Three home energy experts explain how you can make your house more energy efficient — and much it will cost you to make these changes
Getting a technical assessment of your house done is the first step when thinking of retro-fitting.
This two-part assessment will determine where your house falls within the BER scale (how much energy you’re using) and where that energy is being lost.
“You’ll get a breakdown of where your heat loss is and what steps you need to take to get your house up to standard,” says Pauric Kavanagh, director of KORE Retrofit, Cavan.
“Some people just have one aspect they want to focus on like attic insulation and others want a complete retro-fit. It depends on what you need and how much money you want to spend.”
Attic insulation is usually the cheapest and simplest option to start with, Pauric says, and it should be considered “before even thinking about retro-fitting windows, doors or heating systems”.
“Typically, it will cost between €1,000 and €2,500 to insulate a standard attic, and there’s a grant available through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) which covers 50-80pc of the cost.
“Attic insulation isn’t as invasive as other forms of insulation and can be done in half a day. A house older than 20 years old will only have around 100m of insulation, whereas the recommendation now is a minimum of 300m.”
There are two ways attic insulation can be done, says Fergal Cantwell, home energy upgrade co-ordinator at Envirobead.
“If the attic isn’t in use you can insulate it at ceiling level. There’s more involved than just rolling out rock wool; any pipework, the attic hat and the cold-water tank should all be insulated. The SEAI, when inspecting, expect these to be done.
“If you are using the space, the slopes of the attic should be insulated.”
Wall insulation is usually the next area to focus on, says Pauric Kavanagh, and the cost depends on the size of the house and the type of insulation you need.
“Pumping your walls is the cheapest and most cost-effective method but that can only be done if you’ve got cavity walls. It can’t be done on stone walls, and most farmhouses built pre-1950s were all built with stone. Stone needs to breathe so cavity insulation is never an option.
“The cost will depend on the width of your wall cavity and how much insulation needs to be pumped in but, again, a grant of between €700 and €1,700 is available through the SEAI and this typically covers 50-80pc of the cost.”
Dry-lining is another internal insulation option, says Pauric, and a grant between €1,500 and €4,500 is available and again typically covers 35-40pc of the overall cost.
External wall insulation “is a sure way to bring your house up to an A rating on the BER scale” but can be quite expensive says Sean McNeil, director of Concave Energy Management.
“It’s also known as wrapping the house externally, and the house then has to be re-plastered. It’s a very effective method of insulation but it’s a much bigger job than say insulating your attic or even pumping your walls.”
However, it can be an attractive option for older farmhouses as it can give the house a “completely new look,” says Pauric Kavanagh.
“It’s a bigger job but it’s great if the existing plaster is getting shabby, the house will look like a new house when it’s finished. “It might be particularly attractive for older farmhouses that need a bit of a work on the outside.”
When your insulation has been upgraded, a mechanical ventilation system should then be installed, says Fergal Cantwell.
“The most common is DCV (Demand Controlled Ventilation). It involves installing closed vents that only open once there’s moisture in the air. They bring in fresh air and make for a healthier house to live in.”
Windows and doors
Windows and doors are often a source of heat-loss, and Sean McNeil says the rule of thumb is, “if in doubt, replace”.
“Windows have a lifespan,” he says. “The majority of people replace their windows at some point and all windows now are up to standard, they’re all double-glazed.
“Good workmanship always comes into play. If windows weren’t fitted properly in the first place, there’s no point in trying to patch the problem — you’re much better off just biting the bullet and putting in new ones.”
The fitting of new windows and doors is extremely important, he says, and “there should be no gaps between your wall plate and your window, and it should go without saying but, everything should be finished to a high standard”.
It should be noted though, that individual grants are not available for windows, doors or ventilation. If you want a grant you have to go through the ‘One-Stop Shop’ system, which means doing a complete retro-fit of your house in one go.
Heat pumps have become very popular, particularly in new builds, says Fergal Cantwell, but before thinking of installing one during a retrofit, you need to make sure every other aspect of your home is energy-efficient.
“If the walls and windows are poor, heat pumps are just going cost you more — always look at the insulation, windows and doors before even thinking about your heating system.”
While heat pumps can be installed in any house, says Fergal, to get a grant, the house has to be inspected.
“A heat-loss indicator is used and this works out where heat is being lost,” he says.
“Your rating has to be below a certain level to avail of the grant and the house has to be a certain standard before a heat pump will be granted.”
The spend on a heat-pump is €12,000-18,000 and a grant of €6,500 is available through the SEAI, says Pauric Kavanagh.
“There are three types of heat pumps available; the most common is the air-to-water unit.
“It works like a fridge in reverse: it takes the heat out of the air and converts it into heat in the house. It’s about three and a half or four times more efficient than a regular boiler.”
If done through the ‘one-stop-shop’ service, an extra €4,000 is available on top of the €6,5000 grant, bringing it up to E10,500.
Heating controls are an option for some, Pauric says, and these allow you to manage where and when your house is heated. A grant of €700 is available for this.
Solar panels are never the place to start for people looking at ways to make their homes warmer while cutting their electricity bills, says Sean McNeil.
“You’d never walk into a house and advise someone to start with solar panels, that’s never a good thing to do.
“Sometimes a big solar arrangement isn’t the answer. If someone built their house in the 70s and they haven’t made it nice and cosy for themselves, by insulating it or upgrading the windows, a solar arrangement isn’t the way to go.
“The starting point is always improving your ‘thermal envelope’ — your walls, floors, attic and windows, get those to the best standard you can, then you can start thinking about solar PV,” he says.
Solar PV is the “cherry on top” and will make your home more energy-efficient if you have already got it well insulated and upgraded your heating system, says Fergal Cantwell.
“It will improve your efficiency further. It’s not essential but if you have the budget, it’s something you’ll really benefit from in the long run.
“The number of solar panels recommended will vary depending on the size of your house but generally, a 2kw system is recommended for a standard house. This is 5-6 solar panels and typically costs around €5,500 and there’s a grant available of €1,800.”
One-Stop Shops offer home-owners all the services required for a complete home energy upgrade, according to the SEAI.
There are 11 registered One-Stop Shop operators in Ireland and they will manage the entire process for you, from the initial assessment of your home, through to the final BER.
There’s a wider range of grants available through the scheme, deducted from the cost of works up-front.
It will organise and manage all aspects of the home energy assessment (HEA) which there is a standalone grant available for, only through registered One Stop Shops.
The home energy assessment cannot commence until the One Stop Shop has a HEA contract with the homeowner or Approved Housing Body (AHB) for their home and received a grant offer in advance, where a grant is being claimed.
All aspects of the home energy assessment, including the BER assessment and publication must be after the HEA contract is issued to the homeowner or AHB.
A home energy assessment is not currently a mandatory requirement prior to a One Stop Shop commencing a home energy upgrade but it is expected that it will be mandatory in 2023.
A home can only receive a home energy assessment grant once and the report needs to be uploaded to the OSS portal, and issued to the homeowner or AHB, prior to requesting the home energy assessment grant.
The One Stop Shop will provide the homeowner with the home energy assessment report and upload the report to the OSS Portal. The OSS must talk the homeowner through the report which should include the details listed on the checklist below.
The Home Energy Assessment (HEA) grant will be issued to the One Stop Shop after a Request For Payment is submitted (once the BER is published and the HEA is provided to homeowner or the AHB, and SEAI).