The Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) latest report on the Energy Efficiency of Existing Homes has been published, with welcome recommendations on incentivising the use of natural fibre insulation materials.
The enquiry finds a number of inadequacies within the sector and calls for overhauls of the Green Homes Grant and Energy Performance Certificates (EPC). The report also recommends reductions in VAT rates for energy saving refurbishment materials and notes a ‘chronic shortage of skills in the home retrofit sector’.
Particular emphasis is weighed on the anticipated publication of the Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy to ‘provide clarity and inspire confidence in the sector’.
In regards to sustainable construction materials and natural fibre insulation (NFI), the report states (p54):
155. The technology to improve the energy efficiency of homes already exists, although some measures such as solid wall insulation need cost reductions in order to scale up their use at pace. Unlike other sectors where technologies need to develop to facilitate carbon reduction on scale, energy efficient housing can be put in place immediately. Mark Lynn, from Eden Renewable Innovations Ltd, told us that sustainable bio-based and breathable products and systems could provide many energy efficient, healthy, and sustainable improvements to existing homes but had been under-utilised in the UK to date despite being well established in other major European countries. Sustainable products include insulation made using natural fibres, breathable mineral, clay and lime-based plasters, renders, mortars, and paints as well as structural components made predominantly from timber. Bio-based materials such as sheep’s wool or wood sequester non-fossil carbon, while lime based renders, plasters and mortars have lower embodied carbon compared to equivalent cementitious materials due to the lower energy inputs during manufacture.
156. Natural fibre insulation (NFI) is highly suitable for use in the older, traditional properties of which there are eight million in the UK. It provides greater breathability which helps with humidity and damp issues. NFI use, in new build and retrofit alike, accounts for between 0.2 and 0.3 per cent of the UK insulation market at contractors’ prices. By contrast, in France and Germany, its market penetration is at between five and ten per cent. Mark Lynn explained that France had mandated the use of natural materials, with a requirement for 50 per cent natural materials in public buildings, by 2022. He added that this was highly ambitious, and the UK could not make this sort of mandate because the capacity to supply was not adequate at present. Except for sheep’s wool, all natural fibre insulation is imported from mainland Europe to the UK. Brian Berry from the Federation of Master Builders said that the availability of sustainable insulation materials was an issue and there were concerns about some products and availability post-covid and post- Brexit.
The committee’s conclusions and recommendations (p61) were:
38. Sustainable building materials are not being utilised to anywhere like their full potential in the UK. The use of natural fibre insulation could have significant benefits for the UK’s older housing stock.
39. We recommend that within its Heat and Buildings Strategy, the Government consider stipulating the use of sustainable materials in public sector energy efficiency contracts as a first incentive to drive the UK’s domestic supply chain of these materials.
The ASBP agrees with the committee that the retrofit challenge is enormous and radical changes are required for the UK to meet its energy reduction targets. We welcome the recommendations of the inquiry in regards to sustainable building materials and support calls for the overhaul of EPCs and the Green Homes Grant.
Find out more about the Energy Efficiency of Existing Homes inquiry here – committees.parliament.uk/work/309/energy-efficiency-of-existing-homes.
ASBP involvement with the Environmental Audit Committee
Mark is a long-standing ASBP board member and is Managing Director of Eden Renewable Innovations Ltd, the manufacturers of Thermafleece, the UK’s only British sheep’s wool insulation company.