Earth Notes: Mass Loft Insulation Project

Helping cut bills and carbon in the neighbourhood: crowd-conserving?

At or around the first public mass meeting of the One Norbiton project, it occurred to me that since our loft only had about 1cm of insulation when we moved in several years before, that many of the identical houses around us on the estate were probably in a similar position, and part of our 'SuperHome' (60%+ carbon-footprint reduction) badge comes from our loft being now properly done (25cm+).

While I'd very much like to see solar PV on some of that ample roof space, it occurred to me that there'd probably get better carbon savings and cheaper if we brought all the loft insulation up to standard instead/first!

With that in mind I eventually hatched a plan (with initial pilot) to get 100+ private (and council, if it will cooperate) houses insulated for free under the CERT (Carbon Emissions Reduction Target) programme running out at the end of 2012. This should cut carbon and bills, and increase comfort too.

Fact Checking

Early in July I did some fact-checking to see if my assumptions about CERT and funding for this sort of project were at least in part right, ie that there was a pot of money to be used, that the scheme ended soon, and that we could get the loft insulation done without costing the owner a penny.

I'm concentrating on loft insulation for simplicity ("do one job well") even though cavity-wall insulation is basically covered in the same way, because homes like mine on the estate, timber-framed, don't have a fillable cavity. Having said that, I won't stop the installer/surveyor suggesting cavity-wall insulation for any suitable properties that we put forward that are not like mine.

(See my notes from fact-checking call to EST and an NIA installer.)

In fact things seemed a bit better than I'd hoped according to the Energy Saving Trust whose advice line I called:

  • I thought that CERT ended September 2012 but in fact it is December.
  • That a household meeting any of the following criteria is eligible to get loft insulation installed for free:
    • Property is council-owned.
    • An occupant over 70.
    • An occcupant on benefits.
    • Less than 60mm of insulation already present.
    • (I'm also told that to get the money spent criteria have widened to any 2-bedroom terrace/semi under 45m^2 loft, 3-bed 48m^3.)
  • That if I get a National Insulation Association installer to do the work then they can organise all the finance themselves and neither I nor the householder need get involved in the money side at all.

Then I spoke to Capital Energy Solutions, a NIA-registered insulation installer with a van often parked on our estate, following the EST's advice to try to use someone with local knowledge. Again, very helpful and CES suggested survey time per property (for large number of similar houses) ~15mins and installation time ~1.5hrs, and with an approxiate time from start to survey to install of 100 homes of just 1 month.

Hats off to both of them for being so helpful.

Doing Stuff (2012/07/21)

As of Saturday morning 2012/07/21 I was knocking on doors with local councillors Stephen Brister and David Ryder-Mills, a member a member of TTK (Transition Town Kingston) energy group, plus another local volunteer to try to find participants for the pilot on streets close to me.

(Willingham Way, Vincent Rd, Burritt Rod, Washington Rd, etc, but avoiding properties thought likely to to be council at this stage.)

I prepared a simple survey form to establish eligibilty and interest. There is an anonymous data-gathering part, and a part we retain separately if a householder wishes to be called back for the survey/install. (.odt, .pdf)

As I'll be handling personal data, to collect it and pass it to installers, I've opted to be covered by One Norbiton's Data Protection/Controller registration and created a note to send along with the data to the installers to remind them of their restrictions in using the data, and using their visits for cross-selling, etc.

Initial Results

Five of us spent 2 hours (each) to get for follow-up:

  • 5 definite sets of details for follow-up (including one from SB)
  • 2 houses from one private landlord happy to put their name forward
  • 1 electronic response from personal contact
  • 1 (pending) paper response from personal contact

and those not ready to be sent off immediately:

  • 5 potential follow-ups; 2 that could be followed up quickly (the appropriate people weren't home) and 3 over a longer period (eg a month or so)
  • 9 that already believed that they had enough, eg 25cm, including at least one council tenant who'd done 10cm himself and was content with that
  • 6 "inapplicable" eg moving out or council tenants that we weren't engaging on this pilot
  • 2 or 3 that were private tenants that would attempt to contact their landlords and pass on my details to see if they were interested
  • 4 that were not interested even though a couple of them were interested in making their house warmer

Quite a lot of people were out or not answering their doors, possibly most, but no one was rude or offended by our approach that I was aware of.

(I had printed 40 forms, 5 came back unused, a ~5 were used for other purposes, eg to leave my name and phone number to pass on to landlords, and the rest had responses. In some cases identifying info had to be removed from the anon survey response, eg addresses written in or on wrong side. Numbers suggest roughly 1 person-hour and 5 survey forms and 10 doors knocked for each "yes" to proceed to survey.)

At 5pm I sent 5 properties' details to Capital Energy Solutions (batch A), and 4 to Climate Energy Solutions (B).

On Monday I persuaded one more friend to let me put his name forward, so that was one more for Climate Energy Solutions.

As Dave Ryder-Mills (a Lib Dem Cllr for Norbiton) said:

... it was impressive the number of organisations we could claim to represent as working together - RBK Cllrs, One Norbiton, TTK, Save the World Club, CREST (and Lib Dems) all with a common agenda!

It was suggested (by Brian S) that "photos of the installation phase with proud householders would help publicise the next phase and perhaps add a prod in terms of keeping up with Jones' where people haven't got it done."

Progress Check and Thoughts (2012/07/31)

I had chased up one batch (A) while away on holiday last week, but found that we had supplied two bad numbers (collected one wrong at the door, and I had transcribed another wrongly into my email to the installers) which accounted for three properties, one property had been slated for survey on the 27th but the surveyor was ill, and one had not yet responded though left two messages so I will follow up. (The wrong phone number collected at the doorstep did not look like a local number so I visisted again to check and correct it.) After a bit more work with the installer we now have four properties due for survey on Aug 7th, and me to prod the householder after an additional message left.

IMPROVEMENT 1: next time collect two items of contact info, eg from mobile and landline or email, to make us less vulnerable to one-off transcription errors.

IMPROVEMENT 2: arrange common script with installers to remind householders of connection with our visit, and let householders know where possible what number(s) installers will be calling from to help get through householder call screening (eg I sometimes refuse to answer what may be cold sales calls).

Of the other batch (B), one is not due to be contacted until next week, one said they were too busy and could they be called back, two had not responded to contacts yet, and one is due to be surveyed 6th August.

So only one survey actually even scheduled out of ten within a week (and then cancelled due to illness!), possibly rising to ~5 within three weeks by which time I had hoped that some actual installs would have happened! So assuming a month from door-knock to install may be reasonable. At this stage I have no indication of likely failure rate at survey due to unsuitable property, or no eligibility, or even already insulated!

Progress Check (2012/08/09)

About three weeks after the door-knocking, 50% (including the 3 I seeded at approximately the same time) have progressed to a definite status (only 1 of my seeds has).

Definite installs/not from batch A:

  • 1 YES: install due 28th Aug
  • 1 NO: already insulated

Definite installs/not from batch B:

  • 2 YES: installs due 22nd Aug
  • 1 NO: changed mind about survey/install

Other still pending or survey appointments to be re-arranged, etc.

The first insulation installs are scheduled for almost exactly one month after the door knocking!

2012/08/23: first confirmation today from a householder that their insulation had been installed (yesterday), and put forward one extra name from a fellow train passenger expressing an interest as first in a MISC batch (insulation installed 2012/09/11).

Note: some people make arrangements for the survey or even install to be done and then are not there on the day, eg are on holiday, which is unfortunate, but does not seem to astonish the installers.

Leaflets (2012/09/03)

The local estate 'Fun Day' is coming up on 2012/09/08, and schools go back. Additionally I've provisionally planned door-knocking for Saturday 15th and Monday 17th (to try to catch people on different work times). The plan is to create a leaflet (maybe A5) to hand out on the Fun Day and at schools (maybe with something said in assembly too), and for the letterboxes of people out when we knock on their door (or if they'd rather make arrangements rather give us their details).

Here is the first verson (Word format) complete with single-use contact email address and phone numbers. Also prepared versions suitable for printing 2-up on A4, with company order reversed on second sheet for fairness, etc, as Word .doc and PDF.

Fun Day (2012/09/08)

Today was the Cambridge Road Estates Fun Day and I helped out at the One Norbiton stand, and took along some leaflets to hand out. Probably only fewer than five house owners took leaflets, but I asked people to ask their neighbours who might benefit.

I was also approached by a resident in one of the tower blocks reporting terrible draughts through the windows: for now I've passed that on to the local councillor but expect to get that back to work on later.

In general, successor community projects to loft insulation could be:

  • draught exclusion and other 'weatherisation'
  • heating controls and education (timers, thermostats, TRVs, etc) and maybe even a 'smart heating' pilot with DECC; education could include condensation management

IMPROVEMENT 3: I should add a QR code (and landing page) for the leaflet so people can just scan with their smart phone if interested.

We had the mayor and Ed Davey (MP and Energy SoS) and a local councillor (David Ryder-Mills) at the Fun Day too!

The mayor suggested that I contact the appropriate Neighbourhood Committees to get the insulation message out, and I shall do some of that today.

(I received a helpful response on Monday morning from Gary Walsh (Capability Lead - Community): "I have passed your e-mail with the details to the Neighbourhood Managers for information, they may find opportunities to share this message with residents and communities at various events or forums," and "I have also copied this e-mail to Shadia Rahman (Climate Change) as in her job with the Council she may be aware of other 'green' publications circulated or 'green' events that you could attend.")

Round 2 (2012/09/15 and /17)

My aim was to do the next big round with 10 volunteers on the Saturday (15th) with a mop-up on Monday for people out on an Saturday, etc.

However, I have one volunteer for each on Saturday and Monday, so I shall start doing the 'bug push' incrementally, spending about one day per week covering another couple of streets in the Norbiton ward. That may make the logistics easier anyhow.

I have cooked up a QR code and landing page and leaflet (2-up Word .doc). I've printed 50+ leaflets to put through letterboxes or give to people reluctant to give us their details but would like work done. These also serve as mini posters and I have given them one each to the library and local pharmacy and another local shop; I hope that the QR code will encourage people to get the Web page and read it.

I have produced a compact street survey form, that allows brief (non-personal) details to be quickly recorded for each house while working along a street, and allows some relatively simple stats analysis such as how many were interested or thought that they had enough insulation or simply didn't respond to the knock on the door. One sheet should cover much of a street.

I also prepared an updated loft survey form to gather details from someone interested in getting the insulation.

Covered the end of the Kingston Road to the Norbiton boundary on Saturday (and a bit of the end of Cambridge Road) with help from Brian S (thanks)! Have a few possibles including at least one keen. Quite a few recently done. Also Dickerage Lane to the railway line, Stafford Rd, Lincoln Rd, Fleetwood Rd, Fleetwood Square.

One of the properties encountered on the 15th has the same agent as two done on our previous round a few weeks ago. The agent has been very helpful and told me of three properties she handles on the same road, and possibly others will be forthcoming (outside Norbiton), which would be a real bonus. Four other survey forms were filled in on the 15th, and several people who took leaflets instead were interested but, for example, did not want to give out personal details.

2012/09/17: have now covered (with the help of David Ryder-Mills, thank you) about the east-most third of polling district HB. A mixture of council and private tenants, with a few freeholders. I also popped into the local primary school (King's Oak) to see if it would be interested in passing on the message via its pupils.

RBK (2012/09/19)

Hurrah! Subject to some sensible sanity-checking of the companies involved, Kingston has agreed to let me organise loft insulation for its tenants!

Hotline (2012/09/20)

Had the first call on the "loft line" today, for a council house apparently without any loft insulation at all from what the tenant says and checking the EPC on-line... Bingo! (Survey and RBK advice booked for 28th!)

Also, two local primary schools (one that I am governor of, and the other that is in partnership with) have agreed to help get the word out, eg with copies of my leaflet! (Variant of ~120-word version went out in the King Athelstan newsletter on 2012/09/24.)

Having spoken to Shadia R at RBK today, amongst other things she tells me that there is a small pot of money to help frail/vulnerable people that don't meet other criteria (eg for CERT). I had encountered a freeholder with decent loft insulation but very poor draughtproofing which she could not fix for herself: I am trying to find if this Warmer Homes Healthy People / RE:NEW scheme (in conjunction with Age Concern) can help her, and other people in a similar position that I meet.

(RBK is already working with one of the two companies I have listed, and has confirmed that I can use that one immediately with their tenants.)

Round 3 (2012/09/28–30)

2012/09/28: today I went and revisited council tenants that have expressed an interest in getting insulation, confirming that I was now officially permitted to deal with them, and to explain about the RBK Warmer Homes extras, and I knocked on doors in Norbiton Common Road.

2012/09/29: I visited Archdale Place, King Henry's Road and Hampden Road, the latter two yielding no survey forms at all though usual levels of doorstep interest which may follow through.

2012/09/30: Gladstone Road, Charter Road, Charter Square, (Waters Sq: could not do): no surveys for lofts but other measures may apply for two downstairs flats.

See updated leaflet mentioning specific RBK affinity booking code for one supplier and indicating that council tenants are covered too.

Looks like at least one person scanned my QR code from their Blackberry today; good to know that it seems to work!

For the record, my standard patter at the door is something like:

Hi. I'm doing a project [with local councillors and others] to make sure that everyone in Norbiton has enough insulation before winter, because it's free to be topped up if you don't ... and it can save you £100 on your heating every winter once it's done.

I also outline the RBK "Warmer Homes" / RE:NEW scheme and especially for council tenants point them to the company 'approved' by RBK for the work.

EPC Survey 1

A quick paper survey of the 11 EPCs available for my road, dating back to ~2008 and including my voluntary one, yields ratings of 1 B, 4 Cs, 3 Ds and 3 Es, with amounts of loft insulation ranging from nothing to 300mm+.

Visited a few on my road without EPCs that I hadn't previously visited, and one householder (council) is sure that she has no or next-to-no loft insulation, and says that she'll call to get it done: bingo!

Discovered that the company my neighbour spoke to has distinct 0800 numbers for different offerings such as RE:NEW, and thus the generic 0800 number that I have been putting on leaflets alongside the RBKL booking code is not ideal: I shall fix it. I hope no one was turned away... I have updated the leaflet.

Round 4 (2012/10/06–13)

Great sunny Saturday 2012/10/06 (we had our washing hanging out to dry!): Porchester Road and Douglas Road. Only one survey form (but enthusiastic) with usual levels of interest in leaflets handed over on the doorstep. Saw a couple of (small) solar PV installations, which is good.

2012/10/10: Waters Road and Rosebury Road. A couple of survey requests, and a couple of somewhat rude rejections!

2012/10/11: a "Mayor of London" headed "Dear Resident" letter arrived through our letterbox this morning talking about RE:NEW and saying "a qualified assessor ... will be calling at your home in the next few days ..." so this may reinforce my door-to-door efforts with luck.

2012/10/12: Ernest Road, Ernest Square, Rosebury Square. No survey requests, but a couple of householders with little or no loft insulation, one of which because the loft is too full of stuff but they are unable to shift it for age/medical reasons, so the RE:NEW / Warmer Homes schemes might be able to get it done finally!

Also did a newsletter insert for St John's Primary School today.

2012/10/13: Gloucester Road to the railway line (eg Norbiton boundary). No survey requests, more/all private housing, at least a couple bear further investigation. Significant numbers of householders still seem not to know about CERT.

That completes the HB polling district boundary, and possibly half of Norbiton ward as a whole so far. (Given that Norbiton ward is 10,000 people at 6,000 addresses, so I am told, that seems incredible.)

Round 5 (2012/10/15–11/03)

Given that probably the bulk of the least-well-off and social housing in Norbiton has been covered now, and given a change in tone of householders even on the Gloucester Road yesterday, and fewer sunny hours available, I'm going to tweak future tactics.

The basic idea will be to skip any very new-looking properties, or those with loft conversions, even though one householder with such a conversion in the last few days said that her whole house was very cold, so I pointed her at the RE:NEW / Warmer Homes Healthy People scheme...

(Also, given roads straddling Norbiton boundaries I will keep to just the Norbiton side by default.)

2012/10/15: Dawson Road, excluding loft conversions (15 of 55 houses) and new developments near the cemetery and at the opposite corner. At least some people had had the Mayor / RE:NEW leaflet but not acted on it, with about not being able to clear a loft, for example.

2012/10/17: commuting back from London today, one of my fellow commuters suggested that I should ask churches to let their flock know in their regular newsletters right up until the December deadline, since many of their elderly/vulnerable may have missed the message that they can get help with loft clearing and other health-related issues at the same time from the the RBK Warmer Homes Healthy People version of the scheme.

2012/10/22: with the help of Liz D and Brian S (thank you!) Villier's Road (east side) from Hogsmill river, Hawk's Road, Bonner Hill Road and Somerset Road; not much of 'H' left to do. Even one KA mum (ie nominally already in receipt of my school newsletter piece) found the loft insulation scheme news to her, so multiple methods/rounds of information delivery can be worthwhile.

2012/10/23: Linden Crescent and Rowlls Road: a couple of survey requests from people who'd started the process but were let down by the installers. Several other people taking leaflets at the door very interested.

2012/11/03: Portman Road and Piper Road: no survey requests but normal levels of interest and a couple of tricky cases (loft clutter and awkwardly-spaced joists). That concludes the 'H' polling area.

The 'HA' area remains largely unvisited so far.

Round 6 (2012/11/17–)

2012/11/17: worked with local councillors on their rounds today, and did the "C" roads (Clevedon Road, Chatham Road, Chesham Road, Cobham Road) using just the leaflets and no survey forms to keep things simple, since a number of other things were going on. Usual levels of interest (ie people keen to follow-up), and good numbers of lofts done, or actually in process. May well have as many as 10 more done from those four roads today, with luck!

2012/11/18: Coombe Road and Station Approach (a handful of houses each), and Homersham Road. Homersham Road had been systematically visited by an installer firm within the last couple of days it seems, at least at one end.

2012/11/25: Norbiton Avenue: a single survey request, normal-ish levels of interest (including a few householders that may proceed IMHO) and one horror story of a lady on the road who'd had her ceiling overloaded and coving damaged. Also, a few people were upsettingly rude; maybe because of the cold and gloom.

2012/11/28: had a call from one of the leaflet recipients on the "C" roads, and was able to get her booked in quickly for a survey; all good!

Out Of Time!

2012/12/14: I think I'm out of time.

For various reasons I haven't made any further progress this month, and most of the schemes will be winding down since there is not much time to actually do stuff before the end of December.

(I fielded a call from someone wanting some help a week or so ago, and left her what I hope was a helpful message by return!)

Roads that I didn't get to visit: Neville, Gordon, Birkenhead (Avenue), London, Church, Albert, Minerva, Victoria, Station, and Tithe Barn (Crescent). However, several of those simply don't have many conventional houses to which CERT loft insulation would have applied I think.

The next stage as to be analysis of collected data, including feedback from the installers on work done (or not) for householders that I put forward, in part to get a feel for how many 'additional' lofts did get insulated from my efforts. My best current guess is 30--40, which might therefore be >15tCO2/y of carbon footprint savings. However, follow-up was not possible.