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Labour’s Insulate Every House Idea Won’t Work – Most Already Are

From our Swindon Correspondent:

Labour has drawn up plans for what it claims would be the biggest overhaul of housing since the second world war, with a plan to install loft insulation, double glazing and renewable technologies in almost all of the UK’s 27m homes.

The party says that the Warm Homes for All scheme will create 450,000 jobs over the next decade. Under the plans, low-income households would be able to apply for a grant, paying no upfront costs. They would keep most of the savings on their bills, though part would be used to pay for a proportion of the work. Wealthier households would be able to claim interest-free loans for the work, with the loans claimed back through their bills.

Labour said that, through the scheme, 6.34m homes would have heat pumps and 5.3m homes would have solar thermal systems by 2030. The party said the UK’s housing stock was among the worst insulated in Europe, with building electricity and heating the biggest source of emissions in Britain.

Just to be thoroughly magnanimous about this, maybe this isn’t such a bad idea. The jobs thing is silly (jobs are a cost), but maybe spending a small fortune to reduce CO2, even at the margins like double glazing isn’t a bad thing as a sort of luxury spending, if your aim is about Gaia.

The party said the waste was costing households billions of pounds and pushing 3.5m of them into fuel poverty.

However, there are significant costs implied by the scheme. Labour calculates that delivering essential upgrades to the UK’s entire housing stock will cost about £250bn, or an average of £9,300 per house. The party pledged to provide £60bn of direct public subsidy for the programme, with the rest paid for “through energy savings”.

For one thing, Labour’s numbers here are highly suspect. They’re going to save £7000/house with energy savings? How? The average gas bill per year is around £435/year according to British Gas. Assuming even a long period like 25 years, do Labour think energy saving measures are going to get that down to £155/year?
It gets worse because most of the big returns on investment in terms of home energy saving are about done. From the DECC report of 2016:-
16.9 million homes had loft insulation of at least 125mm (70 per cent of homes with lofts). Of the 7.0 million homes with lofts without at least 125mm of insulation, only a small number are estimated to have no insulation.
So, most homes are insulated to government standards. The rest have some. There isn’t much more you can squeeze out of loft insulation.
14.4 million homes had cavity wall insulation (74 per cent of homes with cavity walls). Of the 4.7 million homes without cavity wall insulation, most are hard to treat, with only 0.3 million of them being uninsulated easy to treat standard cavities.  
So, we’ve also done the easy work on cavity walls. We’re down to some homes where a huge cost will need applying to do it.
Between new houses generally having these features, people rolling out the fibre glass and some government schemes, we’ve really solved the problem. Worst insulated heating stock in Europe? Maybe, but based on the DECC report, that’s like figuring out the ugliest Bond Girl*. The rest of the activity around homes is less valuable. Replacing wooden windows with uPVC will save you money on heating, but it isn’t a good investment. You replace with uPVC when your wooden windows have reached end of life, and you’re going to need new windows fitting anyway. Solar might make sense on farms, but sticking it on people’s roofs is stupid.
If your aim is reducing fuel poverty (and that sounds like something worth doing), this isn’t the way to do it. You’d do better just giving poor people more money to pay their bills.
*Rosa Klebb, but you knew that.
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4 years ago

There have been these schemes to promote insulation of older houses for years now. They were doing it back in the 90s and early 00s. My parents own various properties and because they were tenanted they qualified for the work. And it was sh*t. The people doing the jobs did a half assed job, they didn’t care much about the standard of work, they were getting paid by the government per house, not by the house owner. So the owner had no control over their work. Several of the houses the insulation failed – they’d pumped some sort of material… Read more »

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
4 years ago

Badly done cavity wall insulation (particularly foam-based) and cladding* can cause horrendous damp problems on houses that weren’t designed for it.

* when it’s not contributing to the occupants burning alive

4 years ago

If Labour paid any attention to the Commonwealth they’d know that Australia tried this, it was an utter failure and, in the end, made energy matters worse.

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