How Britain’s homes could make cost-free emissions cuts

11/8/2010 Guardian The 50th ‘superhome’ in Welwyn village.Homeowners can visit properties that have been retrofitted using money from government loans.  With an electricity meter that goes backwards and a roof covered in green plants, Tony’s Almond’s house is no normal home. The house in Welwyn village,
just north of London, is actually a green “superhome” - the 50th in a UK-wide
network of demonstration eco-homes now open to the public.
The scheme, operated by charity Sustainable Energy Academy (SEA) and the
National Energy Foundation, plans to create a network of 200 superhomes to
showcase energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, which will let
visitors see for themselves both the challenges involved in making the switch
and the financial and environmental savings made.
Following a three-year effort to inspire homeowners to do their own green
retrofits, there is now a superhome within 40 miles of 90% of all homes in
England and Wales. This year 20,000 people visited these properties, up from
12,000 last year.
At Almond’s 1968 five-bedroom detached property, it becomes clear how much work
was needed. The roof has been laid with sedum and solar panels to power the hot
water and electricity systems, and inside there is 250mm loft insulation, cavity
wall insulation, 100mm underfloor insulation, draught-proofing and double
Since his large 3kWp solar photovoltaic panels were installed in February, the
household has had no electricity bill and - through the government feed-in
tariff - have earned the household £681.45. Almond estimates further savings on
his gas bill from the insulation and solar thermal system after winter. The
retrofit as a whole has cost less than £25,000 and the measures have cut his
home’s carbon emissions by 66%. To qualify as a superhome, a home’s emissions
must have been cut by at least 60%.
John Doggart, chairman of SEA, says surveys found that 15% of visitors to
superhomes go on to convert their own properties: “The reasons people choose to
take action are almost 50/50 saving the planet or saving their pocket,” he says.
Visiting a home that has had an energy makeover can help people make the
decision to invest, says environmental psychologist Paul Stern. “A demonstration
makes it more real. Some of the psychology is about human information
processing, and this is a kind of a household decision that is unfamiliar and
easy to postpone.”
The superhomes are one grassroots part of a bigger effort to green Britain’s
ageing housing stock.
While new homes built from 2016 onwards will be mandated zero carbon by the
government, these will represent only a small minority of the UK’s homes.
This means that 80% of all homes that will be standing in 2050 will already have
been built, which makes retrofitting of existing homes a priority.
The government’s “Green Deal” hopes to accelerate this push, offering
householders loans of up to £10,000 for energy efficiency improvements and
installation of domestic renewable energy sources. The “pay as you save” loans,
designed to overcome the upfront financial obstacles such as the average £12,000
price of solar panels, should start in late 2012. Under the scheme, the cost of
the loan repayments – which are tied to the property, not the owner – should be
outweighed by the savings on householders’ energy bills.
“This groundbreaking legislation will allow us to offer consumers the ability to
install energy efficiency measures in their homes without any upfront costs or
payments. These would be paid back over time through savings on energy bills,”
says minister for climate change, Greg Barker. The loans were originally
proposed by the Labour government, though the Conservatives and Liberal
Democrats both say they had suggested similar ideas in the past.
The SEA’s Doggart supports the loans but says the government still needs to
grasp the scale of investment needed. “This is a significant contribution, but
it costs between £15,000 to £25,000 to get a 60% or better carbon saving on old
houses, which is what we should be aiming for.”
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