Irish government unveils insulation scheme

While our government prevaricates and even cancels our shovel ready Green Homes Insulation fund, the Australians and the Irish have announced ambitious plans of their own. The Irish Times reported today:

HOW TO cut heating bills, reduce carbon emissions and create thousands of jobs in the construction sector in the process? The Government, through its national insulation programme, has pointed the way. At a cost of €100 million in 2009, this investment in greater energy efficiency is worthwhile. It makes sense for the taxpayer and the householder. It is good for the environment and it provides a small but significant boost for the economy that is set to contract sharply this year. As Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan said in launching the initiative: “this insulation programme saves energy, saves money and creates jobs”.
The €100 million scheme will, it is expected, employ 4,000 people and benefit some 50,000 homes this year. It consists of two grant schemes, each receiving €50 million. Beneficiaries will be those in private middle- income and private low-income homes, including local authority houses. The country’s housing stock amounts to 1.7 million homes. One million of these houses, it is estimated, need some retrofitting to achieve energy savings. Although funding for the current scheme is not yet guaranteed for 2010, the economics of the insulation programme are compelling.

That sounds an awful lot like the insulation scheme the Greens won as part of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) negotiations, which would have been funded by the windfall profits of the SOE electricity generators as a result of the ETS. John Key can say all he wants to about it being unfunded, but that is simply not true. (audio link, post-cab)

I am pretty confident that when the government announces their infrastructure scheme tomorrow, it will contain something of a re-hashed and re-branded Green insulation scheme. The question is, will it be bold enough? As all governments have recognised, the economic benefits of warm healthy homes are irrefutable. The numbers stack up. So why is it so hard for the government to admit that they got it wrong?

17 Comments Posted

  1. Correct. Not only do you need good materials – some brain cells are needed in addition!!
    Usually, though, the chain of failure starts with the designer …

  2. ubus said:
    “you need low-e coated, gas filled double glazing with optimised edge spacers in a reasonably efficient frame”

    And then the builders spoil it all by specifying downlights that require 100mm (or is it 150mm) clearance all around them thus putting 1 foot diameter holes all through the ceiling insulation.


  3. About cost: think back to the times when cell phones were new to NZ. There were a luxury item – just as efficient windows are, currently. This changes with demand. The strongest lever for demand are mandatory requirements. Failing that, well crafted, large scale incentive programmes come second. Whichever way you look at it: it’s up to government to alter the cost of double glazing.

  4. Gerrit

    Frost is absolutely no determinant of whether an insulation standard (like double glazing) is required or not. Achievable interior surface temperatures in a given design climate, and associated comfort and health issues are. And in the case of windows: not only do you need double glazing north of the Bombays, you need low-e coated, gas filled double glazing with optimised edge spacers in a reasonably efficient frame to avoid thermal downdraught and condensation.

  5. I wasn’t very clear when I said “ceiling insulation or double glazing”. Since some houses can’t be fitted with ceiling insulation at a realistic price, I was suggesting that double glazing or underfloor insulation may be an alternative for a landlord with an older house.

    One way of double glazing an older home is magnetically-attached acrylic window panes. Another is to simply fit a second sliding set of windows in the same frame on the inside of the existing windows.


  6. jockmoron,

    Another issue to be confronted is the range of climate variations we have up and down the country.

    North of the Bombays (even Hamilton probably) the need for double glazing is non existent. We have maybe 2 frost per year, lowest average temperature about 10 degrees (not sure, just a guess).

    While no doubt the housing stock in Invercargill needs double glazing, the housing stock in Auckland does not.

    So a nationwide building standards needs to address local variations, hence the need for building regulations on a regional basis, not national.

    That is in regards housing insulation at least.

  7. Trevor,

    Yes , certainly ceiling insulation , but double glazing is very expensive. Ceiling and floor insulation and effective draught proofing are probably the most important, and would be affordable. To insist on wall insulation and double glazing would cost many thousands of dollars, and it is unlikely that many landlords would find this acceptable, or that in many older properties it would be worth it. Many privately rented older wooden buildings are on their last legs, if they are architecturally important, one could spend a hundred thousand dollars doing them up, otherwise they should be demolished, and an energy efficient home or homes erected instead. .

    However I would take issue with the new insulation requirements are “good enough for New Zealand”. If New Zealand’s climate is more benign than others then it actually makes it easier for us to achieve passive house standards than say in Germany or Denmark. We have used the excuse of our “benign” climate too long, it’s the reason that we haven’t not previously taken the matter seriously. If the present standards had been introduced say 25 years ago, I would have seen them as excellent, but times change, what was excellent 25 years ago no longer applies. Global warming, energy costs and the need to use renewable energy as efficiently as possible demands that we legislate for the best possible practice, not the mere “good enough”. It is just not true that passive houses are inordinately expensive, they are the best possible investment, with a risk free return after ten years or so, for the life of the building. There is no better investment.

  8. But now – finally – good insulation is mandatory in new houses, or at least good enough for most of New Zealand with short, relatively mild winters.

    The problem is our older housing stock, particularly rental properties. Should a minimum insulation standard be applied to rental properties – say ceiling insulation or double-glazing (both usually relatively easy to retrofit)?


  9. We own an old, cold house in Dunedin (bought for daughter with disability) which we work on when we can.

    Last winter we found a cheap double-glazing option through ECAN in Christchurch. It looks like gladwrap and you cut and stick it – fiddly but quite doable. We did the whole house – five rooms, two with bay windows and at least three double-hung sashes – for under $100. With that and a second-hand night-store heater she is much, much more comfortable,has fewer colds and coughs, the house is no longer damp (biggest problem) and her winter power bill was lower. We may have to replace the plastic every couple of years, though with care it may last longer, but it is really worth it. The difference is huge!

    We would love to insulate under the floor properly but it is impossible to get under the house unfortunately. However, it is carpeted.

    We have a friend who is a working single parent who has just moved into a house that has virtually no insulation – the Green insulation bill was a really valuable prospect for her and she was looking forward to making her house drier, wamer and more economical. Looks like she’ll miss out and she won’t be able to afford to do it herself.

    Our own (newly self-built) house has very good underfloor and ceiling insulation and curtains. It is cool in summer, warm in winter – we very rarely use a heater at all.

    Good insulation is not a luxury, it should be mandatory in new houses and retrofitted in older ones for health and energy reasons.

  10. Jockmoron

    Complete agreement with everything you said, except perhaps re heat pumps, as long as there is no effective mechanism to certify that stated COPs are actually achieved in NZ conditions.
    Making Passive House standard mandatory is just what the European Parliament did, recently. From 2011 on, all new residential buildings have to achieve PH standard in the European Union.
    Achieving PH standard was expensive 15 years ago in Europe as well. As with everything else, economies of scale brought additional costs down to almost naught by now. As you were mentioning double glazing: single glazing is actually MORE expensive than double glazing in central Europe these days.
    What greatly helped to bring prices down were successively improved mandatory standards. Of course there was the usual resistance each step of the way, and lobbyists arguing that the requirements are over the top and unaffordable. Guess what: non of this turned out to be true!
    In addition, a couple of public incentive programmes helped to gain required skill sets and certainty about the concept of Passive Houses. Passive Houses are by far the most extensively monitored and evaluated (containing technical, sociological, and economic aspects) building concept in the world.
    Passive House standard is the only way to achieve hygienic, comfortable indoor conditions while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions. As a fringe benefit, fuel poverty becomes a thing of the past with Passive Houses. And from a total cost of ownership perspective, they are already economical in NZ.

  11. I can’t think of a single reason not to insulate homes. New Zealand houses a cold, immigrants from the UK can’t understand why New Zealanders put up with such cold houses. I would suspect the majority of households in New Zealand inadequately heat their homes, the WHO recommends a minimum day temperature of 18 deg, and 20 deg if elderly or children. The AVERAGE winter daytime temp in NZ home is 16 deg. More that half the total housing stock is poorly insulated, and about 500,000 homes have no insulation at all. Rates of childhood respiratory illness, ear disease, eczema and skin infections and asthma, all associated with cold, damp homes, are far too high in NZ, and rates of rheumatic fever, a very serious illness in children that can cause fatal heart disease, are THIRD WORLD. It is a NATIONAL SCANDAL that New Zealand doesn’t take these matters seriously and has been failing to do so for many years. There is something quite perverse about NZ’s lack of understanding about these issues, and it is an appalling indictment on successive governments. The scheme to insulate homes had to be pushed by the Greens, Jeanette had to fight tooth and nail to get something accomplished that should have been done forty years ago.

    Of course too, there may well be some energy savings, but what tends to happen, at least with the modest levels of insulation that can be achieved with this inadequate level of expenditure, is that people can actually afford to heat their homes properly, so whilst the health of the populace will improve, it might not make as much energy savings as would initially be thought.

    A properly financed scheme would be looking at spending a minimum of $5,000 per house, ie at least a $2.5 billion expenditure. It would include 8″ loft insulation, wall insulation, underfloor insulation and effective draught-proofing and perhaps a heat pump. Double glazing should also be considered, but this would add as much cost again.

    And even now New Zealand just doesn’t get it. New housing insulation standards have just come in, fought against tooth and nail by the representatives of the building industry. Expect to see these standards watered down by this National Administration, sucking up to their political croneys. Yet these “new” standards read very similarly to Danish standards which I have read, which came in over FORTY years ago!! Despite Jeanette’s determination, she will know that the standards she has put her name to are only the best she could achieve, but are a long way from even adequate. We should now be legislating that ALL NEW HOMES TO BE BUILT TO PASSIVE HOUSE STANDARDS. Nothing less than this, in this day and age, with wealth diminishing and energy resources diminishing, is an adequate response to this crisis.

    But even if I live another twenty years, I doubt I’ll see this in my life time, and New Zealand will continue to languish in the bottom quarter of the OECD. New Zealand, the world’s only first world country with third world pretensions. 😉

  12. Artyone,

    Well, does that mean that in the olden days when people were working on the fields and had virtually no way of conditioning the indoors, all lived healthy, long lives? People need to be insulated from the outdoors, when conditions in the outdoors are not conducive to their health. WHO has defined the range of climate conditions that – if humans are exposed to them over longer terms – lead to sickness and ultimately death. NZ has one of the highest winter mortalities in the world; it has likewise one of the lowest indoor temperatures in the world (way below WHO thresholds) – if people aren’t inured against coldness here, no one in the world is. It doesn’t lead to acclimatisation, though, it leads to squalor and premature demise.

  13. The biggest problem with the assistance on offer, was that there was no compulsion for landlords to buy in at all, and private homeowners had to have the equity available to get into the scheme, which was subsidised, but didn’t have loans available hooked up to the providors of the insulation service – back in the day, energy companies used to loan money to householders who were upgrading, say, gas heating appliances, or nightstore electric heaters, which could be paid off over a couple of years via the energy company bill.

    The worst cases of uninsulated, badly maintained housing in NZ are owned by property speculators, who have just been sitting on rental housing, expecting to make capital gains out of selling ‘fixer-uppers’ to new homeowners when ‘the market is right’.

    Some Real Estate agents even sell investment properties on the basis that the client my not get enough income from rents, but have to ‘top-up’ for 5 years until the property market rolls into the next generation of young, fully employed, ‘dinky’s’ buying their first home.

    Well, that kind of logic keeps the commissions flowing in for the agents, the banks and the insurance companies, doesn’t it? Who cares if the sale falls over within 18 months? Just gives the opportunity to make another commission on the next sale …

  14. The trouble with this kind of stuff is that one of the most important things that we can do is acclimatise to the weather that is around us. When we do a fair amount of work outside then we acclimatise and need less warmth or coolness when we rest.

    The state we’re in now is that people in sedentary jobs need extra warmth or coolness to do these jobs and so they acclimatise to this and so they then in turn need it to follow them around, this micro climate, everywhere else they go.

    The answer may seem to be better insulation but what are you insulating them from? And why do they need to be insulated?

    More ambulance at the bottom of the cliff when we should be encouraging people to get out and about.

  15. Meanwhile Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister has banned a TV Ad Campaign urging people to help tackle climate change, because he doesn’t believe Humans have anything to do with it.
    The GP and FOE have called for him to step down.
    Of course he won’t – ?

  16. $125 million over 1 year instead of $1 billion over 10 years, no wonder The Greenz just couldn’t work with National.

  17. Cos if you give the Poor money…it’s a worry. And then less Energy used means less money for Our Donors master.

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