Homeowners face huge building costs as retrofit scheme closes

‘They dangled a carrot at us even though they knew the carrot was not there’

More than 300 homeowners who had been awaiting approval for a deep retrofit grant  have been told the funding is not available. Photograph: iStock

More than 300 homeowners who had been awaiting approval for a deep retrofit grant have been told the funding is not available. Photograph: iStock

 

When Niall O’Doherty and his family bought a semi-detached house dating back to the 1930s in south Dublin, it was in a fairly dilapidated state. One of the immediate problems was asbestos in the garage roof.

“We started to fix the problem but it became clear there were far bigger problems with the house and we needed to do a much bigger job,” he says.

Obviously in a house that was almost 90 years old, there was a serious lack of insulation. O’Doherty then became aware of the deep retrofit pilot scheme being promoted by the Government and administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

Working in IT, and with a young family, O’Doherty was aware of the technology available that could future-proof the house for his children.

Under the scheme, individual homeowners did not apply for grants. Instead, they contacted an approved contractor who submitted projects with a minimum of five houses. Donovan Low Energy handled the O’Doherty’s project and the proposal was submitted in the spring.

It was like the Government had gone two steps forward and then four steps back

While the small print did say work should not begin until the grant was approved, that was not practical. Many of the houses required substantial work to be done before the deep retrofit began.

With such a tight deadline – the completion date for all work was early October in order to draw down the grants – O’Doherty was anxious to make sure the house was A3 rated by then. The contractors were already on site.

“I spoke to SEAI on the phone. We were told early on that our house was a good example as it was an urban semi-d. There were a lot of applications from once-off rural houses,” he said.

O’Doherty is among more than 300 homeowners who had been awaiting approval for a grant that will not now be coming. The SEAI announced on Tuesday that it would give grants only to projects where approval had already been given to carry out deep retrofits.

He said that for months he did not hear any more, but then the contractor phoned on Tuesday to say the support sought would not be available.

“We were surprised and shocked. It was bad for us and bad for him. It was like the Government had gone two steps forward and then four steps back,” O’Doherty added.

Calculated

Connor Morris, who is returning to Ireland from Germany where he has worked for several years, bought a 1930s house in Bray, Co Wicklow which was poorly insulated. He said part of the calculation in buying it was the 50 per cent grant for the retrofit work.

Like in O’Doherty’s case, his application dragged on for months and they too started building in order to meet the October deadline.

He is angry at the decision to close the scheme, which he says has left him to find tens of thousands of euro to finish the retrofit or to abandon some of the plans.

“The wider issue is communications. They dangled a carrot at us even though they knew the carrot was not there,” he said. “You cannot just wait and leave contractors idle. We have to use temporary accommodation and we are in mid-build. It’s a catastrophe.”

Another Dublin householder said he had signed up for the scheme against the wishes of his wife.

“It’s a mess. They are staying in a mobile home for the summer. I’m staying in my parents’ house. The old heating system has been decommissioned. The kitchen is dismantled. The house is a shell.

“Our application was submitted in July. It took a lot of time and a lot of expenditure. They must have been aware that funding was not there but they still did not say.”

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