Piper extolls the benefits of insulation - but as a renter, energy efficiency can be tough

By Piper Terrett

Last year I blogged about our search for a new energy efficient home. We were keen to find somewhere with more space that wouldn’t cost a fortune to heat.  Average energy bills have jumped by around 20 per cent this year. So being energy efficient is a financial priority. Who wants to spend a fortune on heat just to have it disappear through un-insulated walls and windows?

2011 was a crazy year. We got married in July (it only took us nine years…) and I’ve just brought out my first crime novel* which was exciting.  Eventually, though, after six months we were very fortunate to sell our house in Essex. But because we couldn’t find anywhere to purchase we had to rent.

In our old house – which featured on BBC Breakfast TV in September – we’d installed double-glazing, cavity wall and loft insulation. Now we’re renting again, we realising what life can be like when you don’t own your home. As a tenant, you’re dependent on your landlord making the property as energy efficient as possible and you can’t always pick the most efficient home to rent. We are living in Hertford now and we had the choice of only two houses to rent.

The home we’re in is a lovely three bedroom semi-detached property with wooden floors in some rooms. However, we’ve noticed it doesn’t retain heat as well as our last house and suspect its solid wall built. As there’s a render on the walls we haven’t been able to determine this for sure. Solid walls don’t have cavities and can only be insulated on the inside or externally but this can cost £5,000-£8,000.

There’s a loft extension which is always warmer than the rest of the house. The rooms with wooden floorboards as opposed to carpet are particularly cold and there are many more windows in this house, albeit double-glazed.

On the bright side, we have a modern combi boiler which is likely to be more efficient than our old back-boiler. However, we also have an electric cooker. So we’re anxiously awaiting our first bills to see how much energy we’re using and how much it will cost us. As tenants there are some things we can do to save energy. We can turn the thermostat down, keep the heating on a timer and make sure we’re wearing woolly clothing before we put the heating on. Plus we could install low-cost draught-proofing around the home, such as thicker curtains around the windows and draught-excluders around doors. 

However, any major measures are up to the landlord to carry out and it’s not in the tenant’s power to ensure they do so.  Currently landlords can claim up to £1,500 against tax for energy efficiency measures they install in each property they let out through the Landlord’s Energy Saving Allowance or LESA, but many people are feeling the pinch and may not have the available cash to do so.

This experience has certainly highlighted to me the challenge of getting our private and socially rented housing stock up to scratch in terms of energy efficiency – especially in these difficult times. I hope the Green Deal may solve some of these issues, but we’ll have to wait and see.

*For those with an equal passion for crime fiction as green issues, you can snap up Piper’s literary work here