An Insulation Evolution is upon us in Insulate Magazine Issue 13. Q-bot a Robot that applies sprayfoam insulation under floors is set to take the insulation world by storm. Also features compelling articles from regular columnists and insulation experts.
The only independent insulation industry trade magazine A Question of Energy Performance A friend and I recently went walking in the Peak District. It was bright and sunny - a perfect November day for exploring the Pennine Way - albeit cold, particularly in the wind. Our route took us through the village of Edale, passing picture-perfect stone cottages. Outside one home, a man in overalls was attacking a rigid insulation board with a saw. Not in a frenzied sort of way, I should make clear! In fact, he was being very precise about it. He’d already cut a couple of letterbox-sized holes right through the board, and was setting about removing further sections of insulation to around half the depth of the board. “I want to know how that insulation’s going to be used!” I muttered, fighting the temptation to go over and make a polite enquiry. Most likely, it needed to accommodate some service penetrations and a few lumps and bumps in whatever bit of the structure it was going to be fixed to. Trouble is, the holes would introduce significant cold bridges, and the half-cut sections would worsen the insulation’s thermal conductivity. Other software will display it differently, but the important thing is knowing what to look for. The Heating’s On I reconciled my lack of investigative skills with an awareness that I might have started ‘preaching’ to the guy about how he was ruining the product’s performance, and so we continued walking. Inspired by this turn of events, a new topic of conversation arose: “These last few weeks, I’ve had to have the heating on,” my friend bemoaned. He’d only been in his new flat for a couple of months - his first taste of home ownership - and was encountering low temperatures for the first time. “I can’t not have the heating on.” “To feel comfortable?” I added, to confirm my understanding that he isn’t a Dickensian miser who’d huddle around a single candle if it was an option. At which point he asked a question that too few people consider when looking at property: “Why don’t they give more information about the energy efficiency of properties?” “Who’s ‘they’? Who do you wish you’d had more information from?” I asked with genuine interest. “The sellers? The estate agents?” he suggested, launching us into a wide-ranging conversation about the cost of energy and fuel poverty, among other topics. Property performing properly It brought to mind the fact that, since early 2013, advertisements for property being sold or let have been required to include the energy rating of the property. It also brought to mind the time I was told, anecdotally, that many estate agents advise customers, “nobody takes any notice of EPCs anyway”. Encountering apathy on that scale is dispiriting, but what’s even more dispiriting is accepting there might be logic behind it. For existing properties, an EPC is based on a visual survey and records of work carried out to improve the property. It doesn’t allow for the quality of the work being undertaken. If the cottage we walked past is put up for sale or rent, an Energy Assessor will compile the specification and include for insulation of a particular thickness and performance, installed to an assumed standard. 30 www.insulatenetwork.com
The assessment isn’t sophisticated enough to reflect the impact of insulation boards being modified to accommodate services or irregular building fabric. Where improvements are suggested, they’re not always feasible, leading the authority of EPCs to be questioned. An ex-colleague was once advised to consider ground floor insulation to improve the energy rating of his home. He’d have had to dig up the floor of every room, since there wasn’t enough height to accommodate insulation over the existing structure. Hardly a practical suggestion, and indicative of the issues many properties will face when trying to improve occupant comfort. Short-term thinking SAP calculations, for example. On a more optimistic note, if the new requirement is communicated well then it might encourage more tenants to ask the same question my friend did. If that gives television producers reason to change what they put on our screens, or estate agents to offer more informative advertisements, then we could start to find ourselves on the righttrack. As property prices have ballooned and escaped the grasp of more and more first-time buyers, estate agent adverts seem increasingly targeted at those who can afford to add to an existing property portfolio. Seeing property as an investment is nothing new, of course, but the effective retrofit of properties is becoming an urgent consideration - and one that is not effectively communicated to buyers or renters. Television programmes like Homes Under the Hammer only encourage this trend, focussing on quick turnarounds, rental yields, and aesthetics and surface sheen. On one episode, the person renovating a house decided to keep it for their daughter to live in. “We’ve taken a bit more time over it than normal,” he said, admitting he only aimed for a better standard of work after deciding his family would enjoy the benefit of it. While it might be idealistic to expect everybody to buy in to relatively distant aims like carbon reduction targets in 2050, the casual acceptance of such complacency on a popular daytime programme only makes the retrofit challenge harder, not easier. A New Direction? Between now and 2020, new legislation will make landlords more responsible for better comfort and lower energy bills for tenants. Rental properties will have to meet a minimum EPC rating of E, and it will be interesting to see what impact such a requirement has. demonstrate compliance, or risk losing work to those who will - especially when other anecdotal evidence suggests this has been known to happen with as-built 31