What’s the Fascination with Home Insulation?

David Gardner


Efforts to reduce climate change, have become more prominent in recent decades. One area that has increasingly been targeted, is residential homes and the large amounts of energy they consume. Environmental groups have called governments to solve this issue by implementing home insulation strategies, however as addressed in this podcast there are a number of limitations and issues to the claims they have made.

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Hello there and welcome to the What’s the Fascination with Home Insulation podcast.

In the world today, one of the most pressing issues that is constantly debated is the problem of climate change and how to prevent it. Here, the finger is mostly pointed at large corporations and national governments for their actions. However, it may surprise you to learn that the residential sector is responsible for approximately a quarter of global energy use.

One factor that results in this figure being so high is the low energy efficiency of many homes around the world, especially in the Global North. This is having a negative effect on the environment as it requires much more energy to heat and cool such homes, it’s air can easily escape. Many environmental groups, have therefore turned their attention to this area and are campaigning for action to be taken in order to increase the energy efficiency of homes. A claim that has been widely made by certain groups, such as the American Alliance to Save Energy, is that home insulation is a vital and effect- effective solution to tackling this problem.

I’m David Gardner. And this is “What’s the Fascination with Home Insulation” podcast where I’ll be investigating this claim from all angles.

Although I’ll be looking at case studies from across the world when it comes to home insulation, I will especially be focusing on the situation in Great Britain. Not only is this where I’m from, but increasingly in recent years, this is becoming a more and more prominent subject. Currently, environmental groups like Insulate Britain are undergoing a campaign of civil disobedience in order to try and force the government to commit to ensuring all social housing is insulated by 2025. They claim, without a legally binding plan, we will not achieve targets are set out in the Paris Climate Change Agreement and average temperatures will rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius, causing devastating effects to the planet.

[upbeat, whistling tune]

So firstly then, why should we insulate our homes? The claim by environmental groups, that home insulation is a vital and effective measure to reduce energy certainly holds a lot of weight. Hendrick, in his work, explains how insulation helps resist the airflow through walls, ceilings, and roofs, also stops heat from exiting the house in the winter and entering the house in the summer. This means we need less energy, especially to heat our homes, which in turn, results in less fossil fuels needing to be burned to produce electricity.

Research from the United States indicated that the increased residential insulation for a single year’s cohort of new homes would lead to approximately 470,000 fewer tons of CO2 emissions per year. Home insulation is also economically attractive to homeowners with estimated savings of up to $200 a year on energy bills by installing loft and cavity wall insulation.

Indeed, there are numerous examples of effective home insulation schemes around the world which support this claim. But one which I wish to focus on is the Kirklees warm zone scheme, which is a town close to where I live back home in Northern England. Here, as part of a trial, insulation was fitted to 51,000 homes in 2007 in order to inspect the results and evaluate the effectiveness of such strategies. It was coordinated by the local authority but funded by the central government with a budget of 21 million. In order to encourage citizens to agree to the scheme, free energy assessments and surveys were offered, as well as the scheme covering any costs to the resident of any insulation that was to be installed. The results highlight how home insulation is a very appealing strategy to both resident and to the environment.

While the initial investment was 21 million, generated reductions in energy bills total 6.5 million for 2011 alone. This was the equivalent to an average annual saving of a 125 pounds per year to each participating household. Sounds good, right? The environment also benefits with an average saving of 508 kilograms of CO2 per year for each participating household, which is equivalent to an 11.8% reduction against 2011 levels in the average carbon emitted as a consequence of the total energy consumed within households. The insulation methods also have a fairly long functional lifeline of over 40 years and it was estimated to generate health benefits of 4.9 million.

[upbeat, whistling tune]

You may be thinking to yourself at this point, “Home insulation sounds like a win-win all around for both citizens’ bank accounts and for the environment.” So why doesn’t all countries develop strategies like this? The simple answer here is due to the costs involved. Many environmental groups when arguing in favor of home insulation projects fail to mention not only is it very expensive strategy, but they were also very vague on who they expect to finance such home improvements. Governments are often reluctant to implement legislation on the matter due to these high costs, as well as a number of other reasons.

A country like the UK has over 26 million residential buildings, most of which were constructed before the 1980s and have relatively low levels of energy efficiency. If to insulate 51,000 homes in Kirklees cost 21 million, the cost to insulate all non-energy-efficient homes in the UK alone will be a vast amount that the government will struggle to finance, not to mention, justify. If they were only to insulate certain regions, then they would likely face backlash from the population over favoring certain areas or certain economic groups.

Governments are also wary of implementing national strategies that have been examples of countries that have adopted such large-scale plans, which later had been scrapped for their ineffectiveness. One being the Australian National Homes Insulation program. This was introduced in 2009 with a 2.7 billion budget. And it was meant to provide a subsidy of $100,600 to individual households installing ceiling insulation. However, in 2010, the program has terminated after just one year, amidst a storm of controversy where the program appeared to be ineffective, was running up a huge bill of $1.5 billion in direct costs in short space of time.

As a result, many governments see such examples and are reluctant to invest such large sums of money in a program that might not even work. This means it forced the homeowners themselves to take action, pay out of their own pocket for retrofits activities. However, the average cost of home insulation is between $3,000 and $10,000. For that- for many, this is unaffordable, which brings up the issue of fuel poverty. Those with wealth are able to vest in home insulation measures and so can make savings on their energy bills. While those on lower incomes cannot, and so will have to pay more.

There are also barriers which prevent the take-up of energy efficiency measures in households, which environmental groups in favor of home insulation, who are making the claim, failed to take into account. They appeared to believe they speak on behalf of the population, but in reality, many people simply don’t want to have insulation due to individual preferences and skepticism that the scheme will not generate the savings it claims Further reasons why most of the popula- population are reluctant to insulate their homes include lack of awareness and concern on the effects of energy efficient homes, limited access to reliable information from trusted sources, and fears about the risk, disruption, and other costs that come from installing insulation. The widespread presence of these barriers led the IEA to predict that with- without a concerted push from policy, two-thirds of the economically viable potential to improve energy efficient, say, will remain unexploited by 2035.

We can see from the Kirklees scheme this reluctance of residents to alter their homes. Despite offering to cover any costs of insulation additions to the homes, as well as professional assurance of the quality of installations, only 51,000 out of the 176,000 households in the air agree to the project. If this is the amount who are willing to adopt measures even at no cost to themselves, we can see the reluctance of city residents to insulate homes in countries where there is no central government funding and residents have to pay out their own pockets.

[upbeat, whistling tune]

So, what does this mean for the future then? The claim that home insulation is a vital and efficient method of reducing energy production levels in homes, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions, certainly holds some weight. The strategy in most cases is clearly very effective in reducing residential energy levels.

However, there remains problems that block the widespread implementation of this strategy, which environmental groups seem to ignore. The main one being cost in that it is a hugely expensive project, and so it brings up the issue of who should fund it. It would appear that without government grants, citizens are reluctant to pay out of their own back pocket and so nothing gets done. However, as climate change continues to have a larger effect on our planet, we can expect calls for national home insulation strategies to grow, especially as the current housing stock gets older. There is the argument that in the future, advancements in technology will mean home insulation methods become a lot cheaper. However, it would be dangerous to place so much reliance on this as it reduces accountability to the current problem.

I have been David Gardner, and I hope you enjoyed listening to What’s the Fascination with Home Insulation podcast.

Thank you.

[chill groove]


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What's the Fascination with Home Insulation? Copyright © 2022 by David Gardner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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