Saturday, 14 February 2015

Insulate existing properties as part of building new ones?

In the UK we're looking to constantly build new housing stock to house both a growing population and because they way we live now is different to 50 years ago (with more single occupancy and single family dwellings).  However new build is still only a fraction of the UK houses available, with many existing ones having been built in the last 150 years to somewhat lower standards of insulation and energy efficiency.  Over the last 20 years Government grants and promotion have lead to about 70% of properties with cavity walls having insulation added to them.

Unfortunately changes in the grant regime have lead to a collapse in the insulation industry and left a relatively large number of homes still requiring more insulation and similar energy efficiency measures. Some of these are "difficult to treat homes" and ones requiring expensive solid wall insulation that have long pay back times. The Green Deal was supposed to help with these but its been a bit of a damp squib, although the periodic Green Deal Home Improvement grants have been over subscribed rapidly demonstrating a demand for such help.

So here's an idea that just struck me: why not make it a requirement that developers of new build homes have to insulate a given number of existing homes in the locality (say within a 5-10 mile radius) for each new build home they erect? And I don't just mean pay into an anonymous pot: I mean actually have workers go into homes in the area and do the insulation whilst the homes are being built (with mandatory fines if they don't - no weaselling out of it later by doing deals with friendly councillors!).  This would have a number of advantages:
  • Developers already need to engage with the local community during the planning cycle so they could find suitable properties and home owners in the locality at that stage, including them in the final planning application,
  • Local people would be getting direct, visible benefits from developments within their communities, rather than funds that might drift away elsewhere,
  • Making local homes, especially those belonging to the elderly, infirm or poor, more energy efficient would be great PR for the developers (and they often need great PR!),
  • Insulation will be pushed up the agenda for new builds as well: if a developer is going to have to talk about insulation during the planning stage and pay for insulation companies to do a load of existing homes, they'll be more likely to make use of the "economies of scale" and get the same people to put decent levels of insulation in the new homes rather than skimp with the minimum.
A similar idea could apply to developers of commercial or industrial space: they could be required to fund insulation and energy efficiency measures in existing local community and local government buildings. This would mean that the developments immediately start to make a positive difference to the amount of energy used by the local community, and potentially reduce costs and/or secure a longer term future for such services.
Linking new builds to the redevelopment of existing housing stock would help ensure that older properties don't become "second class citizens" alongside modern buildings, and would also mean that Governments wouldn't have to be directly involved in the funding of retrofit, which appears to result in "start-stop" bursty situations that wreck industries and confuse the public.