Avoiding Fuel Poverty and Saving Energy by Insulating Hard-to-Heat Solid Wall Homes


Do you remember the saying “It’s the ECONOMY, stupid!”. It is a statement that has gone into political legend. But as far a global warming is concerned we need to recognise that “It’s the HOUSE, stupid”. In fact individual homes in Western Developed Nations are responsible for up to 50% of global warming – and hence climate change – problems.

Heating causes most of this because a great deal of the energy used comes from burning fossil fuels. It doesn’t matter whether this is in the home or at some remote electricity generating station. Wherever the fuel – the coal, gas, wood, oil and so on – is converted into energy it gives off carbon dioxide gas – the main “green house” gas that helps cause global warming.

In fact 25% of all the UK’s CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions come from household energy use, with 70% linked directly space heating and hot water.

Because the problem is so urgent the UK Government has decided this must be reduced by at least 20% by 2010. But at the same time it has committed to ending fuel poverty by 2015.

Both are tall orders.


Let’s first take a look at fuel poverty – where any household has to spend more than 10% of disposable income to make their home comfortable to live in.

The WHO (World Health Organisation) regards 21°C as being an adequate temperature for Living Rooms, and 18°C elsewhere. However, if it’s 2°C or less outside, 18% of UK homes fall way below this, recording only 16°C in their living rooms.

It 2000 AD there were over 5 million such homes in the UK, more than 3 million of which were solid wall properties – i.e. buildings that do not have cavity wall type construction..

Significantly 83% of people suffering from ‘fuel poverty’ are considered socially and economically ‘vulnerable’. That is to say older people, families with children and those who are disabled or have long-term illness occupy properties that are the most fuel inefficient.


Because many of them don’t spend enough on heating to reach even minimum comfort standards, their homes may be cold and damp – conditions associated with ill health and early deaths.

People living in rural areas often face additional problems, like no gas network, higher heat loss from detached properties, more solid wall construction, and general lack of good quality housing for those on low incomes.


In the UK over 60,000 cold-related deaths are recorded in the UK each year, some 40,000 of these in winter. Thus it is reckoned that exposure to cold is responsible for 30% more people dying than need to.

Cardiovascular disease accounts for 50% or more of these ‘excess’ winter deaths, while respiratory diseases are responsible for 30% or so. Although hypothermia itself is only responsible for less than 1% of these, for every degree C below the UK winter average there are 8,000 extra deaths.

Contrast this with the fact that Yakutsk in Russia – the world’s coldest city – records no excess winter deaths.


Living in cold homes affects us in the following ways:-

– Below 18 – 24 Deg C…. comfort and health

– Below 18 Deg C…….. discomfort but no serious health risk

– Below 15 Deg C……… risk of respiratory disorder

– Below 12 Deg C……. cardiovascular strain, risk of heart attack and stroke

– Below 4 Deg C……… risk of hypothermia after 2 hours

Additionally there are other effects on health. Living in a cold, damp home affects us in other ways. It exacerbates asthma and bronchitis, leads to reduced dexterity and muscle power, increases the incidence of confusion and depression, and there are many other problems related to the mould growth that can occur under such conditions.


Through the building regulations and other measures the UK Government is now pressing for even greater energy efficiency in homes. The aim is to achieve required comfort levels at lowest cost for occupiers, while simultaneously minimising damage to the environment.

However, these measures only apply to new homes, improvements and extensions. We still the need to tackle the mass of solid wall properties throughout the country. These waste an excessive amount of energy and have proved extremely difficult to insulate at anything like reasonable costs.


With around 25 million homes in the UK, almost 11 million (43%) are built of solid brick, stone, concrete, pre-1944 timber frame and other ‘non-cavity’ wall construction. To reduce CO2 emissions the need to improve their thermal insulation is of key importance.

While over the last 30 to 40 years many property owners have installed cavity wall insulation, Local Authorities, Housing Associations, private landlords and individual homeowners have largely ignored the need to Improve thermal efficiency in solid-wall properties. Mainly this has been because available solutions have been seen as disruptive and not cost effective. Consequently they have come to be regarded as “Hard to Heat Homes”. But this is not strictly true. While considered very expensive to insulate, they are not hard to heat.


Research and Development in building materials technology is now beginning to address these problems. New ideas are coming forward, like the use of nanotechnology to create insulating paints. But new applications for old ideas, like ‘magic wallpaper’, are also emerging.


For many years the problems of condensation that caused damp walls and mould growth was a major issue in homes with solid walls, many built before World War II. But it also became a problem in some building systems introduced to address the post-war housing crisis.

Finding ways to keep the surface of inside walls warm so as to reduce or prevent this condensation led to its manufacture some 30-40 years ago. Now special development work over recent years has led to a new 10cm thick variety, specifically created for energy conservation and already dubbed ‘flexible insulating lining’.


Successfully installed in thousands of local authority flats and houses throughout the UK, it is a remarkable material. Applied on the inside of external walls it significantly reduces heat loss and leads to rooms instantly feeling warmer and more comfortable. But this is not just a ‘feeling’, or sense of greater comfort. It is a reality.

Tests by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory and calculations from the National Building Research Establishment show considerable kilowatt savings. So much so that the material is now approved by the UK’s Energy Saving Trust as an Energy Saving Product, meaning it qualifies for Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) Funding and, under their Market Transformation Action schemes, is given a 50% uplift in reducing CO2.


Shown to deliver excellent carbon reduction, the annual CO2 savings for a 3 bedroomed semi-detached house are around 679 kg. – the same as can be achieved by cavity fill insulation. Not surprising then that the Energy Savings Trust recommends it for insulating solid wall homes.


Besides walls it can be applied to ceilings, including flat concrete ceilings, dormer and mansard roof ceilings. Ideal for use by proficient DIY’ers, the material is simple, quick and easy to fix with hardly any mess. It can be decorated with almost any paint, emulsion or wallpaper and can even be tiled