The Home Energy and Retrofit (HEaR) circle focuses on improving energy efficiency and sourcing for our homes, particularly for traditional, stone-built tenements and terraced houses.
You can contact the circle directly by email.
While prices are so high, home energy consumption is a critical area for all of us who are dependent on utility company gas and electricity. The changes we should aim to make are a win-win: reducing network domestic energy demand saves money and makes a real difference to carbon emissions (except for electricity generated by renewables). We aim to provide information on practical steps that householders can take to reduce wasted heat and energy (and thus demand), for example in the areas of draught-proofing, heating controls and maximising individual warmth.
Draught-proofing is an obvious starting point and can often be done cost-effectively with relatively simple DIY, for example for doors, windows, skirting boards, floorboards and hidden gaps. However, the need for adequate ventilation for the health of both building fabric and inhabitants also needs to be considered.
Heating controls and settings can be made smarter, to allow heating to be focused where and when it’s needed. Certain boilers can also be set to be more efficiently reactive to external temperatures. There is some useful information on how to reduce the heat temperature of combi boilers in this article from Which magazine.
Building maintenance is a vitally important first step in improving the energy efficiency of the fabric of the building. The professional advice is that improvements should be made ‘fabric first’, which means prioritising maintenance and repairs, then insulation, draught-proofing and ventilation ahead of ‘add-ons’ such as solar panels or heat pumps. In the long term, for better building performance and lower costs, we should really focus on planned, proactive maintenance to prevent leaks and structural issues developing, rather than only responding reactively when they’ve caused noticeable impacts (‘a stitch in time saves nine …’). That means a regular building condition survey, a plan for phased works and (ideally) regular saving of money into a maintenance fund.
Retrofit (fitting updated or additional systems or components designed for high energy efficiency and low energy consumption), is increasingly talked about, but the prospect of making changes to the fabric of our homes will often seem daunting. We aim to be a source of informed local knowledge on domestic retrofit and sign-post people to effective, trustworthy professional assistance to ease this process. We are a founding partner group in the Edinburgh Building Retrofit and Improvement Collective, which aims to assist in this process for like-minded groups across the city.
It makes sense (in terms of cost-effectiveness, building health, access to both financial and practical assistance, involvement of the best contractors and sharing of the organisational burden, as well as in building community resilience) to look beyond the level of a single home and consider more systematic changes across a multi-occupancy building, block or street. This requires people to collaborate and put in place some kind of residents’ association structure (such as an owners association or even a larger-scale residents’ group, whether informal or formal) to consider the options, make decisions and commission work. We aim to assist in moving to this larger and more collaborative scale. Supporting this is also a key aspect of the Collective.
You can find our exploration of some of these issues and early recommendations in our report on Net Zero and Home Energy in Edinburgh.
Local renewable heat and power sources
There are clearly attractions and challenges to increasing the use of off-grid renewable heat and power generation on both individual and locally-shared levels. We need to see more solar PV installed, but also to move beyond that to see more wide-spread installation of both air- and ground-source heat pumps, which can work effectively at the individual level but which can also offer significant attractions at a larger scale (in the same way as retrofit), creating ‘district heating’ or ‘district power’ systems. We aim to be able to encourage and assist in this process. We are connected to the Clean Heat Edinburgh Forum and also to Edinburgh Community Solar Co-op and Big Solar Co-op
The group is also working on ways to offer volunteer-led services to aid people looking to improve home energy efficiency. One area being pursued is the use of ‘heat surveys’ using infrared thermal imaging (IR thermography) to identify areas of a property that might be leaking more heat than is expected, perhaps because of unexpected draughts, damp spots, failing or missing insulation or even possible construction faults. With suitable equipment and sufficient training, this approach can often highlight ‘low-hanging fruit’ in terms of simple work, can help engage householders in more details consideration of the steps to take in tackling home energy efficiency and retrofit and can signpost them to trustworthy sources of information or assistance (which is one of the major needs in the developing domestic retrofit environment).