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Money isn't the only motivator for energy efficiency retrofits

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 12 August 2011 at 9:06 am

Improved comfort, home improvement and rising energy costs were all motivating factors in encouraging people to improve the energy efficiency of their home, as well the resulting savings in their energy bills.

These are the findings of a pilot project undertaken by the London Borough of Sutton, Bioregional and B&Q. Originally commissioned to inform Labour's plans for a Pay as You Save (PAYS) scheme to make British homes more energy efficient, its findings will also be useful for informing the development of the Green Deal.

So far the rhetoric on the Green Deal has focused on financial savings. However, the Sutton PAYS project (clicking this link downloads a pdf report) found that some customers are not driven by immediate financial savings. Participants were offered a choice of 10 or 25 year periods to pay back their loan. Those choosing the shorter payback period were told that they were unlikely to make a net financial reduction in household spending over the loan period. In fact a quarter did, and for the remainder the loan repayments were an average £256 higher than the estimated fuel bill savings.

Of those who took the 25-year payback term almost three quarters saved more than the loan repayments. Those that didn't had chosen measures, such as external wall insulation, with longer payback times.

The most common measures implemented were:
- boiler upgrades - 74%
- loft insulation 73%
- solid wall insulation (both internal and external) 73%
- draught proofing 72%
Over half also changed heating controls and/or installed double glazing.

Participants said that the installation service and whole house approach managed by a third party was a major attraction - many said they wouldn't want to do the work themselves.

In the pilot people were offered a 40% grant, plus an interest free loan. The Green Deal isn't expected to be so generous. However, that doesn't negate some of the lessons from the pilot that are relevant to making the Green Deal a success.

These include:
- Qualified installers will need to be able to effectively educate customers if whole house retrofits are to go smoothly and achieve the desired energy reductions.
- Expanding the scope of home improvements that can be done without planning permission to energy saving measures such as external wall insulation will ensure consistency nationwide, and prevent delays.
- Every property and its owners are unique and the retrofit process is likely to benefit from building flexibility into the finance package and timelines for completions.
- To be attractive it must include a strong financial component, but this need not be the only element that makes it attractive.
- In addition, the Sutton PAYS partners recommend taking an area-based approach, such as within a borough, so that local trusted partners can be used, and existing sustainability initiatives can be piggy backed on to the offer.

Photo: Bioregional - one of the houses in the pilot, which had new windows and external insulation

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