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Use the Green Homes Grant to Prioritise Insulation Before Heating System, Says Retrofit Expert

Insulating vouchers eligible on Green Homes Grant
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Homeowners eligible for the Green Homes Grant should prioritise insulation before apply for a new heating system, according to a retrofit expert. 

Russell Smith is the founder of Retrofit Works, a non-for-profit which works with homeowners to help them understand their energy consumption and how retrofit schemes can reduce their home’s running costs. 

Having renovated his home 17 years ago, Smith struggled to get professional advice on reducing his energy demands, and went on to set up Retrofit Works to ensure other homeowners had access to information on retrofitting their homes, as well as access to TrustMark-accredited retrofit coordinators.  

Homebuilding & Renovating spoke to Smith about the upcoming Green Homes Grant, which begins in September, and asked him how homeowners can benefit most from the scheme.

How Can Renovators Benefit from the Grant?

Smith stresses that each homeowner will benefit in different ways through the scheme, and that careful consideration should be given when reviewing how to optimise your home's energy efficiency.

“Look at your whole house, and how efficiently it is working. Reduce your need for heat in the first place - so ensure you have adequate insulation, draught proofing and ventilation - and then think about your heating system,” said Smith.  

“Of course, if you have a heating system that’s about to go kaput, then it’s best to opt straight for an air source heat pump or ground source heat pump. But bear in mind that the system will not perform properly if you have a leaky house in terms of heat loss. 

“Ultimately, each house is unique, so get a retrofit assessor out to look at your home and discuss it with you.” 

Grant Could Help With Heat Pump Costs

Gas boilers were a notable omission from the eligible improvements in the Green Homes Grant, but Smith was not surprised by this. 

“No matter what you do with boilers, you should not be putting in new boilers right now," he said. “It’s a no-brainer to go for ground source and air source heat pumps instead.”

The government will provide vouchers up to £5,000 for most homeowners (£10,000 for the poorest households) to make energy efficient improvements, but this amount of money might not go a long way in covering the cost of air source heat pumps (ASHP) or ground source heat pumps (GSHP).

Small air source heat pumps typically cost around £6,000-£7,000, while a smaller ground source heat pump is likely to cost around £11,000 - £16,000.

“This is of course a bigger expenditure, but it is a really sensible investment,” said Smith. “If you’ve got to the point where your boiler has reached the end of its life, you’ll need a new boiler - so use this £5,000 to transform the way your home operates. 

“With the Renewable Heat Incentive in place, we’ll soon end up in a position where, if you have a relatively new boiler, it makes complete sense to be replacing it with a heat pump.”

(MORE: Read about a new heat pump tariff and the Renewable Heat Incentive)

Heat pumps eligible in Green Homes Grant

Air source heat pumps are a "no-brainer", says Smith (Image credit: Getty Images)

Providing a Long-Term Plan

The Green Homes Grant will begin in September and run through to March 2021, but it is unclear if this will be the end of the scheme - for example, how long the implementation of works applied for prior to the deadline will take - and whether a new scheme may take its place. 

Smith is working with the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) and the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) to develop a National Refurbishment Plan, which Smith says could form the practical building blocks of a long-term plan to follow the Green Homes Grant. 

“What’s important is that the Green Homes Grant doesn’t end straight away. If the government is creating new jobs and training new people, then we need these people to carry on retrofitting, and if it does end in March we need something else to follow up on its heels. 

“We’re working with the CLC to develop a National Refurbishment Programme, that we hope the government will adopt from April 2021 This would be a practical long-term plan to follow the Green Homes Grant and de-risks such a large undertaking and should gain Treasury support.”

Will the Green Homes Grant Work?

“I think the scheme aligns with the right measures that our industry has been campaigning for, such as prioritising the need for good insulation. 

“The government has pledged to spend a lot of money in a short period of time, and the supply chain could struggle. The government says the scheme could create up to 100,000 jobs, but I think we need to create more than that. 

"We need support from the government to be able to create more jobs, such as comprehensive training programmes, to get people into retrofit. I think we need to create around 270,000 to hit climate change targets. 

“From a climate change perspective, it’s not a lot of money: we need to be moving faster and harder to get houses renovated to mitigate man-made climate change.”