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Making the move up the energy ratings

A deep retrofit of a home means carrying out several energy upgrades at once to achieve a top BER rating

A house control panel which improves  energy efficiency

A house control panel which improves energy efficiency

 

The programme for government agreed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party during the summer contains a commitment to upgrade at least 500,000 homes to a B2 energy rating by 2030. It also commits the Government to publishing a national retrofit plan as part of a new national economic plan, in conjunction with Budget 2021.

The deep retrofit of a home means carrying out several energy upgrades all at once to achieve a Building Energy Rating (BER ) rating of A or B.

“Most homes in Ireland are like a leaky bucket,” says Pinergy director of marketing David Slattery. “You need to fill the holes by retrofitting good insulation to prevent heat loss. After that you can think about things like renewable energy sources for heating.”

Not all retrofits are the same, according to Colin Bebbington, retail director with Bord Gáis Energy.

“Home energy retrofits generally fall into two categories, shallow and deep. Shallow retrofits mean carrying out minimal upgrades such as draught proofing, cavity wall insulation, efficient lighting and upgraded heating controls. Deep retrofits are more intrusive and consist of upgrades such as external or internal wall insulation, air tightness and mechanical ventilation, renewable heating systems such as heat pumps, solar PV and battery storage to achieve an A or B BER rating.”

According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), there are approximately one million homes in Ireland with poor insulation and inefficient heating systems. The SEAI launched the Deep Retrofit Pilot Programme in 2017 to address this problem. The programme, which is now closed, investigated the challenges and opportunities of deep retrofit in Ireland.

Up to the beginning of September, 461 homes had been completed under the programme. All have achieved a BER A rating, with 31 achieving an A1 rating, 152 attaining an A2 rating, and 278 reaching an A3 rating.

The average total capital cost to upgrade a home from a BER rating of F to an average A3 rating so far has been €58,722.

National scheme

While the Deep Retrofit Pilot Programme may be closed and we are still awaiting the details of the national scheme, the SEAI still offers a range of quite generous grants for home energy upgrades which cover up to 30 per cent of the cost for insulation and heating system upgrades. Almost 430,000 homeowners in Ireland have already availed of these grants.

SEAI has individual grants for insulation, renewable home heating, heating controls, and solar photovoltaic panels. The grants are fixed amounts ranging from €400 up to €6,000 depending on the works to be undertaken and the size of house.

According to SEAI, some works, such as roof insulation or cavity wall insulation, can pay for themselves through lower energy bills in as little as one to two years.

“There are many benefits to both the bill-payer, the wider household and the environment,”says Bebbington. “A retrofit will cut the energy demand of the property, replace carbon intensive fuels such as oil and increase the comfort of the home. By reducing the energy demand of the property, carbon emissions will decrease.”

“The less energy you use to heat your home, the more you save and the better it is for the environment,” says Stuart Hobbs, director of energy services with SSE Airtricity.

“Additional roof and wall insulation can reduce your heat loss by up to 95 per cent, making your home more comfortable by eliminating draughts and improving heat retention so you stay cosy on those cold winter nights. Even a small step like switching to energy efficient lighting can play a big part in going green and cutting costs.”

Quick wins

The SEAI advises homeowners to go for the quick wins first. For older homes built more than 30 years ago, preventing heat escaping through the roof and walls by upgrading their insulation should be the priority. Windows and doors may need to be replaced too.

Smart heating controls will improve the efficiency of an existing heating system, but if budget permits SEAI encourages homeowners to consider a renewable heating system such as a heat pump, which uses energy from the air, water or ground. This will significantly improve the BER, reduce costs and reduce your reliance on fossil fuels.

Some energy suppliers and companies are partnering with SEAI to offer packages to manage the entire upgrade process, including grant application and works, on behalf of the homeowners. To help fund the cost of the upgrade investment, homeowners should check what low interest green loans are available from their bank, local credit union and An Post.

GETTING THE RIGHT ADVICE

The first step in a successful energy retrofit project is to talk to an expert. “An energy retrofit includes a whole range of potential steps, but the first thing to do is speak to an energy upgrade expert who can take the stress out of all the complicated jargon and help you make informed decisions,” says Stuart Hobbs.

“We specialise in managing retrofit projects from end to end, so we can advise on a deep retrofit which will improve all areas of the building, or we can help with the smaller steps to focus on specific improvements,” he says.

“A home energy retrofit can include a whole range of works from upgrading to more efficient lighting, improving insulation for cosier homes, installing heat pumps or solar PV, and even upgrading windows and doors can make a difference.

“But the first step is to seek advice and have your property assessed to see what improvements will work best for your home.”

When starting out on the retrofit journey homeowners have to know what their current BER rating is. The BER indicates the energy performance of a home. Homes are placed on a scale from A to G, with A-rated homes being the best in terms of energy efficiency and climate impact and G being the lowest.

“We can help customers get their BER through our Local Heroes platform (localheroes.ie),” says Colin Bebbington.

One of the chief concerns for householders starting out on a retrofit project is the prospect of disruption during the work. This need not be the case, according to Hobbs.

“A lot of works can be carried out in a short space of time so you don’t even have to leave the house. For example, improving your attic insulation can be done in less than a day, it won’t damage anything like interior finishes and will improve heat retention in the home overnight.

“It’s more likely that a home retrofit will improve your quality of life as your property will be more comfortable and you should start to see a reduction in energy costs very soon after the works are complete.”

Costs can vary, with a full deep retrofit costing between €50,000 and €60,000, but SEAI grants contribute to many of the individual elements of the project.

“SEAI grant funding starts at around €400 for attic insulation and goes right up to €6,000 for some of the bigger works like external wall insulation,” says Hobbs. “By speaking to experts like our team in SSE Airtricity we can help by providing a free assessment of the home and going through all of the options, including what grants are available. We’ll even do the complicated application paperwork.”

He emphasises that anyone considering getting work done in their home should speak to experts and take advantage of free assessments where available.

“Don’t rush into getting something done without considering all of your options,” he advises. “The benefit of working with a company like SSE Airtricity is that we will look at the home as a whole, and we won’t just be pushing one specific measure. We develop an upgrade roadmap that works for the householder, and they can choose where to start, whether it is doing all the upgrade work at once or step by step.”

DRAMATIC IMPROVEMENTS WITH MINIMAL DISRUPTION

According to the SEAI, few houses cannot benefit from a deep retrofit. One home which benefited from the Deep Retrofit Pilot Programme was built in 1963 in Dublin 7 and had a BER of EI.

The first phase of the retrofit involved insulating the home to minimise heat loss. External wall insulation was applied, and the entire attic floor was fitted with 100mm thick insulation. The existing double-glazed windows were replaced with triple glazed, and a new composite door with triple glazed side panels was fitted to replace the old PVC door.

The gas-fired central heating was replaced with an air to water heat pump, providing space heating and hot water for the home.

An underfloor heating system, zoned heating controls and thermostatic radiator valves replaced an open fire.

The project also included the installation of 12 300W solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof, along with a 2.8 kWh storage battery, allowing the homeowner to run their appliances from a renewable source and store energy that was not used.

A heat-recovery ventilation system was installed to sustain a high standard of indoor air quality as well as further minimise heat loss. All light fittings were replaced with high efficiency LEDs.

The result was an upgrade to a BER of A1. Very importantly, disturbance for the occupants of the home was kept to a minimum, and they were all able to remain living in the home throughout the project.