Our asks: an emergency programme to insulate our homes
The United for Warm Homes campaign is all about uniting communities and putting pressure on the government to fix the energy crisis.
12 Sep 2022
The UK has some of the coldest and costliest homes to heat in Europe. Draughty homes waste energy and money. They’re also bad for the planet – 80% of our homes are run on climate-wrecking gas, and a fifth of the UK’s climate emissions come from heating our homes and buildings.
It's clear we need a new approach to heating our homes – one that doesn’t cost us the Earth. Thankfully, there are solutions. Measures like installing insulation could help reduce our bills up to 20% and keep our homes warmer.
What’s insulation and how will it lower our bills?
Insulation helps reduce the heat your home loses when it’s cold outside. It’s the cheapest and quickest way to permanently lower all of our bills, because it helps trap warmth inside and so reduces the amount of energy we need in the first place. But because of the upfront cost, or our housing situation, many of us can’t make the necessary changes on our own.
It’s critical the government starts investing in insulation now to prevent devastating choices over the coming months and years. There are approximately 8 million homes in the UK in need of loft or cavity wall insulation, or both. Each of these measures is estimated to save approximately 20% on household energy bills. A home that undergoes both upgrades could save around 40%. With average household bills soaring into the thousands, that’s a serious saving!
What are we calling for?
A rapid programme of basic insulation measures
United for Warm Homes is calling for emergency programmes of insulation and energy-saving measures, funded by the UK government. Different approaches might be needed in different nations, but in England this should be council-led and delivered street-by-street. A street-by-street approach will ensure the insulation programme is as efficient as possible, and increase take-up.
The programme should start in neighbourhoods that are most affected by fuel poverty, as identified in our energy crisis hotspot data. By doing this, we can help as many people as possible stay warm during the cold winter months. The programme should be free of charge to all households in low-income neighbourhoods, and it should also include rented properties, as private renters are disproportionately affected by fuel poverty.
Measures should include:
loft and cavity wall insulation
thermostatic radiator valves
smart heating controls
energy audits, to help determine which improvements would be best for which homes.
We’re asking for a £15 billion programme, spread over 3 years to ensure basic insulation is urgently implemented across the UK.
Deeper retrofits to bring all homes up to EPC C standard
The basic measures outlined above will be an important short-term response, but deeper retrofits such as double glazing, solid wall insulation and heat pumps will be necessary in the longer term to ensure warm homes and reduced emissions. Such retrofits should mean all homes have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of C or above.
There’s a range of ways these deeper retrofits can be implemented, including via financial incentives and regulations for those able to pay. However, there must also be grants available for those unable to pay to ensure they can reap the benefits of more efficient housing too.
In addition, policies must address the shortage of a skilled workforce available to implement these retrofits. The government must commit to long-term policy measures to ensure employers invest in skills and training going forward.
We’re calling for a total average annual investment of £8 billion a year over the next decade to ensure both a rapid programme of basic insulation and these deeper retrofits can be implemented.
Upgrading our homes would help everyone to live in a warm, comfortable home that doesn’t cost the Earth. But for more than a decade, the government has failed to get a grip of the problem.
As bills soar and millions face hardship, it’s time to unite and show the government that the public demands better. Will you and your group work with your local community and demand the government insulates your neighbourhood and neighbourhoods across the country from high bills and cold homes?
In England and Wales there are 5.7 million homes that'd benefit from loft insulation and 3.8 million homes that could be fitted with cavity wall insulation. This is equal to approximately 18% of homes, and is based on analysing the Energy Performance Certificates Database.
Similar data isn't available for Northern Ireland. The latest data on Northern Ireland is from the 2016 Housing Condition survey, which found that 98% of homes had loft insulation but only 54% had an adequate quantity. Only 65% of homes that could have cavity wall insulation had it.
The immediate focus during the energy crisis should be to roll out basic insulation rapidly to the homes that need it. But by 2030, we need all homes to achieve a good standard of insulation – Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) C. This'll require most homes built before 1920 to have some form of solid wall insulation, either internally or externally, which is a much more expensive measure than cavity wall and loft insulation.
Some types of insulation can't be fitted to certain types of homes. These are often referred to as "hard-to-treat homes", and instead these'll need to be heated using higher-powered eco-heating options such as high-temperature heat pumps.
Check the proportion of homes that are well insulated in your local authority by visiting Friends of the Earth's Near You data tool.
United for Warm Homes is calling for the UK government to fund councils to co-ordinate street-by-street energy-efficiency programmes.
In practice, this means every home in a particular street is offered free loft and cavity wall insulation and help with draught-proofing if they need it, and every home is also offered an energy audit with advice on what else they could do to reduce energy use.
A significant advantage of street-by-street programmes is that costs are a lot lower (eg less need for workers to travel between jobs, bulk purchasing etc) and household participation is higher.
We don’t have a precise cost for a national programme of insulation covering basic measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation. This is because there are a lot of variables and slightly different approaches will be needed in each of the UK’s 4 nations. However, we estimate the cost for England and Wales to be around £15 billion for low-income energy crisis hotspots, which would be spread over the time period needed to roll it out.
Right now, many people don’t have the upfront cash to pay for measures that’ll likely save them money over the next few years. We’re therefore calling for this programme of basic measures to be paid for by the government in low-income areas, but channelled through councils. We’re also suggesting avoiding means testing for the programme as this’ll just add extra bureaucracy and slow things down, and may also discourage some low-income homes from participating.
It depends on the measures installed and the cost of energy. But even basic measures can save people significant money. Loft or cavity wall insulation, for example, will each save a household around 20% on its bills and pay for themselves in a few years.
Currently it costs £450 more per year to heat a home rated Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) D than a home rated EPC C, and £1,350 more for a home rated EPC E. Bringing all homes up to EPC C standard in England would save householders £10.2 billion in energy costs each year.
There are limits on what renters or leasehold owners can do without permission, but the first step is to speak to the landlord or leaseholder.
Rented accommodation must have a minimum level of insulation, but the standard is incredibly low – Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) E or above. The landlord must have an EPC for the property and should let the tenants know the EPC rating when they rent the property.
Councils have a duty to police these standards, so if the property is particularly poor then tenants can contact them. Most councils don’t proactively regulate, but councils such as Liverpool are an exception and show what can be done.
We're calling for the minimum energy efficiency standards for private-rented properties to be strengthened, so that all are at least EPC C by the end of 2028.
We also want to see private-rented properties included in a street-by-street insulation programme because, while the property owner may benefit in terms of house value, bill-paying renters will experience an even greater benefit. Including these properties in a nationwide insulation programme, as well as making the costs of upgrading homes tax-deductible for landlords (as repairs currently are), will ensure insulation measures don't result in higher rents or large numbers of properties being removed from the rental market.
We want to see proper regulation brought in for the private-rented sector, with councils required and funded to inspect homes and mandate work needed to bring them up to a decent standard.
We're also calling for policies such as a compulsory register of landlords and the outlawing of no-fault evictions, to ensure that private-rented properties can be properly regulated and that tenants are able to report sub-standard housing without risking being threatened with eviction.
Most homes that’ll be lived in are already built, which is why United for Warm Homes is primarily concerned with improving existing homes. Standards for new homes will increase by 2025, but many people have been calling for this date to be brought forward, and for local councils to be able to require better homes. Some councils are already doing good work in this area, for example Reading and York.
We’ve identified 8,927 "energy crisis hotspots" in England and Wales. These are neighbourhoods with lower than average income but higher than average energy use (according to data, including from smart meters). These neighbourhoods have a higher proportion of children and twice the proportion of people of colour living in them than other neighbourhoods.
They should be prioritised in a street-by-street insulation programme to ensure those most affected by fuel poverty are able to benefit from an efficient, warm home as quickly as possible.
The energy crisis has left us at the mercy of volatile gas prices. To ensure everyone can afford a warm home that doesn’t cost the Earth, we need to transition to cheap, green renewables. Find out how we can transform our energy system.