Heating and insulation

The United for Warm Homes campaign is all about uniting communities and putting pressure on the government to fix the energy crisis. Thankfully, solutions like insulation are an easy win and will help slash bills for struggling households. Find out about insulation and what the government should do to help insulate every home.

12 Sep 2022

The UK has some of the coldest and costliest homes to heat in Europe. Draughty homes waste energy and money. They’re also bad for the planet – 80% of our homes are run on climate-wrecking gas, and a fifth of the UK’s climate emissions come from heating our homes and buildings.  

It's clear we need a new approach to heating our homes – one that doesn’t cost us the earth. Thankfully, there are solutions. Measures like installing insulation could help reduce our bills up to 20% and keep our homes warmer. 

What’s insulation and how will it lower our bills?

Insulation helps reduce the heat your home loses when it’s cold outside.  It’s the cheapest and quickest way to permanently lower all of our bills because it helps trap warmth inside and so reduces the amount of energy we need in the first place. But because of the upfront cost, or our housing situation, many of us can’t make the necessary changes on our own.

Two colleagues installing wall insulation on a building site
People installing wall insulation sturti via Getty Images

It’s critical the government starts investing in insulation now to prevent devastating choices over the coming months and years. There are approximately 8 million homes in the UK in need of loft or cavity wall insulation, or both. Each of these measures is estimated to save approximately 20% on household energy bills. A home that undergoes both upgrades could save around 40%. With average household bills soaring into the thousands, that’s a serious saving!

What are we calling for?

United for Warm Homes is calling for emergency programmes of insulation and energy saving measures, funded by the UK government. Different approaches might be needed in different nations, but in England this should be council-led and delivered street-by-street. By starting in neighbourhoods most affected by fuel poverty we can help as many people as possible stay warm this winter. Measures should include:

  • loft and cavity wall insulation 
  • draught-proofing 
  • thermostatic radiator valves 
  • smart heating controls and 
  • energy audits, to help determine which improvements would be best for which homes.

Upgrading our homes would help everyone to live in a warm, comfortable home that doesn’t cost the earth. But for more than a decade, the government has failed to get a grip of the problem.  

As bills soar and millions face hardship, it’s time to unite and show the government that the public demands better. Will you and your group work with your local community and demand the government insulates your neighbourhood and neighbourhoods across the country from high bills and cold homes?

 

FAQs

In England and Wales there are 4.83 million homes that would benefit from loft insulation and 4.43 million homes that could be fitted with cavity wall insulation. This is equal to approximately 18% of homes, and based on analysing the Energy Performances Certificates Database. 

Analysis of the numbers of homes needing this basic insulation in each local authority area can be downloaded on Friends of the Earth's Policy site. 

Similar data isn't available for Northern Ireland. The latest data on Northern Ireland is from the 2016 Housing Condition survey, and found 98% of homes had loft insulation but only 54% with an adequate quantity. Only 65% of homes that could have cavity wall insulation had it. 

The immediate focus during the energy crisis should be to roll out basic insulation rapidly to the homes that need it. But by 2030, we need all homes to achieve a good standard of insulation – EPC C (Energy Performance Certificate C). This will require most homes to have some form of solid wall insulation, either internally or externally, which is a much more expensive measure than cavity wall and loft insulation. 

Some types of insulation can't be fitted to certain types of homes. These are often referred to as "hard-to-treat homes", and instead these will need to be heated using higher-powered eco-heating options such as high-temperature heat pumps.  

Check the proportion of homes that are well insulated in your local authority by visiting the Near You data tool.

United for Warm Homes is calling for the UK government to fund councils to coordinate street-by-street energy efficiency programmes.  

In practice, this means every home in a particular street is offered free loft and cavity wall insulation and help with draught-proofing if they need it, and every home is also offered an energy audit with advice on what else they could do to reduce energy use.

It takes two professionals less than one day to fit loft and cavity wall insulation on one home. A team can fit multiple homes in one day, and multiple teams could start in different streets. Once one street is done, the workers move to the next street and so on, until at least all neighbourhoods most at risk are covered.   

A significant advantage of street-by-street programmes is that costs are a lot lower (eg, less need for workers to travel between jobs, bulk purchasing, etc) and household participation is higher. 

We don’t have a precise cost for a national programme of insulation covering basic measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation. This is because there are a lot of variables and slightly different approaches will be needed in each of the UK’s 4 nations. However, we estimate the cost for England and Wales to be around £15 billion, which would be spread over the time period needed to roll it out. 

Right now, many people don’t have the upfront cash to pay for measures that’ll likely save them money over the next few years. We’re therefore calling for this programme of basic measures to be paid for by the government, but channelled through councils. We’re also suggesting avoiding means testing for the programme as this’ll just add extra bureaucracy and slow things down, and may also discourage some low-income homes from participating.

It depends on the measures installed and the cost of energy. But even basic measures can save people significant money. Loft or cavity wall insulation, for example, will each save a household around 20% on its bills and pay for themselves in a few years. With energy costs currently so high, even expensive measures such as installing solar panels may pay themselves back within a handful of years. The Energy Saving Trust has useful content and price estimates for different measures, including estimated cost savings.

There are limits on what renters or leasehold owners can do without permission, but the first step is to speak to the landlord or leaseholder.

Rented accommodation must have a minimum level of insulation, but the standard is incredibly low (EPC E or above). The landlord must have an EPC for the property and should let the tenants know the EPC rating when they rent the property.

The council has a duty to police these standards, so if the property is particularly poor then tenants can contact them. Most councils don’t proactively regulate, but councils such as Liverpool are an exception and show what can be done.  

Most homes that’ll be lived in are already built, which is why United for Warm Homes is primarily concerned with improving existing homes. Standards for new homes will increase by 2025, but many people have been calling for this date to be brought forward, and for local councils to be able to require better homes. Some councils are already doing good work in this area, for example Reading and York