Can living in an energy-efficient home improve residents’ well-being? Gentoo’s latest retrofit pilot aims to find out. Martin Hilditch reports
Is moving into a sustainable home a bit like giving up chips or taking up jogging?
Over the next five months in Sunderland hundreds of homes will be given a green makeover in order, among other things, to find out precisely that.
In partnership with British Gas and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, 29,000-home Gentoo, which is based in the city, is asking residents in 1,000 homes whether they would like to have energy-saving measures installed in their homes - and then pay off the cost in their energy bill each month.
It is this part of the scheme, a pay-as-you-save green deal pilot, which has generated the headlines so far. But the £6 million project will go further by looking at the wider impact any eco-upgrades have on the lives of participating residents. Not only will it examine if the green deal - the government’s £7 billion a year national retrofit scheme - can pay its way, but Gentoo will also monitor the impact the homes have on residents’ health.
So are householders’ enthusiastically embracing the change - and how will the project reveal the wider impact of large-scale retrofitting?
Andrew Clark, green projects officer at Gentoo Green, the environmental arm of Gentoo Group, says it will work with South of Tyne Primary Care Trust to monitor residents’ contact with health services over the years to come.
‘We are looking to measure [the impact on health] within the postcode area, compared with other postcode areas [where homes haven’t been upgraded],’ he says. ‘We will be measuring the number of admissions to hospital, the length of stay in hospital; respiratory conditions - things that could be attributed to a cold property.’
Sally Hancox, director of Gentoo Green, says the organisation will also check the impact the changes have on mental well-being. ‘We will ask people at the beginning [and end] of the process, “how warm do you feel and how happy do you feel?”
‘We are doing this for the right reasons. We do want to make the lives of our customers more comfortable.’
A good start
Initial take-up certainly suggests Gentoo will have a big evidence base to work from (and is itself evidence that the green deal could prove popular with tenants). Eighty-three per cent of the 874 households approached so far have taken up a package of measures such as improved heating systems and double-glazed windows. Seventy-nine per cent of those contacted have agreed to have solar photovoltaic systems installed on their homes to generate electricity. British Gas will add the cost of carrying out the work to the residents’ energy bills. The money will be repaid over 15 years but these payments should never exceed the amount of money saved on bills by living in a more energy-efficient home.
On a roll
And if the deal works, Ms Hancox says the group can then improve more homes and lives. For instance, at the moment it anticipates that if it spends £1.3 million on upgrading windows - work which would have been necessary anyway - it will get 45 per cent of that back over 15 years through the resulting savings from bills.
‘We will be able to spend that on more people getting more windows,’ she adds. ‘We would like to be able to make sure that we can use our resources trying to make as many homes become energy efficient as we can.’