is raining.

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