Neil and Aileen Walker live in a timber-framed detached home built in the 1990s.
After two kerosene leaks they decided to turn their home totally green. The change saw their energy rating go from a D to an A. However, it would not have been possible without a grant from the Tipperary Energy Agency.
“We live in a house that was built in the 1990s, it wasn’t built with energy efficiency in mind. The house was timber frame, which meant it had probably about a C3, maybe a D energy rating when it was built. There were two open fireplaces, and it took a fortune to heat.
“Then we became more aware of keeping down our carbon footprint, and we made small changes, like putting in two stoves. When the house was built there was about four or five inches of insulation in the attic, so we doubled that. It was not that we had done nothing,” said Mr Walker.
However, what spurred the couple on to retrofit their family home was a kerosene leak.
“Also we lived in rural location, so gas was not an option, we had kerosene. What prompted us to go for a major retrofit was when we had a kerosene leak. Then there was a second, separate leak, which was much worse. The whole ground floor was contaminated with kerosene, it was toxic,” he said.
Mr Walker, who is head of energy and environmental policy for IBEC, started investigating how he could turn his home green.
“We had a choice between biomass and a heat-to-air pump. I was aware of the Tipperary Energy Agency’s pilot scheme SuperHomes to help retrofit homes. Dealing with them took away a lot of the risk for us, that was a big help, as opposed to retrofitting it yourself,” he says.
The couple seized on the opportunity to install under-floor heating as well as extra insulation.
“We decided to go for the heat pump, and it was an opportunity to put in really good insulation and under-floor heating, it works really well with the heat pump, it’s wonderful.
“We changed out the steel radiators and put in aluminium ones. There are just radiators upstairs,” said Mr Walker.
While the pump looks complicated, it works very simply.
Other changes included a new demand-control ventilation system, where room vents kick in when humidity in them hits a certain level.
They also changed bulbs from CFL to LED lighting, and put solar panels on the roof.
“We had solar panels put on and when we are not using the power they the heat water. We have a 300-litre tank and four of us have a shower in the morning, that use not to be the way.
“Now the heat pump and the solar panels work together to heat the water. You never have to worry is the water hot or is the house warm,” Mr Walker.
Turning their home green inspired wider lifestyle changes, from being very conscious about recycling to cycling to work.
“I now cycle 26km to work every day because I have an e-bike, I would drive in if it was lashing rain. Cycling makes it a comfortable journey and a faster one rather than by coming into town by car.
“The payback on the bike was two years, e-bikes are not cheap, but you’re saving on petrol,” says Mr Walker.
The wider payback is longer term and the investment to date which is €30,000.
“The payback on the retrofit is a 10-year payback even with the grant.
Carol Hunter lives in a detached home in a rural setting. She needs her car. Her home heating is oil dependent. She is very aware of the need to make changes for the sake of the climate, but believes the carbon tax is a stick approach, when a carrot one would be more conducive to change.
“We’ve got to do something, you’ve got to start somewhere, but carbon taxes will only work if there are alternatives, and there are no signs that the Government is offering alternatives.
“There has got to be enormous education of people,” said Carol.
She is the chairperson of the Bray Choral Society, which has about 90 members who are mostly over the age of 40. The attitude in this group reflects a positive will towards to climate action, but follow-through needs State support.
“We introduced compostable cups for break in choir. With 90 people in a hall, we were then encouraging people to take their own cups home and compost them. And anyone with a functioning compost heap of their own could take several of the cups home.
“We found that the will is there but a 100% follow-through is a challenge. There is a gap in the knowledge,” she said.
The follow-through needs to match the will when it comes to fuel and energy source change too, believes Carol, as well as supports from the State.
"I am now moving away from shower gels to bars of soap, and vinegar and water instead of cleaning chemicals. But like everyone, I’m a hypocrite and I will take a plane to go on holidays.
“In my home, I have to be on oil, I don’t have any gas up here, and electricity costs the earth. All of these taxes that they stick on are blanket ones, people who are hit the hardest are the poorest, there is such an amount of indirect taxation in Ireland, and it’s so unfair that this is just another add-on to that,” she said.
The cost of heating Carol’s home annually is already over the €1,000 mark and her heating system needs to be serviced too, which would be very costly.
“I use oil to heat my radiators and water. I pay the earth for my heating. I am paying more than €1,000 a year. This house could do with a whole reshape of the heating system, which would cost in the region of €10,000 to €12,000. There would be the disruption and the redecoration and the floors would have to come up and I can’t afford to have that done, so I’m stuck with a cobbled-together system that costs the earth and I will now be taxed on a house that I am nearly 20 years living in,” she said.
Alternatives to fossil fuels must be the focus, argues Carol, not punishments for those who have no other option.
“I would be willing to put money into doing this [upgrading home’s energy source] for the sake of the planet, not to get the capital investment back. One simply needs a bit of support to do it.”
Carol also thinks it is important to not lose hope.
“There needs to be more carrot than stick and more education, and that has to come before the carbon tax.
“You don’t have to be apocalyptic about it, to see teenagers become nihilistic, it’s really important not to forget hope, not to forget agency, not to forget the possibility of change, we can still do something about it,” she said.
Overall, she believes that sustainable politics and a re-measuring of what growth actually is, is needed.
“We have to think about what moving forward actually means, how growth is defined and what does the model look like? It means to have a decent standard of living, education, and healthcare, not growth that is measured solely by material possessions. We need sustainable politics and that is horrendously difficult, but it doesn’t mean we can’t start doing it. I have hope because I really can’t imagine apocalypse.”
Lucianne and Chris Hughes are parents to two young children, Daisy and Poppy.
They are also new homeowners, who are balancing childcare costs with servicing a mortgage. In Budget 2020, they believe the Government needed to focus on housing and childcare supports for young families.
“We are a youngish family,” said Lucianne. “It’s myself and my husband Chris, and our two daughters Daisy and Poppy. Daisy is three in November and Poppy is 10 weeks old. Our main costs are our childcare and our mortgage and then the general day-to-day household budget.”
At the moment, they avail of the 15 free hours childcare a week for Daisy — known as ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education).
“Daisy is in crèche,” says Lucianne. “She gets the ECCE hours for three hours a day, and then from 12pm to 5pm we pay the normal crèche fees five days a week. The three hours help, every bit helps, but it could be more, as those hours do not match up with hours that most people can work.
“I wouldn’t be able to work, just the mornings. Nobody is able to get work from 9am to 12pm, and it’s not 9am to 12pm. You’ve got to factor in the dropping off and collecting, it’s two-and-a-half hours really.
“Before the ECCE kicked in this September, we had Daisy in crèche full-time from 12 months. We’ve been paying crèche fees for nearly two years.”
The couple recently purchased their home, a move made possible by a supportive landlord who did not up rent fees over five years. This gave them a chance to save for a mortgage.
“We are also relatively new homeowners, but crucially this is because we were very lucky with our previous landlord,” says Lucianne. “We had a really sound landlord, he never raised the rent and he appreciated us in his place, which was near Dublin city centre. There were people paying €600 or €700 more for the same place.”
However, when the couple decided to grow their family they looked at the possibility of moving from renting to owning.
“We knew we would like a second child, and the place we were living wasn’t big enough for a family of four, but it would be fine for a second baby for a couple of months,” says Lucianne. “So in early 2018, we started putting feelers out there to see what the market was like and we didn’t have mortgage approval yet. The place we are now living came up in April 2018, and we fell in love with the place, the community, it’s in north Wicklow.
Lucianne gets State maternity leave (€245 a week for six months), and Chris’ employer gave him paid leave.
The family manages the day-to-day cost of living through careful budgeting. Breastfeeding also helped to reduce costs in the home.
“In terms of the general cost of living, we seem to be on top of it, but we try to be cautious and stick to one shop a week and we’re proactive with the household budget,” says Lucianne.
“I breastfed both babies — breastfeeding absolutely cuts back having to spend money on formula, so nappies and wipes are our big spend on babies and as they get older it’s more, food and entertainment. But really crèche is the big spend, everything else is manageable if you’re sensible with your budget”.
And their message to the Government is simple — childcare and housing.
“They are the two things that are crippling young couples,” says Lucianne. “For us the main thing certainly would be childcare, something that is a bit more real and realistic, in terms of the second earner in family getting a part-time job.”