Uplifting your home with a deep retrofit

If the government really wants to meet their deep retrofit target, they really need to help the homeowner to make the right decision
Uplifting your home with a deep retrofit

Improving attic insulation is a typical staged project for improving the BER on your current home. Picture: iStock

Many of us have grown up in cold draughty houses which seemed almost impossible to heat. 

We get a bill every other month or face the dreaded autumn tank fill for the coming winter. We get a wake-up call now and again when the price of oil goes up and we start thinking about how we could improve the energy efficiency of the house. 

With the introduction of building energy ratings or BERs in 2007, we suddenly became aware of how poorly efficient our homes were. Many of us opted to start improvements, bit by bit, and now the government is encouraging us to go the whole hog and deep retrofit.

Deep retrofit means transforming your house into a cosy home, with no draughts and small bills. Most average three-bed homes cost about €1,200 a year or more to heat between the cost of the oil/gas and open fire. A deep retrofit has a BER of B2 or better, and costs as little as €380 a year to heat. Only 8% of homes built before 1999 are an A or B rating with 59% being F- or G-rated. F- or G-rated houses can cost up to €3,600 per year to heat, who could afford that. 

For the government, deep retrofit represents one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. So, they have set an ambitious target of 500,000 deep retrofits by 2030 and have matched this ambition with substantial grants to local authorities, group schemes, and individual householders through the SEAI. Deep retrofitting your house not only reduces your bills but improves the air quality of your building, helping to eliminate mould and damp, and makes your home healthier for your family.

To meet Government ambitions the SEAI needs to rapidly increase deep retrofit to 33,500 houses per year by 2022, and 56,000 per year by 2024. Last year SEAI schemes only aided 2,000 homes to meet this deep retrofit NZEB standard, so the challenge is immense. The SEAI has targeted one-stop-shop group schemes and local authorities for achieving deep retrofit at scale. The idea of one-stop shops is that you get the expertise to design and complete a retrofit from one source, at a subsidy suiting your income level. The local authorities have lots of social housing stock, and deep retrofitting them directly improves the lives of people in fuel property.

Deep retrofitting our homes makes financial sense if we see our homes and houses as both a capital asset and an operational cost. Just like a car we need to maintain the various elements of our home, which sometimes need replacement such as windows, boilers, roof tiles and on an annual basis we need to heat and power our homes. We understand that if we buy an electric car, we can reduce our fuel cost by 80% — that’s €2,000 per year based on a €50/week diesel fill.

Similarly, a deep retrofit of your home can reduce your heating costs by 70%. Deep retrofit also represents a reinvestment in your asset, extending its lifespan, and delivering improved thermal comfort and a healthier interior environment. Each step improvement in the BER rating has been shown, by ERSI researchers, to fetch 2% more in property sales values, that’s an 18% difference between an F-rated house and a B2 rated house.

Group schemes, which can be accessed by private individuals, suffer from bureaucracy and delays of up to 18 months to get on a scheme and be retrofitted but they are worth checking out as people can often drop out! Many homeowners often do not plan that far ahead. Many people extend out the back of the house under the 40 m² and take the opportunity to retrofit. It is this point that the Government could tap into this opportunity to organically grow deep retrofit exponentially.

An example project cost for a deep retrofit of a three-bed semi-detached house in Cork
An example project cost for a deep retrofit of a three-bed semi-detached house in Cork

For people who are unfamiliar with the costs, I have set them out in the table for a three-bedroom semi-detached house of 1,200sqf. In the first example, ‘the whole hog’, it is possible to achieve an A2 rating, and in the second example, ‘essentials’, it is possible to meet an A2 or A3 rating at lower investment levels. 

Both examples are considered deep retrofit. There is a big difference in the cost of both approaches but little difference in the results because the roof and wall insulation are improving your building fabric more than your windows. 

The individual SEAI grants have an effective grant level of 25% because there is currently no grant for floor or window insulation. If you were financing the essentials pack ‘An Post’ have a 10-year green loan which would cost you €260/month. A group scheme could save a little more €3.5k (based on a 35% grant level) but it might mean waiting another 18 months to get the retrofit done and have the grant reimbursed. With An Post APR at 4.9% - 11.5% to €20k+, there is a huge need for low-cost financing to increase demand and access to deep retrofit for consumers and homeowners.

The barriers to deep retrofit include the complex nature of the application processes, back-ending grant payments, and an overly bureaucratic approach. If the government really wants to meet their deep retrofit target, they really need to help the homeowner to make the right decision to deep retrofit when they are buying a second-hand house or renovating/extending and give them the supports to go deep and not shallow at these key trigger points and access to low-cost green loans. Realistically we need to increase grant levels from 25% to 50% for individual projects and consider simply paying people grants based on improved BER performance, confirmed through a pre and post BER.

This could be called an ‘energy performance uplift grant’. This would open the market to performance-led turnkey companies, which would create jobs and value in the economy whilst improving our homes, reducing our bills, and finally helping the environment.

  • Dr Marc Ó Riain, Green Party Local representative for Bandon/Kinsale, lecturer at Munster Technological University, and Director of RUA Architects.

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