/ Home & Energy

Tailor energy efficiency advice to individual homes

Different coloured houses

I’d welcome a visit from a friendly (and free) home energy assessor if I got some sound advice on making it more energy efficient. But do these schemes manage to deliver practical, tailored help for everybody?

Free advice on cutting your energy bills, particularly as price hikes begin to bite, certainly sounds appealing.

London Re:New, the latest in a line of such schemes, promises a ‘whole house approach that aims to offer something for every resident’ in participating areas.

It includes free installation of simple improvements such as radiator panels, water-saving showerheads, draught excluders and hot water tank jackets, plus advice on which bigger energy efficiency tasks would be suitable to undertake (and whether you can get them at a subsidised rate, or for free).

Energy-saving? Not for my home!

If the scheme opens in my area, I’d be tempted to give it a go – but I am a little put off from my experience of previous ‘recommendations’ I’ve received about my home.

When I moved into my flat (more than three years ago), I was disappointed with how few of the points put forward in the property’s Energy Performance Certificate or an energy efficiency report from my council were actually actionable for my circumstances.

Loft insulation? I live in a first floor flat in a converted house. Cavity wall insulation? The house is Edwardian, so doesn’t have cavity walls. Solid wall insulation? I live in a conservation area (meaning the external variety would probably be out). Energy efficient boiler? I’ve already got one. Energy-saving light bulbs? We have to switch to those anyway.

Green Deal coming soon…

The government’s flagship Green Deal, meanwhile, is also on the horizon. Due to launch in late 2012, it’s a new incentive scheme meaning you won’t have to pay upfront for the cost of installing energy-saving measures in your home.

I was interested to read that the National Trust, Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings have written to Energy Secretary Chris Huhne asking for specific consideration to be given to properties built before 1919.

They argue, for example, that ‘sealing up interiors and installing insulation can stop an old property from being able to breathe’, and want period property experts to be more closely involved in plans for the scheme.

Individual, impartial info

The success of the Green Deal will rely on professionals visiting our homes and making recommendations that are as tailored as possible. Here at Which?, we’re pleased to hear the proposed legislation being drawn up will include that advice ‘must be impartial’, too – it’s something we’ve been lobbying for.

I’m no housing stock expert but it seems clear that efficiency advice has to be personal and practical for where you live. Have you installed energy-saving measures in your home following an energy efficiency report or home audit from an energy assessor? Or did you come away disappointed?


Impartial advice/referrals – this is essential
Only have to look at the closed shop of the warmfront scheme, which has pushed prices up to see that surveys and work done by the same company/organisation, does nothing but increase industry prices for everyone.
So bad did it get that the previous government were forced to increase the maximum grant allowance over £3000, as the previous amount left people out of pocket making up perceived shortfalls. It remains the case that those on full allowance would normally have enough grant to cover new radiators, a new boiler, full loft insulation and a sizeable chunk towards cavity wall insulation, have been finding that after new boiler/radiators are fitted, not enough of the grant remains to insulate their loft.

Have a local tradesman option – I find it bizarre that with warmfront, local businesses were almost always excluded from doing any of the work.
This stops competition and pushes up prices, it also increased carbon emissions as the company doing the work comes from miles away.
It is not that difficult to get a couple of local businesses to produce a quote for some or all of the work recommended.

Energy saving?
I don’t think there are many people out there in the real world who do not want to save energy, but government, energy companies and part industry/part tax payer funded bodies do not seem to realise that no matter what people do to save energy, it ends up costing them money and rarely saves enough money to cover the costs long term.
– Using less energy saves money – not according to British gas it doesn’t, they have raised their prices this summer, in part, due to “lower consumption”
– A rated boilers “can” save you money on your energy bills – but even if maximum could be savings, the boiler will never pay for itself over the life time of the boiler (energy saving trust’s own figures: maximum year savings £235, boiler life average 12 years, fitted boiler price average £2500 – add on servicing/repair insurance and it would take 16 years to break even!)
– Double glazing – costing thousands of pounds, most with a ten year guarantee, savings of less than £200 per year, simply is not cost effective
– Energy saving light bulbs – They used to tell us they would last around 10 years, then it dropped down to around 8 years, I’ve got all energy saving bulbs in our house, the longest any have lasted so far, 3 years. Who keeps a box and receipt for 3 years? Have you seen the price of them!

Sorry for the rant, but any government scheme to save energy, must be cost effective for the public, barring insulation I have yet to find that any energy saving measure actually rewards my family financially for doing so. If an energy saving measure actually saved money for the home, then the scheme wouldn’t need any advertising and would succeed.

Simon T says:
19 August 2011

I am doing my best to reduce my energy consumption. I have completed a few online energy surveys but find them unsatisfactory.
1. They seem to all assume that the person surveyed is an idiot and has not already done the obvious improvements.
2. They do not recognise that there are different levels of double glazing. I have thin double glazing – it was installed when the house was built. It could be improved with more modern double glazing but that would require replacement of the window frames. Should I install transparent plastic over the insides instead?
3. I can’t tell if I have cavity wall insulation without drilling into the walls. I must assume but who can confirm it?
4. I have photovoltaic panels but should I have solar hot water too or would it be a waste as I live alone?
No survey seems to address these fine points.


Simon T,
I’m an energy assessor. Perhaps I can answer some of your questions.
The size of the internal gap in your double glazing is not really a critical factor. Wider gaps are not very much more heat insulating, but they do inprove sound insulation. The major factor with double glazing is if it’s pre or post 2002. After 2002 double glazed units were coated and more thermally efficient.

If you walls have been retrospectively cavity filled you’ll see drill holes filled with mortar (in the mortar between the bricks), especially visible a couple of bricks down under windows. If you have a more recently built house (last ten years or so) it may well have been cavity insulated at build. Before that It depends on the building regulations of the day, which refered to an insulation value rather than if this was achieved by cavity filling. Also you often find you can see into the cavity through a meterbox (especially electric meterboxes) and often you can see into the cavity from the loft. Failing all that then yes it’s the drill.

As for solar hot water and/or solar PV. Well they do work.
However I’d suggest you do your sums very carefully. My research suggests payback on solar hot water is a very very long time. Payback is better for Solar PV but you are essentially locked into a 25 year deal. Might suit you might not.

And finally every survey I do (to produce an Energy Performance Certificate) exactly addresses these “finer points”.


Simon / Chris – payback on Solar Hot Water depends very much who you get the system from. I have recommended my system supplier and installer (NOT the same – it was supplied by a Suffolk company and installed, with their recommendation, by my own local plumber) on Which? local. My solar hot water system included a new 180 gallon hot water cylinder – twin coil, factory lagged and with 10 year warranty – a 30 tube collector, all parts and fluids and the pump and controller. It cost less than £3,000 including the plumber’s bill for installation and I don’t need the boiler on at all between about mid-April and Late September (and I DO NOT have an immersion heater either). Even last January, when the outside temp was not above freezing for the entire month, I was still getting a cylinder full of water at 40 degrees C each day from the bright sun, so the boiler had to do far less work. The hot water cylinder supplies my pumped shower, my hot fill dishwasher, my hot fill washing machine and of course all hot taps. I live alone too. In the 3 years since it went in I reckon I’ve saved an actual sum of around £450 on gas. With ever increasing gas prices I reckon it’ll have paid for itself in around 12 to 15 years.
Contrast this to the other quotes I had from supplier-installers (all big name ones) which were all in the region of £12k and did not all include a new cylinder either, and I reckon the key to solar water paying for itself isa to shop around very very carefully (It took me over a year to find and agree to the purchase and I must have had at least 12 quotes from 12 different companies).

Solar PV is something I would like, but I don’t now have enough roof space left to have a system that would generate any more than 2Kw peak, and 3 local suppliers / installers have said that in their opinion that is not a big enough system to be worth the initial outlay (don’t know if you;d agree Chris?), so I’m leaving that one, at least for now.

John says:
19 August 2011

I don’t need a so called expert to tell me what needs doing to my house – in an ideal world.

I already know that I have a very thick blanket of loft insulation – so that is ok. I know that I need double glazing, but that is very costly and so is being installed as and when windows need replacing anyway. I know that I can’t have cavity wall insulation because I have solid stone walls. An expert would say have solid wall insulation but who wants to reduce their room sizes, have loads of disruption and have to redecorate the whole house!! The external option would be expensive, spoil the look of the house and probably not be allowed in my conservation area.

I also know I could do with a more efficient boiler, but mine works and until it fails why spend thousands on a new one? I also know I should have more energy efficient light bulbs, but they look awful in some of my light fittings, are dingy and don’t work with dimmer switches (of which I have lot).

So, what can these experts tell me???


Clearly these experts won’t be able to tell you very much at all.
That is other than you are going to be having some rather large energy bills in the future.
The choices are yours.
Adapt to a future where the cost of staying warm and in the light remain affordable or hang on to an attitude of “I don’t like the look of my insulated home” “I won’t change my light fittings or look for low energy bulbs to fit the ones I have” “I won’t have better windows, even though sympathetic period designs are now available” and “I won’t get a new boiler even though 50% of the expensive energy I buy goes up the flue”
A couple more years of energy price increases like we’ve been seeing recently might make you think again.
But like I said the choice is yours, no one is forcing anything on you (except perhaps the low energy lighting with the outlawing of the old bulbs)


John & Chris – The boiler matter concerns me: the latest Which? magazine arrived today and after a cursory glance at it it would appear that Which? are now also issuing the advice that BBC’s “You and Yours” and “Moneybox” issued over three years ago and keep repeating: If you have a working old boiler you will never ever recoup the cost of replacing it in the expected lifetime of a new model. John’s attitude seems to suggest he’s heard the same; Chris’ response is diametrically opposed/ Could either of you add any more to explain your views please?
My own plumber tells me that replacing my 31 year old boiler (which according to http://www.homeheatingguide.co.uk/efficiency-tables.php?make=Glow-worm has a 79% efficiency rating) would cost me about triple what I could expect to save by having a new one, unles sthe new one lasted at least 20 years. I heard on “You an yours” about 15 months ago that new boilers have a manufacturers’ expected life span of 8 years. The latesr Which? magazine states 12 years for this. EIther way the chances of me getting 20 years out of one seem quite low. Chris – can you offer any further info on this at all – I’d be very interested as it sounds as thoughI am in a similar boiler situation to John.
As for CFL’s and cavity (or solid) wall insulation, I am using a lot of CFL’s but hey don’t last very long compared to either the 1980’s “jam jar” energy savers or traditional incandescent light bulbs – at present I am far from convinced that the saving in electricity outweighs the cost of frequent replacements. I am hoping for much greater availability of LED bulbs very soon as I believe that these should offer a better solution.
My cavity walls are not insulated and three CWI’s who have been to quote have told me that they are unsuitable and that I will have terrible damp problems if I have CWI. I accept that this means I may pay more for my heating than with CWI, but my buildings maintenance costs are lower than with damp everywhere.
Incidentally, my neighbours have a new combi boiler that is SEDBUK “B” and in the last winter months they paid almost £700 for gas from the same supplier (and as far as I know the same tariff) as me whilst I paid a little under £400. I know very well that we cannot compare the two homes without knowing a great deal more about far too many variables to make it practicable, but it doesn’t inspire me to rush out and buy a new boiler I must say.
This is why I think Kelly’s intro is so important: every single home is different and every single occupier is different: advice that suits one (or even one-thousand) properties still doesn’t suit 100%: we do need access to impartial and professional advice.

Bryan says:
19 August 2011

I agree with the 3 comments already stated. Somewhere to go for impartial advice based on my circumstances would be welcomed.
At present I am being cold-called for Thermal Wall Coverings as I have solid brick walls.Does such covering help with insulation. Similarly, internal Thermal Paint. Has any one out there had experience.
How about Which doing a test?

Steamdrivenandy says:
20 August 2011


Have a look at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/propertyadvice/8688869/Does-insulation-paint-make-any-difference.html.

Jeff Howell has been writing a property advice column in the Sunday Telegraph for years and years and gives out excellent advice and tries to debunk a lot of these government schemes that are just ways for large businesses to make shedloads of money with abysmal surveying and work standards.


If you take notice of Jeff Howels you’ll live in a very very well ventilated home which will still be standing in 500 years time but you’ll pay a massive energy bill.
Admittedly some of his advice is text book but he has this obssesion that insulation is inherently a bad thing. He also automatically dismisses any government initiative to improve the lot of the average home owner, claiming profiteering etc etc.
The difficult part is that some of his advice is sound but his obssession means some is going to cost you a lot of money.
Overall I wouldn’t call it excellent advice and I’d recommend getting a second and even a third opinion.
And if you buy his book who’s profiteering then?


I’ve never read Jeff’s column in my life before I followed that link, but I must admit that I can see why his advice is attractive, even if not 100% the best advice there is.

For me, as an ex-schoolteacher (still working in education) I eye all government sponsored / supported / endorsed schemes – for anything at all – with great suspicion because I remember the “Laptops for teachers” scheme. Under that scheme, as readers may very well know, the Government wanted every school teacher to have their own laptop computer. To help them on the way there were government grants available towards the cost.

The catch was that in order to get the grant you first of all had to buy a laptop from a moderately restricted range and it had to come from a VERY VERY restricted number of suppliers. The range of laptops included all of the ones that IT professionals and all the Computer magazines and so on rated as the most over-priced and least reliable. The suppliers (most of whom long since went bankrupt or were taken over by rival companies) were the ones who were constantly being taken to Trading Standards for sharp practice or who were being slated for poor service in reviews.

The bottom line was that if you went to a reputable shop and bought a popular and recommended model of laptop, you could buy it cash for less than you’d have had to pay to “top up” the grant against even the cheapest model available under the scheme.

As far as I can tell, most other government schemes for things like boilers, insulation, solar energy, etc., appear to have more than a slight whiff of the “Laptops for teachers” about them, and with the best will in the world and as someone who has taken many many energy efficiency measures and would love to take more if I knew they were worth it, it makes me very doubtful about all these ideas.

This again backs my point made in 3 other posts on this board already that the critical issue is the IMPARTIAL and PROFESSIONAL advice.

BobP says:
19 August 2011

I must agree with the above letters as who wants someone trying to explain what is needed in your home , O.K.they may be beneficial to a certain extent but at what cost to the householder & is it an affordable solution . We Have had cavity wall insulation done to the walls but how do we know that it completely filled every bit of the cavity as when we had double glazing fitted & the old frames pulled out it was not as tightly packed to the frames as I had expected so that was to my mind not perfect . About18 months after having the windows fitted a salesman called to ask if I was satisfied with my windows !! WHY ? answer they might not be very good at keeping in the warmth / cold out or perhaps you are getting condensation along the bottom of the windows . Well if there was a problem I would have had the people back to put it right . We can supply you with a more superior glass than you probably have had fitted .So do you think I have money to burn as this is almost new windows so do you think that I will have them ripped out & have yours fitted only to find after an enormously high cost they are out of date in another 18 month time , also needing replacement . We have a gas Baxi boiler fitted behind a gas fire that was originally fitted when the property belonged to my mother some 20 years ago on bottle gas then changed to Mains gas when it came to the roadway , the only thing touch wood that has been needed in that time has been about four thermal couplings , my plumber said I could not have another behind the fire adjacent to the airing cupboard fitted again as now they have mostly got to be of a condensing type but most of all fitted to an outside wall . WHERE as there is nowhere that is suitable & cannot get the piping to the hot tank as it is a bungalow with solid floors & of course they have only a life of about 10 years . Yes bring it on but only if you give it to me because I do not want or need it , why fix it if it is not broken just because it uses less gas , My gas bill would not be around £3,000 plus in the next 10 years . Conclusion if I do everything needed to run an green home it will take all our savings never to get in front of the cost causing the items thrown away making the green reasons to go ahead with it all complete rubbish . It will never be done !!.