Energy Efficient Buildings

#TRVSTLOVES Policy Driving Energy Efficient Buildings

Welcome to #TRVSTLOVES. We curate news, ideas, and inspiration from across the world that demonstrate how real action can accomplish a positive social impact. We’re looking at news and stories about how energy efficient our homes and buildings are this time.

UK Government policy on insulation “poor”

We’ll kick off this piece by looking at recent news in the UK; a warning has been issued by the UK's Climate Change Committee that government policy on insulation is "very poor." 

According to government data, almost two-thirds of UK homes need to improve their insulation, which is all well and good, but how can people actually improve the EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) rating of their home? Some basic ideas include installing double glazing, loft insulation, boiler replacement, and fitting solar panels. Still, none of these are particularly cheap options, so you can see why the problems remain. 

Perhaps, like us, you’ve heard that by installing some of these measures - such as double glazing or loft insulation - you’ll improve our monthly bills, which sounds great; however, a case study provided by the BBC revealed that it would take up to 20 years to recuperate that cost. 

Related: Also, check out our guides to saving electricity at home and at work, and at school. Our deeper dive into the importance of saving energy presents more background as to the benefits and its role in helping to address climate change.

Government grants

energy efficient homes
Photo by George Milton from Pexels

To try and address these financial issues, there are home energy grants available in the UK, where you can use your postcode to explore the local grants available. But as with any initiative such as this, the question is, how easy are these grants to access, and do people actually take up the offer? 

Sadly, the answer might not be very easy and not often enough. The Green Homes Grant, a government scheme set up to subsidize people wanting to make their homes more energy-efficient, was labeled a failure and shut down in March 2021. According to Citizens Advice, the reasons for the failure included: 

  • it’s an opportunity for scammers
  • it’s difficult for people to understand 
  • some people need extra support

The second two points you might expect, quite often, government initiatives can lack sufficient support due to a lack of funding and the appropriate education/messaging, but the first point, “it’s an opportunity for scammers” reveals a darker side of people looking to cash in on such schemes. 

Case studies reveal that building trade organizations made false claims about the scheme and offered to complete the grant application on the homeowner's behalf but never refunded the money. 

Despite these failures, the government knows they need to meet its net-zero goals by 2050, so these problems can’t be put off until later. 

Here’s hoping that lessons have been learned from the Green Homes Grant. Earlier this month, funding was announced for around 20,000 social housing properties to cut their fuel bills and improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Properties with an EPC rating of D or lower will be eligible; the government will be offering external wall and roof insulation, energy-efficient doors and windows, heat pumps, and solar panels.

And over in Europe…

We’ve talked a lot about the UK here, but what’s going on elsewhere? Over in Europe, a recent survey showed high support from residents for energy-efficient homes. The research, which included residents from the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and Spain, revealed that people were keen to both buy and rent energy-efficient homes. The reasoning behind this was, as you might expect, a desire for lower energy bills, as well as concerns for the environment. 

Yet also, the research suggested that people wanted “the need for a regulation aimed at reducing the impact of buildings on climate change.” Given the promises and pledges made at the COP26 last year, it seems as though people are now looking for action, regulations, and change. Interestingly, 66% of respondents said they would support a law requiring existing homes to meet minimum energy standards.

But what about action? At the end of 2021, the EU proposed that all buildings in Europe with the lowest grade rating (in their case, a G-grade) would need to be renovated by 2030. All  F-grade buildings would need to be improved by 2033. 

The move has come under criticism, though, with calls to make these renovated homes either A, B, or C-grade. It’s easy to understand this point; if governments spend time and money improving a G-grade building to an E-grade building, we’re still looking at fairly inefficient homes. 

While it’s an easy criticism to make, especially when the decision will come down to cost, there’s a feeling that an opportunity has been missed here.

The HVAC Industry

While we’re talking about the energy efficiencies of buildings, let’s not forget the HVAC industry (heating, venting, and air conditioning). According to Forbes, this is an industry in the midst of a growth spurt that has, in turn, prompted job growth. This is due partly to climate change, where warmer temperatures result in HVAC units being used for longer parts of the year (which, in turn, means more machine repairs). 

Forbes quotes data from 2014, which showed that HVAC accounted for around 35% of the emissions generated by a typical building. One can probably assume that this figure has also risen given their increase in use. Forbes suggests that the answer may lie in a holistic approach; rather than viewing electricity, heating, plumbing, and construction separately, view them together, taking into account how one system may impact the other. 

And, of course, while we’re looking for answers, solutions can be found within innovative technology. Certain trends are now impacting the HVAC industry, showcased in early January 2022 at the AHR Expo event.

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