Fabric-first building a solution to improved property energy efficiency and reduced fuel poverty

by Francesca

Paul Simpson, Commercial Director at Recticel Insulation

The cost-of-living crisis has forced households in the UK and Europe to adopt new domestic habits that prior to 2022 would have seemed extremely improbable. With spiraling gas and electricity bills playing a significant part in the ongoing financial woes, where once home heating systems blazed away for many hours of the day, boilers and other mechanical appliances are becoming a last line of defense against the cold for cash-strapped residents. 

Families up and down the country are turning to hot water bottles, draught excluders, electric blankets – and in extreme cases wearing outdoors clothes indoors, before daring to turn on the heating. Whilst a grin and bear it attitude to the enduring thermostat-phobia may stand us in good stead as we pray for spring’s early arrival, it’s no smiling matter for those less fortunate. Indeed, it’s feared that strict abstinence from domestic energy usage during the year’s coldest months will cost lives – particularly among the elderly. As was tragically the case in January, when the death of an 87-year-old woman from Bury made the news headlines. The pensioner died of hypothermia as a result of not being able to afford her heating bill. Sadly, it’s likely there will be reports of deaths in similar circumstances before winter’s end.

Office for National Statistics records show UK gas prices rose by a record 128.9% in the 12 months leading to December 2022. As a consequence, fuel poverty has also risen. UK charity, National Energy Action, estimates that 6.7million households are unable to afford heating, compared to the 4.5million thought to be fuel-poor in October 2021. It’s led to many impoverished UK communities facing the most distressing of binary dilemmas: do we heat or eat?

Global events, such as the Russia/Ukraine war, are reportedly the main trigger for the current energy crisis. However, in terms of the sky-high bills it’s resulted in, UK residents are also paying a price for the country’s energy deficient housing stock. A report by independent climate change think tank,  E3G, found that two-thirds of rented properties were below the minimum ‘C’ rating for energy efficiency. According to the report, bringing these dwellings up to the minimum standard would save bill payers about £570 a year. In an interview with the Guardian website, Colm Britchfield, policy adviser at E3G, called the poor state of rented homes a ‘national scandal’. I cannot contradict his summation of this desperate situation.

Part L embraces fabric-first approach

The amendments to Part L of the Building Regulations, which came into force in June 2022, are a move in the right direction to achieving better-built, energy-proficient properties. The new legislation puts a focus on improving the fabric energy efficiency of new-homes, with the overall aim to reduce their carbon output by 31%. Crucially, the updated regulations include a tightening of standards for already-built homes in relation to extensions, replacements and repairs.

As a supplier of insulation products which are proven to create energy-smart, healthy comfortable homes, Recticel Insulation has been a long-term advocate for a fabric-first approach to house building. About 35% of a home’s heat loss is through its walls, whilst roofs account for an estimated 25% of domestic energy escape. It stands to reason, therefore, that prioritising the design and composition of these key building elements is the most effective and sustainable route to delivering thermally-assured properties.

It may have a taken a while, but the construction industry would appear to be on the threshold of fully-embracing the benefits of fabric-first design and build, thanks to the latest Part L amendments. It bodes well for the quality of our future built environment, as well as the population’s health and prosperity. Because whatever the country’s cost-of-living situation in years to come, a significant increase in the availability of well-designed, well-insulated homes should significantly reduce the number of households currently struggling for an answer to the ‘heat or eat?’ question.

Find out your building’s elemental thermal performance via our U-value calculator.

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