Press | Published on 9th Jan 2017

How can we encourage homeowners to make energy efficiency improvements?

Much focus has been given to how homeowners can be ‘encouraged’ to become more energy efficient.

There have been research papers written which draw on evidence from behavioural economics and psychology to ‘outline a new approach to enabling people, at home and at work, to reduce their energy consumption and reduce their bills in the process.’ [1]

There are also dedicated websites, discussion groups, and newsletters on the subject. This is nothing new; I recall an energy advice service for London tenants being set up back in the 80’s which carried out energy audits. But owners and consumers lost interest as fuel prices stayed low, relative to income. Now, there is renewed demand for this service. This interest is in part fuelled by the desire to save money.

Building on that interest and increasing the number of energy efficiency measures completed in the UK is one of the biggest challenges on the climate change agenda. But is it the only route to improving the efficiency of the UK’s housing stock? Or are there other opportunities?

I’ll get on to what they may be later. For now some context;

The Committee on Climate change- 2016 progress report to Parliament, published in June this year reports the following;

  • Emissions fell by 3% in 2015. An average of 4.5% a year since 2012, this has been almost entirely due to progress in the power sector
  • There has been almost no progress in the rest of the economy, where emissions have fallen less than 1% a year since 2012 on a temperature-adjusted basis. That is because there has been slow uptake of low-carbon technologies and behaviours in the buildings sector.
  • Buildings emissions accounted for 18% of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. Direct CO2 building emissions are split between homes (75%), commercial buildings (15%) and the public sector (10%).
  • Direct emissions from buildings have been broadly flat since 2012. Building emissions increased 5% in 2015. It follows an average annual decrease in building emissions of 3.3% over the period 2009-2014 driven mainly by boiler replacements, with more efficient condensing boilers

 

It is the last bullet point that is, for me, the most significant. The impact of replacing old inefficient non-condensing boilers, for new more efficient ones is clear. We know that because we are well informed and understand the concept of energy efficiency and payback from products. Whilst for individual householders this is often a more difficult sell. So why aren’t we doing more to change that?

Figures released in 2016 by Lloyds Bank reveal that DIY spending increased by 13% to £5.8 billion in 2015. Homeowners invest in their homes, generally to improve them. The enthusiasm is there- how can we extend that to energy efficiency?

One of the major barriers, as I see it is information. Or lack of it. If homeowners were better informed then their choices may be different. But it is important to not lose sight of the drivers to home improvements, which, I believe, are key to increasing energy efficiency.

In the main, home improvements are driven by a need or desire for improved comfort, aesthetics or even a slice of the Airbnb pie. Shouldn’t we be using these opportunities to educate homeowners on improvements which could be made at the same time as their planned project?

Imagine that you are going ahead with a 10,000 pound bathroom refurbishment and the supplier or builder says 'By the way, while we do your bathroom have you considered replacing your boiler so your home will be more energy efficient—this will go on to your energy bill and you pay it back over time.’

If people are already planning on making some home improvements to increase their comfort, and if we can demonstrate the business case that can help them make energy efficiency improvements at the same time to minimise cost and disruption, then I think they will do so.

How we bring industries together and furnish them with the relevant tools to make that a reality, whilst not adding to the already demanding workload and expectations, is a question I pose to you, the industry…..

Of course, awareness-raising alone will not be enough. A much clearer path to action is needed. Sticks and carrots. We know the impact that the move to condensing boilers had, and we know that incentives such as boiler scrappage schemes are well received.

During 2017 HHIC will, continue to work with the Government to design energy efficiency schemes that will encourage a higher volume of take-up without the unnecessary bureaucracy.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/48123/2135-behaviour-change-and-energy-use.pdf