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Warming to the topic

Fire that’s closest kept burns most of all

We need more insulation in our houses in the UK. That’s according to Chris Stark, who is head of the UK’s Climate Change Committee. No sh** Sherlock. Stark has told the BBC that he rates the government’s policy on insulation as “very poor”.

Again, no sh** Sherlock.

It’s not just this government of course that is utterly useless at sorting out this issue, the previous Tory government was no better – despite all those claims to be the Greenest Government Ever by one D Cameron. And don’t even get me started on the Green Deal that the Coalition government made such a hash of. I wrote more words on that at the time than I think my brain can cope with.

Stark says that insulation, together with renewable power, is the way out of the current energy crisis, he says He’s right, of course. The cost of heating our homes is going through the roof. And the walls. And the floors. And the draughty windows.

19 million homes, roughly two-thirds of our current housing stock, need better insulation.

We can’t really do very much about fuel costs when the wholesale gas prices are beyond our control. But we can do something about ensuring our houses are better insulated so that we don’t need to use so much fuel to heat them in the first place. The problem is the cost. It’s one thing to pop down to our local builder’s merchant and pick up a few rolls of glass or mineral wool and install them in your loft. It’s quite another to have to find a way of insulating your end-of-terrace Victorian stone cottage, or one of those Edwardian detached houses with picture windows, high ceilings and draughts. Lots of draughts.

You can spend tens of thousands adding more double glazing, insulating the floors and even putting insulated cladding on inside and outside walls. Investment that you will never really see the pay-back on in terms of lower bills for a good 20 years.

Then there’s the fact that a good deal of the houses that need work are social housing and the challenge for cash-strapped local authorities gets even worse.

Stark told BBC News that the government needs to provide “a sharper incentive for most people to make these investments in improving the energy efficiency of the home that they live in.”

That incentive needs to be not just in monetary terms either. There’s the hassle factor to take in account. How many of us have got lofts stuffed full of all the crap that we can’t face getting rid of? Who wants to have to find a new home for that – or book a trip to the council tip for it – in order to put down some insulation? Many, many people will feel it’s far better to close the hatch and put another jumper on.

The government does know all this; the delayed Heat and Buildings Strategy talked about the need for a “fabric first” approach – improving the efficiency of walls and lofts before replacing heating systems. Just after the green homes grant scheme was closed. OK, it wasn’t fit for purpose, but it did at least show that the thinking was there.

There are schemes and ideas out there already that just need someone who has custody of the government brain-cell (so, not in the Cabinet then) to pick up and run with. The National Retrofit Strategy, a reduction in the rate of VAT on energy bills – for longer than a one-off, non-negotiable loan, to be paid back over five years whether you want to or not. Or, and I’ve said this before, the Energy Saving Stamp Duty Incentive, which the Energy Infrastructure Group has long been touting.

Otherwise, we’d all better just get busy keeping ourselves warm in other ways.

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About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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