MCFly writer Philip James investigates plans for a Mancunian “retrofit revolution”
Manchester is readying itself for a retrofit revolution. Our leaky existing housing stock has to be transformed into well-insulated, airtight and efficient homes that are fit for a low carbon future. Helping things along (maybe!) will be the “Green Deal. ” The government’s flagship green policy is due to start in October, and will provide loans for domestic energy efficiency improvements, wit the loan repayments made by whoever pays the property’s energy bill.
Here in Manchester, several organisations are accesssing funding from DECC’s Local Energy Assessment Fund (LEAF). We looked at two; Action for Sustainable Living in partnership with consultants Ecospheric, and the Carbon Coop in collaboration with sustainable designers URBED. Together they are undertaking a total of 60 detailed home energy assessments. The aim is to assess the current condition and energy use of the dwellings and produce a range of bespoke behavioural and retrofit options to reduce energy use, carbon emissions and fuel bills.
The LEAF funding is enabling the groups to develop and refine their assessment methods. Ecospheric are using thermal imaging and moisture mapping to get to the nitty gritty of heat loss on a house-by-house basis. Meanwhile URBED are developing a whole house survey with the data fed into a much more detailed and flexible version of the tool used for Energy Performance Certificates. This allows them to take into account occupant behaviour and to recommend appropriate, dwelling specific energy efficiency measures.
The measures recommended by the home energy assessments are not nailed down at time of press, with frantic report-writing still underway. However, Kit Knowles of Ecospheric told us that they will first focus on airtightness, draft-proofing and ventilation, with insulation coming next. Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery is a favoured technology due to its ability to save energy and create a healthier internal environment with cleaner, dryer air. Ecospheric also have methods to improve existing windows by reducing air leakage and adding panes and ‘warm edge spacers’ to reduce conduction heat losses.
Carbon Coop/URBED will consider a range of options including solid wall insulation, new windows and doors, A-rated appliances, biomass boilers, solar PV, and solar hot water. And they too have identified new ventilation systems as a priority in some dwellings to improve the internal environment.
The cost of the measures and the energy bill savings they achieve are clearly important. Asked whether all the recommended measures have short payback periods URBED’s Charlie Baker answers with a concise, “No”. Jonathan Atkinson of Carbon Coop elaborates that a range of packages will be identified with varying costs and payback periods. Paying for the recommended measures could involve Green Deal finance.
However, the Green Deal’s ‘golden rule’ is that loan repayments must not exceed the predicted energy bill savings of the installed measures. Baker is concerned that the Green Deal will simply tackle the ‘low hanging fruit’, rather than incentivising the type of whole house retrofits that can achieve deep reductions in energy demand and carbon emissions. Carbon Coop and URBED want to help people go further by using a Carbon Re-Investment Society to provide long-term finance, low interest rates, and cross subsidy from Feed in Tariff revenue.
Ecospheric’s Kit Knowles also has concerns over the Green Deal. Firstly, that the quality of advice and installation may be lacking, meaning the energy savings won’t match expectations. But also that occupants should be aware of the potential rebound effect where reduced heat loss from their home leads them to enjoy higher temperatures rather than lower fuels bills, whilst still needing to pay off the Green Deal loan. This highlights the importance of education, not only to reduce energy use by behaviour change but also so that occupants know what to expect from their retrofit.
Ecospheric conducts a full ‘lifestyle interview’ at the start of each assessment, whilst Carbon Coop are aiming to create an online community where retrofitters can share experiences and knowledge.
Both groups are expecting a good take-up of recommended measures. Ecospheric are already taking forward a number of retrofit projects. Meanwhile, Carbon Coop is about to launch its member offer with benefits including reduced cost home energy assessments, advice on finance, the possibility of reduced cost measures through bulk purchase, and an online community. Ultimately, the financial benefits of a retrofit will depend on fuel costs, weather, occupant behaviour and the rest, but the likes of Ecospheric, URBED and Carbon Coop are aiming to show that retrofits can be affordable, create a better living environment, save energy and carbon, reduce your exposure to high energy prices … and might even be fun!
Watch this space for further updates on Manchester retrofits and the Green Deal.
Competing Interest: MCFly co-editor Marc Hudson has had an energy survey performed by Carbon Coop.