Part 1 The Insulation Challenge
Heating buildings consumes a lot of energy in North East Scotland. The most recent published data for Scotland for the year 2018 show that domestic heating is a large contributor to Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. It makes up 6.2 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) out of 41.6 MtCO2e, or 15% of Scotland’s overall emissions.
With a Scottish target of net zero emissions by 2045, household energy use for domestic heating will need to fall very significantly. We need to think how that might be done. There are two main ways to squeeze down the domestic heating component of your household’s greenhouse gas emissions. First, you can improve the insulation in your house and so require less heat to get the living space to the temperature you want. Second, you can think about changing your heating system to something new that reduces emissions. In the drive to reduce the emissions from domestic heating, I suspect both will be needed.
There is already quite a lot of guidance from groups like SCARF (https://www.scarf.org.uk/) and Home Energy Scotland (https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/scotland/home-energy-scotland) . They have trained advisers who will do a detailed energy audit of your home, which will look, among other things at your domestic heating system and its contribution.
It is argued that it is almost always more cost effective to improve insulation than to change your heating system to a renewable source, so better insulation and draught-proofing should always be the first consideration. Improved thermal performance is hugely more challenging to deal with older granite and other natural stone building which comprise a fair proportion of the housing stock in rural Aberdeenshire. The various support agencies describe the older stone houses as “hard to heat, hard to treat”. Many older homes still have lath and plaster rather than plasterboard and no cavity wall. The typical rural stone-built house also often has dormer windows and rather inaccessible roof spaces.
In recent book ”Thermal Insulation Materials for Building Applications” by Latif and others (2019) they conclude (page 174) that “ the scientific principles, regulations and standards that have evolved over the last 30 years have been driven by manufacturers to validate the production of synthetic insulation materials rather than being focussed on how to make houses more thermally efficient.” That is a pretty damning verdict, so, what do we do? If new funds for Covid Recovery strategies are made available for home insulation as seems likely, how do we dodge the cowboys and find the people who can really help us?
There is work going on in North East Scotland particularly at RGU, looking at how best to improve insulation on typical older Aberdeenshire homes. Beyond the basics of better draught-proofing, loft insulation and double glazing and replacing those old cast iron roof windows with Velux or similar, what should we do? Thermal imaging can help to pinpoint where heat loss is concentrated but you still need a skilled worker to apply the right technology to resolve the issue. My own intuition is that we should argue for a better trained workforce doing the job, we should raise the profile of the problem and try to link practice and research communities to think through and address the problems.
We had hoped in North East Climate Week to run an evening talk with Dave McGrath of Grampian Energy Services and reading Latif, Bevan and Woolley’s book has made me realise just how important it is to listen to those who are trying to bridge the gap between research and practice. Covid 19 shutdown denied us that opportunity but we will try to rearrange the talk for the autumn, if necessary with Zoom rather than face to face. Keep an eye open in the usual places for the invitation.
In the next blog I will turn my attention to how to generate renewable heat.
Latif, E., Bevan, R. and Woolley, T. (2019) Thermal Insulation materials for building applications, ICE publishing.