Fixing the “leaky walls” of homes in England is the biggest challenge in improving energy efficiency, with “radical steps” needed to help those least able to pay to insulate their properties, a leading think-tank has warned.
Four in 10, or 9m, homes have walls rated as poor or very poor, while a fifth have inefficient roofs, according to a report by the Resolution Foundation published on Monday. The problem was worst in large cities, and about two-thirds of all homes in London had “poor quality walls,” the study found.
It estimated it would cost an average of £8,000 to fit a three-bedroom, semi-detached property with solid wall insulation.
“Previous approaches such as cheap loans have failed to deliver improvements at scale, and the biggest barrier to energy-efficient homes has been largely ignored: our leaky walls,” said Jonny Marshall, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation.
Britain has some of the oldest and most energy-inefficient housing stock in Europe, making buildings hot in the summer and cold in winter. Researchers have stepped up calls this year for greater investment in efficiency measures to help keep down gas and electricity bills as the cost of energy has soared.
Properly insulating the UK’s 29mn homes would also reduce the carbon emissions from gas-fired heating systems, a step scientists have said is essential if the UK is to meet its target of net zero by 2050.
“England’s homes have as large a carbon footprint as our petrol and diesel-powered cars,” said Marshall. The government must find a way to tackle the problem “without leaving poorer households behind or burdening them with unaffordable costs”.
The non-profit group Friends of the Earth is urging the government to launch a free “street-by-street” insulation programme in England.
In November, chancellor Jeremy Hunt, pledged £6bn of capital spending on an insulation programme for the three years from 2025.
But the Resolution Foundation said the plans for homes in England “must step up a gear” and focus on improving leaky walls rather than on “easier” options such as lofts and windows.
The government “must adopt tougher, more radical solutions than those tried in the past, or currently being proposed”, the think-tank said.
That should include means-tested and targeted financial help for those least able to pay, and a requirement for all homes to meet a certain level of energy efficiency by 2035, the report recommended.
For example, if the government paid for households with assets worth under £100,000 and incomes of less than £30,000, around a tenth would have all their home insulation costs covered by the state, it estimated.
Wealthier households could receive some support but the wealthiest should pay for home improvements themselves, the report said. The cost of improvements could be added to existing mortgage agreements or house price negotiations, it suggested.
The government said that it was investing £6.6bn during this parliament to make buildings more energy efficient because it was “the best long-term method of tackling fuel poverty”. It added that it had committed a further £6bn in spending in last month’s Autumn Statement.
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