Rising fuel costs – and warnings that fuel rationing could be on the cards – have prompted many to consider retrofitting their home. However, as the bill for a deep retrofit of a three-bedroom home could come to between €60,000 and €70,000 or more, the cost of such an energy upgrade can be prohibitive.
ew State grants – available through the one-stop shop scheme of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) – could halve the cost of a deep retrofit. Even after the grants, a homeowner could still face a bill of almost €30,000 or more for a full retrofit though.
A deep retrofit is where you carry out multiple energy upgrades – such as insulation, window upgrades and solar panel installation – on your home all at once. The SEAI says it is possible to arrange a partial energy upgrade through its one-stop shop if you can’t afford a full retrofit.
Another option is to do individual energy upgrades of your home yourself over time and as your finances and living circumstances allow. This may be a more feasible route for many people, particularly given only a small number of companies have registered for the one-stop shop scheme so far. There are a number of SEAI grants available for individual energy upgrades – however, you would need to pay for the full cost of works yourself and claim the grants afterwards, which is not the case with the one-stop shop scheme.
So if you would prefer to manage individual home energy upgrades yourself, how would you best go about that?
1 Get better windows in
One of the first things you should tackle when energy-proofing your home is your windows, according to Noel Larkin, managing director of Noel Larkin & Associates.
“If you haven’t got doubleglazing, you’re losing 40pc of your heating through your windows,” said Larkin. “If your doubleglazed windows are more than 15 years old, your windows are probably inefficient compared to the ones available today. You’ll get an immediate return for your money if you get better windows in.”
The cost of replacing nine windows in a typical three-bed semi-detached home with pvc-framed casement-style double-glazed windows would start at €11,000 – with the bill for triple-glazed windows for the same property starting from €12,000, according to the home improvement company, Global Home Improvements. The cost of replacing twelve windows in a typical three-bed detached home with PVC-framed casement double-glazed windows would start at €15,000 – with the bill for triple-glazed windows for that property starting at €16,000, according to the company.
“If energy proofing your home, you would most likely opt for triple glazing,” said Barry Shevlin, managing director of Global Home Improvements.
The costs of replacing the windows in your home will vary depending on the installer, the type of glass, the style and size of windows, the number of openings and so on.
Aluminium or wooden-style windows will typically be more expensive than PVC-framed ones.
Make sure your windows are the right specification for your home. Typically, aim to get windows with as low a U-value (a measure of the amount of heat loss from your windows) and as high a G-value (the amount of solar heat your windows allow into your home) as possible.
You can’t get SEAI grants for windows and doors if you manage your energy upgrades yourself – such grants are only available if you go through the SEAI’s one-stop shop service.
2 Insulate your home
Another priority when energy-proofing your home is insulation. Attic insulation is one of the most cost-effective upgrades you can make to your home. Expect to pay at least €1,000 (before the SEAI grant) to insulate your attic with fiberglass, depending on the size of your home. The bill for attic insulation could run to a few grand, particularly if you use more expensive material than fiberglass. It may work out cheaper to insulate the attic yourself – if you have the time and skills to do so. (You won’t be able to get a grant however if you do the job yourself.)
Insulating your walls is another good way to cut back on the amount of energy used in your home – and external wall insulation is typically the best way to insulate your walls. External wall insulation for a detached home could cost around €20,000 (depending on the size of your home and other factors), according to Fergus Merriman, a chartered building surveyor and director of Merriman Solutions.
It will usually be cheaper to insulate your walls internally rather than externally – but internal wall insulation may not suit your home.
“If you’re internally insulating any kind of traditional blockwork house where internal blockwork walls meet the outer wall – such as cavity or hollow blocks, you can almost guarantee that you’ll have mould growth and condensation,” said Merriman. “To avoid cold bridging in such properties, get external insulation rather than internal insulation.” (A cold bridge is an area in a building where a gap occurs in the insulation. As these areas will be colder than the main areas, there is a greater risk of condensation and mould.)
The most affordable type of wall insulation is cavity wall insulation but check that your walls can take such insulation first.
You can get SEAI grants for individual energy upgrades such as internal, external and cavity wall insulation.
3 Get solar panels
There are two main types of solar panels. One, known as solar thermal collectors or solar hot water collectors, heats your water. The other, known as solar photovoltaic (PV) modules, generate electricity.
It could cost between €5,000 and €10,000 or more for a solar energy system for your home, depending largely on the size of your house, the installer and the components that you use, and the number of panels you get installed.
A 5kW solar panel system (for electricity) – which could be the size of system required for a detached home in the countryside – might cost between €8,000 and €10,000 or more, though costs vary.
A solar thermal collector system (for heating your water) for a house of four people could cost as much as between €5,000 and €8,000, though again, costs vary.
SEAI grants are available for solar panels and this will bring down the cost of your solar.
A 3kW solar PV system would generate more than 40pc of the amount of electricity used a year by a typical home while a well installed solar thermal collector system would generate up to 60pc of the home’s hot water a year, according to the SEAI. Your solar energy system needs daylight to function so it will still generate electricity on overcast days but it will work at its best when in direct sunlight.
4 Get a heat pump
Heat pumps are renewable energy heating systems. The most common type of heat pumps are air source pumps, where heat is extracted from external air.
It would cost around €12,000 to install a typical heat pump system in a home – including the heat pump, new storage cylinder, controls and pipework, according to the SEAI. That bill would typically rise to around €16,000 if you were to change all the radiators in the house to low temperature radiators as well, added the SEAI.
However, costs will vary depending on the installer, the size and age of your home, the condition and age of the heating system being replaced and the type of heat pump you are installing. Ground and water source heat pumps (where energy is derived from below the earth’s surface) will generally be more expensive than air source heat pumps.
Some older homes may not be suitable for heat pumps. “Heat pumps work well but they work better in homes that are very well sealed,” said Larkin.
There are SEAI grants (both through the one-stop shop and individual energy upgrades) available to help reduce the cost of getting a heat pump in your home.
“A typical oil boiler replacement with modern controls would cost around €4,000,” said a spokeswoman for the SEAI. “The heat pump replacement cost after the SEAI grant is factored in would be similar for an oil boiler replacement for the homeowner. The heat pump is a modern, highly efficient and clean heating system, it makes sense to install one if the existing boiler needs replacing.”
5 Finance and payback
SEAI grants cover up to 50pc of the cost of retrofit works, and up to 80pc for attic insulation and cavity wall insulation, according to a spokeswoman for the SEAI. Should you need to borrow any money to fund a retrofit, a number of financial institutions (including An Post, AIB, Bank of Ireland and many credit unions) offer discounted ‘green’ loans for home energy upgrades.
How long it will take to get payback for the money spent on energy-proofing your home will depend on a number of things, including the size of your home, how energy-inefficient it was before the energy upgrade, how you use energy in the home, and the actual cost of the energy upgrade. “Lower cost measures like attic and cavity wall insulation might typically pay for themselves in four or five years,” said the SEAI spokeswoman. “For more significant measures like say external wall insulation or heat pumps, payback could extend to eight or ten or even more years.”
It’s really the next generation that will get the full benefit of home retrofits undertaken today, according to Larkin.
“For some retrofit jobs, the payback will be spread over 15 to 20 years,” said Larkin. “For you to see an immediate benefit for yourself is probably not the way to look at it.”
6 Do your groundwork
Before embarking on any retrofit, see if there are any simple low-cost steps you can take around the home to reduce your energy bills.
“The first thing to look at is draught proofing,” says Noel Larkin, managing director of Noel Larkin & Associates.
“The air is changing all the time in your home. If you’re heating the air in your home and your air is changing every four to six hours, that means you’re heating the air every four to six hours. So if you’ve a draughty house, stopping the number of air changes saves energy.
“Start with your windows – windows need very regular maintenance. Ensure your windows are closing tight against the frame.”
Repair or replace any damaged hinges, faulty locks or broken seals on your windows.
Draughtproof your doors too – simple measures like getting a keyhole cover, ensuring you have a letterbox with a flap on the inside and outside (and a brush in between) and putting draughtproofing cushions at the bottom of your doors should help with this.
As a lot of heat can be lost through chimneys, draught-proof your chimney.
“You can buy a draught-proof balloon, which inflates in the flue,” said Larkin. You should be able to buy a draught-proof balloon in a hardware store for between around €20 and €30.
Be sure to remove the balloon when you want to light a fire.
Draughtproof and insulate your attic access hatch too.
“The attic access hatch is often not draught-proofed or insulated – allowing an awful lot of air to escape,” said Larkin.
“Another thing to look at is any downlights in your ceiling. These are essentially holes between your house and the attic and air can escape through them – so put cowls around the downlight to stop the air escaping.
“Try to be energy-efficient around your home when draughtproofing, but know too that you need a healthy amount of air changes in your home.”
You’ll save up to 10pc off your heating bills by turning down the thermostat by just one degree celsius. Get a thermostat for your hot water cylinder too as this will stop water heating over a certain level.
“A lot of people overheat their water,” said Larkin. “If you find you’re regularly mixing cold water with your hot water to cool down the water when in the shower for example, that means you’ve wasted money heating the water.”
You could get a thermostat for your hot-water cylinder for around €20 in your local DIY store.
You can access a wider range of grants through the SEAI’s one-stop shop than if you were to manage the energy upgrades yourself.
You may be entitled to a free energy upgrade if you own and live in your own home and you are on certain social welfare payments – such as the fuel allowance or the working family payment.
Do your homework. Only deal with reputable companies that offer quality materials and workmanship when retrofitting your home.
“Don’t go rushing into a retrofit without getting professional advice first,” said Larkin.