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Affordable Warmth in ‘Hard to Heat’ Homes: A Progress Report

Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE)
Date: 2004


A significant number of domestic properties in the UK are classed as ‘hard to heat’. These are often older, solid wall houses, which present particular challenges for retrofit and other energy conservation measures. Earlier studies have outlined the nature of the problem and proposed ways forward. The introduction of the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy in 2001 and improved awareness of the issues surrounding hard-to-heat housing have generated an increased focus on this challenge. It is therefore timely to examine what progress has been made in tackling the issues associated with such properties.

Key research Question

The report aimed to present a contemporary overview of issues relating to hard-to-heat homes in the UK, quantifying the scale of the issue and exploring the various schemes undertaken to remedy the fuel poverty experienced by residents in such properties. It sought to reassess the recommendations made by the author in previous research (Pett, 2002) in the light of subsequent policy initiatives and evaluate how much progress had been made in tackling hard-to-heat homes and fuel poverty in the intervening two-year period.

Summary of activity

A comprehensive literature review on research and policy initiatives around poorly heated homes and fuel poverty in the UK was undertaken. The research adopted a mixed-methods approach drawing on existing datasets and qualitative interview data. House Condition Survey data from 2003 were used to calculate the percentages of hard-to-heat homes in England, Scotland and Wales. Interviews with stakeholders were conducted using a brief semi-structured questionnaire. The majority of participants had been consulted for the earlier study and included representatives from academia, energy suppliers, the social housing sector and local authorities.


In order to assess progress, the study revisits the proposed work plan from the 2002 report and considers where change had occurred in the period 2002–2004. Data from the House Condition Survey indicated there were 7.7 million non-cavity wall houses in the UK, which equated to 31% of all homes (47% in Wales). Of these, 1.1 million did not have access to the gas network. The data also suggested that living in a non-cavity wall home increased the risk of fuel poverty.

Overall, the study concludes that the social housing sector was making the most significant advances in tackling hard-to-heat homes (and had the greatest commercial and legislative incentives for doing so) but was still constrained by limited finances. This hindered its ability to install the more expensive and often individual measures needed in hard-to-heat homes.

Progress in the private sector was less satisfactory. There was little market motivation to focus on hard-to-heat homes, as the cost of installation remained prohibitive for many players. The lack of a common framework for skills and training around practical delivery or a coordinated marketing strategy is also identified as a barrier, alongside the need to develop better research on best practice, energy education and the impact of grants and other issues. Low levels of awareness of the remedial options existed among private householders, and there was a level of disconnection between the insulation industry and consumers. The whole housing sector suffered from a lack of government commitment and conflicting targets.


Government intervention is required in a number of areas. These include: extra funding to enable the social housing sector to implement the more costly measures needed in hard-to-treat homes; an agreement to undertake a feasibility study of the potential for a nationwide home energy survey, with a view to developing an energy rating for every home; and intervention in the private sector housing market to ensure that an industry-wide work plan is developed that targets hard-to-heat homes, along with the introduction of incentives to make this happen.

Government should re-examine the emphasis in policy on cavity wall insulation as a central plank of fuel poverty alleviation, as this excludes many hard-to-heat homes, which are solid wall properties.

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