Although solid wall insulation (SWI) is known to have a positive impact on domestic energy efficiency, its installation is technically demanding and, in practice, disruptive to residents. The introduction of the national ‘Green Deal’ and Energy Company Obligation schemes from 2012 brought significant emphasis on the installation of energy efficiency measures in domestic properties, particularly where the household was at risk of fuel poverty or the building was eligible for improvement. Substantial evidence on the physical challenges is available, but far less is available on the personal factors inhibiting the choice of SWI among households.
Key research Question
The study examined the experiences of households undergoing the installation of SWI in order to better understand their modes of behaviour before, during and after the installation and any changes, to determine whether this could aid the success of similar programmes by explaining the impact on residents and properties.
Summary of activity
Eleven households were interviewed. All had participated in the Freedom from Fuel Poverty scheme established by Bath and North East Somerset Council and had had a full package of measures installed in their properties as part of the scheme. The pilot programme was targeted at a small number of households deemed to be in severe fuel poverty, although not all those finally selected strictly met the criteria. Interviews were completed once before the measures were installed and again on three more occasions at a later stage.
All participating households observed positive changes in their comfort, lifestyle and health after the installation, with properties warming faster, staying comfortable for longer and having a more even distribution of heat. The range of behavioural responses was complex and often depended on the heating control strategy, different perceptions of comfort and previous habits, for example.
Overall, even though not all households made financial savings after SWI had been installed, most recognised they were better off than before. Other findings included the need for education of householders alongside installation, the importance of recognising different perceptions of ‘comfort’ and the risk of transferring existing behavioural patterns from old to modernised properties. It was highlighted that the value of ‘additional’ benefits should not be underestimated. These included improved cosmetic appearance, reduced maintenance and health and lifestyle enhancements. The need to consider the different history of each house and its use was pointed out. Practical suggestions were made on how to address difficulties in recruiting participants and the need to consider how to mitigate the impact of major construction work on people’s lives.
The report includes 11 detailed recommendations across three core areas: (1) managing comfort; (2) impacts of the measure; and (3) the process of installing SWI in hard-to-treat homes. Examples from each area include the following: after the installation of SWI, plans must be in place to respond to household behavioural issues that can reduce the impact of the intervention, and educating residents on how to maximise the benefits and providing them with adequate information is key; Green Deal providers must demonstrate that they have undertaken due diligence when offering Green Deal finance and put in place additional safeguards so that underheated households do not get into fuel debt after accepting unaffordable loans; and Green Deal providers should explore the cost-effectiveness of installing packages of measures in combination and installing those that can generate income – for example, from the Feed-in Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive – which would subsidise the costs of the most expensive measures.