Q&A: What are the benefits and challenges of retrofitting homes?

Government set to announce details of enhanced home insulation scheme for deep retrofits

The Government is set to announce details of its biggest ever home insulation scheme, under which grants of more than €25,000 will be offered to individual homeowners for deep retrofitting.

What is a deep retrofit?

The deep retrofit of a home means carrying out multiple energy upgrades - such as insulation, heat pumps and mechanical ventilation - all at once to increase the BER rating of a home.

Why are grants being made available?

According to Government, one of the biggest obstacles to people undergoing deep retrofitting of their homes is the cost.

The average total capital cost to upgrade a home from an average BER rating of F to an average A3 rating is €60,229, according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

Government grants are already available, but under plans to be announced on Tuesday, grants will increase to cover close to half the cost (45-51 per cent) of a deep retrofit.

Why does the Government want to increase their uptake?

The programme for government set itself ambitious targets of retrofitting 500,000 homes to B2 standard by 2030 and to install 400,000 heat pumps.

It is a key step to improving energy efficiency in the State.

What benefits do they deliver to the homeowner?

Homeowners save money on their energy and heating bills after retrofit, though it can take several decades before the capital costs for the works are reimbursed through energy savings.

However, Krystyna Rawicz, a chartered building surveyor, and managing director of KRA, said there are benefits outside of the payback.

“You need to look at your comfort within the home and your health within the home, which will often be improved dramatically by having a very well insulated and easy to heat home,” she said.

“You also need to live in the climate in which we’re living with very, very volatile energy prices. There’s a stability and a sense that you can have some control over your own future and energy bills by doing this sort of work.”

She added: “And finally, for many people, there is a desire to have a planet that we can hand on to our children and grandchildren that is capable of us living on.”

Is cost the only barrier?

It is probably the most significant barrier, but not the only one, according to those working within the sector.

Tom Parlon, director general of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) said that even with the grants, retrofitting still requires homeowners to have a lump sum of money up-front. In addition, though, retrofits are labour intensive and the work is disruptive, he said.

“In most cases, the people need to move out of the house for maybe four or five weeks, and that brings its own challenges about where are they going to go, are they prepared to allow strangers in their house,” he said.

“Most people are hoarders as well, and have stuff in their attics and the notion that the attic is going to have to be stripped out and thrown out, they decide they’re not going to do that.”

Ms Rawicz added that the paperwork and evaluations before you know if you are eligible for the grant is another off-putting element.

Do we have the labour force capable of delivering this?

In short, no. There is already a critical labour shortage within the construction industry as demand picks up again after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Adding to this, Mr Parlon said there is not a steady pipeline of individuals who are equipped to deal with retrofits.

“There is increased demand at the moment because construction is increasing. It’s a challenge to get the extra workers at the moment. You need particular skills to do retrofit, and a lot of different ones,” he said.

“You’ll need an electrician who knows how to wire waterpumps and a plumber who will be able to do that as well. They’re a fairly sophisticated piece of kit.”

A lot of people are going to require a lot of training.

So do the latest plans go far enough?

According to Ms Rawicz, the “modest uplift” in grants is probably “only the starting point” for Government action with a stick likely to be used in addition to the carrot.

She believes that various legislative actions will be taken in the years to come, such as preventing the sale or renting of homes with a low BER rating, something that is already the case in the UK.