A review of ‘Solid Wall Insulation: Unlocking Demand and Driving up Standards’ , Peter Hansford, Chief Construction Adviser to the UK Government.

One key area of retrofit that we are repeatedly asked about by Home Energy Masterplan clients is solid wall insulation (SWI). This isn’t surprising when you consider that there are over 8 million homes in the UK with solid, uninsulated walls. It’s also one of the retrofit measures with the greatest potential savings. It was with particular interest then that we reviewed the recently published review of solid wall insulation by Peter Hansford, Chief Construction Adviser to the UK Government.

Below is my attempt to summarise the findings that are relevant to homeowners:

  • There is a general lack of awareness by private homeowners of the need for SWI, the solutions available and the costs and benefits.
  • Current demand for SWI is depressed for a variety of policy and technical reasons.
  • Government policy impacting SWI has often lacked consistency, which appears to have resulted in a degree of confusion and misunderstanding, particularly by homeowners.
  • With so many property archetypes existing, there is no single solution that would apply to all properties. This adds to the confusion by householders of what is the correct solution for their individual properties.
  • Many instances have been reported of an incorrect solution having been applied, which in some cases has caused damp, mould or poor air quality.
  • To overcome these problems, a higher level of expertise is needed in assessing the correct solution for a particular property and in ensuring that it is installed properly.
  • The importance of a ‘whole-house’, rather than a piece-meal approach, is clear. That is not to say that all properties have to be subjected to a whole-house retrofit solution as a single exercise. Rather, the point is that properties should be assessed on a whole-house basis and the retrofit measures should be planned over the medium-term in a manner that does not later preclude the addition of further measures. For example, solid wall insulation measures should take cognisance of the possible need to install ventilation equipment, and the separate need to replace doors and windows (possibly at a later date).
  • A Retrofit Co-ordinator (or competent person, or responsible designer) role is necessary to take responsibility for ensuring that a correctly designed and executed solution is delivered.

Our view is that this is a very honest and detailed review of the current state of play with regards to SWI and certainly reflects the experiences of ourselves as consultants and project managers of retrofits. In our work we are particularly focussed on ensuring that risks associated with incorrect design and poor workmanship during installation are minimised, and the report recognises that this approach needs to be more prevalent.

We hope that through our work in assessing and advising on the benefits, and risks, associated with solid wall insulation that we can play our part in increasing the number of SWI installations going forward. We’re excited that the role of Retrofit Coordinator has been highlighted as a useful development in the industry; our role as trainers of retrofit coordinators at the Centre of Refurbishment Excellence has shown the significant value it would bring to jobs of all sizes but in particular, larger complex ones.

While the environmental, cost and comfort benefits of SWI are clear, there is still plenty of work to be done on the part of assessors, installers and government to make sure that this becomes an attractive solution for those 8 million plus homeowners.