Rural Housing Week: Warmer Homes, energy efficiency and fuel poverty
The Connexus Warmer Homes project is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Taking place from 6th to 10th July 2020, Rural Housing Week is the National Housing Federation’s annual celebration of rural housing and the vital role it plays in helping to sustain thriving rural communities and services. We’re taking the opportunity to take a close look at our Warmer Homes project: a groundbreaking investment to improve the energy efficiency of 132 of our properties across Herefordshire and Shropshire. Warmer Homes is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which is contributing £1m to this £2.6m project.
The Warmer Homes project arrives amidst the growing spectre of fuel poverty, an issue likely to be exacerbated by the Coronavirus crisis. Fuel poverty is defined by the government as being when a household’s fuel costs are above the national average, pushing the household income below the official poverty line. While undoubtedly a national issue, the effects of fuel poverty are felt acutely in rural areas. Indeed, while the UK average fuel poverty level is 10.8% of households, the levels of fuel poverty in Herefordshire (12.9%) and Shropshire (12.3%) are considerably worse. Older, less energy-efficient properties in rural areas are a significant factor behind these figures.
As well as considering the short-term impact on fuel poverty, the Warmer Homes project looks to the future by examining how Connexus can make the right investments in our properties to reach UK targets on energy efficiency and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This 30-year investment plan will result in benefits to customers – providing more comfortable homes with lower energy bills – and opportunities for area regeneration and the local supply chain. And all while contributing to the UK Government’s aim of reducing the country’s net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050.
The Warmer Homes project sees Connexus working with eco-design experts Enhabit to consider if the pathway to net-zero energy home is best achieved through an innovative Passivhaus (passive house) approach. Passivhaus adopts an airtightness, ventilation and insulation strategy to ensure energy efficiency. In practice this means that 32 of our houses (plus some additional flats) in Herefordshire and 80 homes in Shropshire will be fitted with high-quality external wall insulation, limiting heat loss and helping the home to be more comfortable to live in. Effectively insulating a home while ensuring proper ventilation also limits the effects of condensation and damp, which can be an all-too-common concern in rural homes.
The 80 homes in Shropshire that are part of the Warmer Homes project will also have their heating systems replaced, in line with the Connexus commitment to removing solid fuel heating systems and continuing the Government’s approach to reducing carbon emissions through electric heating systems and heat pumps. While the project is still at the design stage, these homes will likely receive smart and controllable, highly efficient Quantum electric storage heaters that use low-cost, off-peak energy. This may be supplemented with the addition of solar energy panels to the roof.
Informing our future investments in energy-efficient homes is fundamental to the Warmer Homes project, and so our partners at the Marches Energy Agency have installed data loggers in 65 homes. These will monitor energy use before and after any works carried out and, coupled with periodic tenant surveys, will give us a clear understanding of what has worked best for our customers.
The financial strain placed on lower-income rural households by ever-rising fuel costs is likely to be increased further by the Coronavirus crisis and subsequent economic uncertainty. Some might worry that this uncertainty could slow investment in innovative, eco-friendly design. But the Warmer Homes project is already showing that comfortable, efficient homes can be both the short-term solution and the long-term future for affordable rural housing. A solution that works for Connexus, the environment and our tenants.
This subject of this article also appeared in the Shropshire Star 30/07/20.