While personally, I have no desire to superglue myself to the Westlink, I generally agree with the activists of Insulate Britain.
Home heating is one of my obsessions. I have given a scary amount of mental energy to it over the years. The core principle of insulate first makes sense. It is better to ensure homes are properly insulated before you think about the heating. A well-insulated home can dramatically lower energy bills as well as being more comfortable for the residents. The gold standard is passive homes, but even doing the basics can make a big difference.
The problem is a lot of our housing stock is quite old and not very well insulated. A neighbour was getting a new roof and I was amazed to see that there was nothing at all under the slates, just the beams. Chatting to the roofers they explained that is very common in older houses.
The process of revamping old homes is called retrofitting. The problem is once you go down the rabbit hole it can end up a very costly and complex process. There are obvious things like insulating the walls and roofspace, but it can also include new windows and even ‘wrapping’ the interior or exterior walls in insulation.
Then there is the issue that once you insulate a home this can reduce the airflow into it and decrease the air quality causing issues like dampness and black mould. There are solutions to this like Positive input ventilation or heat exchangers, but the general issue is you can fix one problem only for another issue to arise
Looking at non-carbon heating systems is even more of a headwreck. I have a hippy disposition and I looked into getting a heat exchanger for my home but the cost for my standard three bed semi was around 10-20k. We only spend £300-£400 a year on oil so no way would you ever recoup the cost of installing a heat exchanger. I know my energy costs are a lot less than the average, I am the type who takes it as personal failure to ever put the heating on – much to the annoyance of my wife. I think the average home heating bill for most households is closer to a grand a year.
This is a problem for our attempts to reduce CO2 emissions. A recent report says that the UK’s home gas boilers emit twice as much CO2 as all power stations. In Northern Ireland most of our home heating is oil which is even worse for the environment than gas.
Just like cars, the future is going to be electric. But also like electric cars we need to get the prices down to make them mainstream. This electricity should also be generated from renewable sources or next-gen nuclear.
The main issue I have is the lack of clear advice on the best solutions. I have spent years looking into this stuff and I am still none the wiser. Also the lack of suppliers is a major issue. There is no shortage of gas and oil boiler people but currently, heat exchangers are very niche. My worry is that you could spend 10-20k on a heat exchanger only for it to break down and then struggle to get someone to fix it.
The government need some kind of large scale scheme to retrofit old homes. After the RHI fiasco I imagine the civil service shudders at the mere mention of renewable heat but we need to face up to challenge.
Insulation is a win win all round. The home owner gets cheaper energy bills. Why reduce CO2 and other pollutants. We can also use it as an opportunity to train up thousands of economical inactive people to help do the work
What is not to like?
I help to manage Slugger by taking care of the site as well as running our live events. My background is in business, marketing and IT. My politics tend towards middle-of-the-road pragmatism, I am not a member of any political party. Oddly for a member of the Slugger team, I am not that interested in daily politics, preferring to write about big ideas in society. When not stuck in front of a screen, I am a parkrun Run Director.