Analysis: why, how and when should you sort out the energy efficiency of your home?

By Asit Kumar Mishra, Paul Moran and Orlaith McGinley, NUI Galway

Ireland currently has around 1.7 million occupied homes. Housing a population of over five million, these homes consume about a quarter of the energy used in Ireland, as well as being responsible for 29% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), Irish homes account for more emissions than the industrial sector. The average floor area of Irish homes is larger than in other EU member states and the emissions attributable to our homes in Ireland are about 58% more than the average EU home.

Why you should retrofit your house

Considering these figures, reducing energy use and emissions from the residential sector feature prominently in the Government's Climate Action Plan, as well as having been targeted in the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan. The EU's energy performance of buildings directive obliges all member states to provide building energy rating (BER) systems.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Brendan O'Connor Show, quantity surveyor Patricia Power explains the dos and don'ts of retrofitting your house

Irish homes are assigned a BER based on their estimated energy performance, on a scale ranging from A (most energy efficient) to G. The BER provides a quantifiable measure for owners, financiers, buyers and occupants to take home energy performance (and added long-term value) into consideration. The Climate Action Plan has. target to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030 to a BER of B2 or better as a necessary step towards reducing emissions and transitioning away from fossil fuels

But energy and emissions are not the only aspects which retrofitting is trying to address. Currently, it is estimated that one in three children in Europe may be living in homes with unhealthy indoor air. Retrofits can ensure warmer, healthier, and more comfortable homes, in addition to lower energy bills and reduced emissions.

How to retrofit your home

Since reduction in energy usage is the goal, it is important to understand where we can make the difference. About 60% of the energy in homes is used for heating to keep things warm and comfortable, so a substantial difference can be made by reducing the amount of energy required to keep homes warm and moving towards using non-fossil fuel-based energy for the purpose.

How much heat a home loses through different avenues. Image: https://www.nsai.ie/about/news/publication-of-sr-542014-code-of-practice/

In a typical home, most of the heat is lost through walls and roof, so that is often the first focus of an energy retrofit: improve the insulation of walls, roof, and floor; upgrade windows and weather strip the doors and windows. The next step is replacing fossil fuel-based heating systems with more efficient heating systems, the preference being heat pumps.

The biggest obstacle? Cost

The average cost of upgrading a home from a BER of F to a BER of A3 is just over €60,000. In February 2022, the government announced a package intended to focus on driving demand for retrofits and capacity for retrofits. An investment of €8 billion is planned over the next eight years to scale up the supply chain for energy retrofits. Grants for deep retrofits have been increased from 35% to 50%. Free energy upgrades available for families at risk of energy poverty have been increased to 400 a month. Grants for attic and cavity wall insulations have been increased to 80%.

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From RTÉ One News, Government has approved plans to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030

An important initiative in addition to the grants is the One Stop Shop approach towards home energy upgrades. The intention is to ease the co-ordination of the process for the homeowners, by providing a convenient, start-to-finish service. This model can play a vital role in improving the scale of retrofit adoption, as well as the whole retrofit experience for homeowners, and can bring a step-change in the number of homes receiving a deep energy retrofit annually.

When is the right time for a retrofit?

By 2026, we must retrofit 75,000 homes every year to meet the target set for 2030. This is a steep rise from the figure of 4,000 homes that were deep energy retrofitted in 2020. This means the sooner we spring into action, the better chances we will have.

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From RTÉ Six One news, concerns about the quality of retrofitting work have been expressed to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action committee

But even with the grants, it's a significant demand on homeowners. They need to make up-front investments and the retrofit work is a disruption to their life. There is a need for the kind of facilitation that One Stop Shops can provide. There also needs to be a sharp rise in the number of people qualified to undertake these jobs, which will require extensive training.

The next few years are going to be critical for the national retrofit scheme. It can help to demonstrate to the relevant stakeholders that there are wider benefits from retrofits, exceeding the energy and emission goals. Increased property values, alleviated energy poverty, improved comfort, and wellbeing in homes, and aiding the national climate action plan are a few of the co-benefits that can be highlighted. The proverbial "when" is right now.

Dr Asit Kumar Mishra is a Postdoctoral researcher in the Sustainable & Resilient Structures Research Group of the School of Science and Engineering at NUI Galway. Dr Paul Moran is an Energy Systems Engineer who is currently working as a Postdoctoral Researcher at NUI Galway. Orlaith McGinley is a PhD student at MaREI at NUI Galway.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ