The most disconcerting thing about the Tory leadership election has been how the energy price crisis has been largely ignored. The LibDems were the first to propose a freeze of the energy prices, followed by Labour.
Conversely, both Conservative leadership candidates have been reluctant to formulate specific proposals, as if this was not currently the greatest challenge. Furthermore, instead of using the energy cost crisis as an opportunity to speed up the transition to renewable energy sources, they are envisaging a return to fracking and increasing fossil fuel extraction from the North Sea.
And why there have not proposed more initiatives to improve home insulation?
The book recently published by Douglas Mackintosh (Improve your homes EPC rating) provides some really useful information on how to make our homes more energy efficient.
Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings
When EPC ratings were first introduced, some thought they were just some pointless bureaucracy. Nowadays, though, we all pay much more attention to these reports, as we know that better ratings translates into lower energy bills and higher resale values.
This book takes us through what we need to do, starting with lower cost measures. How many of our light bulbs are low energy? How many of our radiators have thermostatic radiator valves? Are we taking advantage of the availability of smart heating controls?
Draught-proofing and insulation
Draught-proofing is another low-cost approach to reduce the heat loss from doors, windows, loft hatches, unused fireplaces, or old extractor fans.
Cavity wall insulation is beneficial, if suitability is confirmed by a registered installer, and can improve the EPC rating by 5-10 points.
Another high-impact improvement is loft insulation. Many houses have an insulation roll at joist level of 150 mm or less, whereas the recommended optimal thickness is 270 mm. The Energy Saving Trust website provides estimates of the cost and savings under two scenarios: fitting a 270 mm insulation in a house without any loft insulation, or else topping up a 120 mm insulation to 270 mm.
Although the first 100 mm of lost insulation make the biggest difference, topping up to 270 is also worthwhile.
A practical obstacle to better loft insulation is the fact that many homeowners have boarded the loft floor above 100 mm insulation, so that the loft can be used for storage. Ideally one should raise the level of the floor to accommodate a 270 mm insulation, but this is expensive and not realistic with low headroom lofts. A practical compromise is to reduce the area of the loft used for storage, so that at least part of the loft can get optimal insulation over the joists.
Double glazing, solar panels and heat pumps
Higher cost measures are also discussed in this book. Double-glazing of both doors and windows makes sense. We get even more EPC points if the double-glazed units have e coating and argon gas filling, which has become the standard in England since 2002.
Solar photovoltaic panels would also increase the EPC rating, but to maximise the benefit we would need batteries, which would increase the cost. According to a report published by Which? Computing (August 2022) solar panels would deliver a net financial benefit over time, provided one has a large south-facing and not shaded roof with a pitch of 30-40o.
Heat pumps, as a replacement of gas boilers, are desirable to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. However, fitting a heat pump does not improve the EPC rating. This is because heat pumps may result in higher energy costs, as electricity is much more expensive than gas. This, though, might change, as gas prices are increasing more than electricity.
What do we do?
It makes sense to get an EPC rating report, even if we do not intend to sell our home. It would be an opportunity to discuss how to improve the energy efficiency.
What we do as individuals is important, but we also need a government that is really committed to net zero carbon emissions.