We’re facing a residential energy efficiency crisis – which the UK can no longer afford

Robin Peters
21 August, 23

Over a fifth of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions come from our homes, making us one of the worst performing countries in Europe for residential home energy efficiency. This is simply unacceptable from a policy perspective, but even worse for the climate, our own pockets, and perhaps most pertinently, our health. With energy bills soaring last year, and the same expected in the months to come, something has to change, but obvious solutions for consumers have, to-date, been few and far between. 

At the heart of the UK’s residential energy efficiency crisis lies extremely old, leaky buildings, which – despite being architecturally revered (for the large part) – suffer in terms of draughty windows and doors, outdated lighting and inefficient heating systems. Although these are just a few elements of what comprises a home, the impact is significant – six in 10 homes in Bristol have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of worse than C (with C and higher being optimal) and half of those in Edinburgh are the same. The lower the EPC of buildings across the country, the harder it will be for the UK to meet its Net Zero targets, and the more money will be wasted on higher bills.

It takes just a few small tweaks to start the retrofit journey needed to transform the energy efficiency of the UK’s buildings, and these changes can have a significant impact on energy bills and carbon emissions. For instance, draught-proofing windows and external doors can save the average home around £60 a year, and improving loft insulation, a further £40. Making the appropriate changes to a home can save anywhere from half a tonne to two tonnes of carbon emissions per household a year depending on whether it’s a nifty new build with fewer gaps to fill or a gaping Georgian build which may be losing more heat. The upper end of this is even enough to balance out a return flight between London and New York (around 1.7 tonnes).

These savings – both to cost and the environment – are all well and good in principle but at the crux of the residential energy efficiency crisis is the challenge of how to cover the upfront costs for these building works. Where the loft insulation may save a household £40 over a year, the upfront cost is ten times that – not leaving someone with much change from £400. This is simply unaffordable for most in midst of the cost-of-living crisis but at the same time the situation is simply untenable from an environmental perspective.

The challenge of poorly heated, leaky homes also affects our health, with impact on diseases ranging from asthma to heart conditions, as well as mental health. A recent report from Citizen’s Advice suggested that upgrading 13 million homes to EPC-C could reduce patient numbers for these conditions by up to 30% during the winter months. They estimated that this would lead to an estimated £2 billion worth of NHS savings before 2030.  

The case for change is clear. So what can be done? In order to make these retrofits affordable – and improve our shared environmental impact – ordinary people are going to need help. In my view, this can only be solved by change from the top down – policymakers and government working alongside banks and individual homeowners to ensure the necessary costs can be fronted. 

Although some Government initiatives do exist, to-date they have all been time-stamped, and simply too confusing for the average homeowner to access. For example, the recent Boiler Upgrade Scheme requires the boiler installer to apply for it – with no incentive for them, as a third party, to expend extra energy and time in doing this.

Better collaboration between the pillars of our society is urgently needed, not only to support the costs of change, but to inform people of their options. Lack of information is a significant part of the problem, with 3 in 5 homeowners unsure whether energy efficiency measures would be effective or suitable for their property, according to a recent Citizen’s Advice report. Beyond more accessible Government initiatives, better collaboration could include the expansion of ‘green home’-type mortgages or focused retrofit loans that could sit alongside a mortgage, as well as online platforms that signpost to relevant information. 

Unfortunately, we know that in reality this type of change won’t take place overnight. While we wait for these urgently needed policy shifts and loan implementation, we need to make quick fixes – such as insulation and draught-exclusion – more readily available. This includes improving homeowners’ awareness of these retrofits, and ensuring access to trustworthy and knowledgeable local installers who can deliver them.

Homeowners need immediate access to understandable and objective guidance that can help them retrofit their home, making it more energy efficient, while protecting their savings, health and making a difference to the environment. 

A homeowner armed with this advice – and with access to loans and government grants – will be in a far better position to make changes. Only when these pathways to change are implemented will the UK be able to start to address the scale of the residential energy efficiency challenge.

Snugg’s mission is to accelerate the UK’s transition to net zero carbon emissions by making it simple and affordable for everyone to have an energy efficient home. To find out more about personalised changes that can make your property more energy efficient, visit https://www.snuggenergy.com/ 

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