Community warms to energy saving retro-fit of homes

 

It is a freezing Saturday morning in the car park of the Beehive pub, just off the N11, in mid-Co Wicklow, and members of the Ballynagran Energy Plus committee is setting off on a bus tour.

The tour will showcase some of the energy-saving measures, such as solar panels and external insulation, which have been “retrofitted” to 77 rural homes, a school, church, community hall and even a factory.

Money for the scheme came from a number of Government grants and – significantly – an environmental levy imposed on waste contractor Greenstar’s Ballynagran landfill.

Ballynagran energy committee chairman Hubert Laird points to the surrounding hills and explains: some 135 homes “basically within sight of the landfill” qualify for a small grant scheme of up to €5,000 per home, while community projects within about 3km of the landfill qualify for grants of up to €100,000.

While many locals were bitterly opposed to the landfill, most are now pragmatic and the money – about €250,000 a year with a total fund of some €1.4 million at the end of 2011 – is being used to provide some lasting benefit to householders.

Martina Hayes is at home when the tour arrives at her 1980s semi-detached cottage. Some 40 people begin tapping her outer walls to test the 12cm of new external insulation.

Inside it feels there must be a glowing Aga somewhere just out of sight but no, Hayes says she has not turned the heating on that day and the warmth comes from having had the heating on the previous night.

In addition to the external cladding, which is not discernable to the untutored eye, she has “thoroughly” insulated the attic.

Laird says the external cladding cost about €10,000, of which the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) provided a grant of about €4,000. In addition, the landfill fund supplied about €5,000. Grants paid for about three-quarters of the attic insulation, says Hayes.

Dermot Doyle at Coolbeg also got a landfill grant towards the cost of his energy efficiency measures which included installing solar panels, pumping insulation into cavity walls and a new boiler. Energy bills have been reduced by 35 per cent, he says.

Laird says that “as a starting point” most homes don’t require major investment to reduce their heating bills substantially.

He has availed of a grant of €5,000 towards the €20,000 cost of refitting double glazing to his home. He also cites the example of his mother-in-law, who has installed a super-efficient boiler, an insulated immersion cylinder, triple glazing and attic insulation.

“So basically she got €5,997 worth of energy efficiency work done for €1,295 and, more importantly, it made a major difference to the comfort level in the house,” he says.

The tour also takes in a visit to O’Hanlon Herbs in Glenealy where the Ballynagran Committee is advising on the installation of a woodchip boiler. The cost is about €350,000 and around 35 per cent of that will be borne by a grant from the Department of Agriculture.

While such projects are too big and commercial for the landfill grants, community grants of up to €100,000 each have been used to retrofit triple-glazed windows to some classrooms in Glenealy National school, as well as adding external insulation, dry filling of cavity walls, and a heat pump. Community grants have also been used to reroof and insulate Kilbride Church and provide energy- efficiency measures such as a wood-pellet boiler for Glenealy Community Hall.

The ultimate aim of the Ballynagran energy committee is for an energy-independent area and some locals, such as Christian Osthoff, are going as far as building passive houses.

Thomas O’Leary of energy consultants MosArt has installed an array of photo-voltaic cells on the garden shed at his passive house, but all are agreed the most important first steps for homeowners are actually the small ones. Switch to energy efficient lighting, insulate as much as possible, lag the immersion and install good central heating system controls, says Laird.

Last week, Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte confirmed the Government was working on a pay-as-you-save scheme which would allow householders to install energy saving measures similar to those in the Wicklow project. If it goes ahead more homeowners may benefit from improvement similar to those around Ballynagran.

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