Is the Green Deal going to be straight forward?

  • Building Design Expert
  • 5 years ago

On face value the principle of the Green Deal is quite simple and transparent. But just scratch of the surface to reveal some hidden fossils that will be sure to make that smooth facade just a little lumpy.

With very good reason the greatest concern with the Green Deal lies with the differential between the expectation on uptake, and what will happen in practice. I say ‘good reason’ because there have been a raft of recent schemes offered through our energy companies, albethey of somewhat limited content, mainly including the ‘Free’ installation of roof and cavity wall insulation. The energy providers fought long and hard, with limited sucess, to give this away to an ambivalent public, so why does the DECC consider that the Green Deal is going to be so much more successful when they are asking the consumer to pay?

At the heart of the proposal is a very comprehensive offering that extends to provision and installation of new boilers, heat pumps and solar collectors, which, in addition to the previously offered insulation products, makes for a very comprehensive offering. I am sure the department’s feeling is that they have made a very valiant attempt at covering all bases. The full list of 45 Green Deal measures being offered for both domestic and non domestic properties can be downloaded here.

Lets take a step back to last year when the energy companies were trying their utmost to meet their obligations under the government initiative. They needed to spend the money to carry out the installation of insulation to stem the haemorrhaging of heat via our roofs and walls. The principle was water tight – Increase building insulation to reduce energy use. No argument there. The entire process has however stored up significant potential for problems, purely because it seems no one had considered the effect of dramatically increasing a building’s level of insulation.

I visited a friend’s house who had just given their loft over for a free insulation make-over by their corporate energy provider. I say corporate to underline the fact that certainly, in this instance, big is not beautiful, and the knowledge level of this multi-national organisation did not extend to the provision of essential cold roof ventilation. They might respond by stating that such work is the responsibility of the home owner and cannot be included as part of the free installation. Fair point, until you realise that the home owner does not have the first idea that they require their cold loft space to be effectively ventilated. Back to the energy company – “Not my problem guv.” and they are right, once they have gone it will be the hapless home owner dealing with the consequences brought about by the gradual build up from a greater concentration of condensation. This of course is brought about by the increased insulation producing a warmer internal environment, supporting a greater level of moisture laden air which is ultimately released  once the ‘dew point‘  has been reached – Building Physics.

So does the Green Deal give these companies a passport with a more wide ranging visa to do more of the same? With regard to insulation systems I will admit that I am not expecting much. The old mantra of ‘insulate tight – ventilate right’ is well known by certain industry bodies and manufacturers of associated products, but at the very least this information needs to be put into the public domain as part of some concise and well written literature pack accompanying the Green Deal. This I have yet to see, so can only hope that such guidance notes are in hand. – Not holding my breath.

The Green Deal has the potential to make the greatest impact on energy conservation possibly the world has ever seen. It is due to go live, on a soft launch without fanfare, on 1 October 2012. It will provide the opportunity for home and commercial building owners to opt for measures ranging from ‘draft proofing’ to ‘district heating’; from ‘secondary glazing’ to ‘solar water heating’. Most of these measures should be fully effective on their own, although adequate and proper ventilation will, and should always be an influencing factor.

It is true to say that of the measures on offer, a number will be subject to intervention under the Town and Country Planning Act. Although recent legislation has relieved the need to obtain consent for ground source heat pumps (GSHP) for example, there will still be instances where the only possible site for such a unit is one that requires input from our beloved planners.

External wall insulation (that is insulation on the outside face of the external wall) is another option that has been in the news recently. Insulating in this manner is highly effective. It allows the thermal mass of the masonry wall to store up heat, but rather than give it up to the outside air, an effective insulation shell allows the majority of heat to be released back into the building. The big planning ‘But’ is that as legislation currently stands this external treatment may be frowned upon by the planners, particularly in conservation areas. There is also the technical aspect of getting the design in tune with the building design, as there are very likely to be design issues relating to cold bridging around openings. At eaves level, as well as exacerbating a cold bridge, external insulation may well take out an eaves overhang, assuming there is room, or require total eaves extension / reconstruction. So more potential planning implications, and just maybe a (cold) bridge too far for most.

For the most part the Green Deal will make our internal environments more tolerable during weather extremes. If we can be sure that will not cost any more money than we are paying to our energy companies now, and that installations will be meticulously managed, then this gravy train is one we should all take a spoon to. But there remain too many unknowns. Too many lets just see what the rest do. The expectation is that take up will be slow, but will gradually gather momentum. But if the Green Deal loans acquire the same stigma that has become firmly attached to loans taken out to fund Photo-voltaic panel installations under FiT, it may just fall flat on its face. The government will then be faced with filling sand bags with twenty pound notes to stem the rising tide of public concern.

Is the Green Deal going to be straight forward? Not a chance.