How stock investigations are helping a council in Wales deliver energy efficiency improvements for its tenants
Article written in partnership with:
Vale of Glamorgan Council
Challenge: Current approach to improving cavity walls not satisfactory
Solution: Investigations on every property before work starts
Outcome: Efficiency gains
Drones mounted with high-definition cameras have transformed the way in which we assess our housing stock, says Andrew Treweek, operational manager of building services at the Vale of Glamorgan Council in Wales.
“It solves a huge access issue. An inspection would previously have involved the cost of equipment for scaffolding and significant safety issues. High-definition video brings you upfront and personal insight from your desk,” he says.
The Welsh authority has harnessed the technology to undertake whole-house energy efficiency surveys. The savings have been dramatic, says Mr Treweek.
The drones and cameras are supplied and operated under an alliance forged with BBA CIT, a business that is part of the British Board of Agrément (BBA), delivering technical consultancy, investigation and training services.
The organisations first crossed paths at a Welsh Government forum in January 2017 that sought to address the challenges facing landlords in meeting their obligations to provide energy-efficient housing stock.
Mr Treweek had long been familiar with the BBA’s reputation for product certification, but it was at the forum he first met representatives of BBA CIT, a business of the independent non-profit distributing organisation that offered expert property investigation services.
“In the past, the sector has been self-promotional and self-regulated, so it was hard to know where to get the independent advice we needed. The BBA has a history of independence, expertise and assurance, which is what we were looking for.”
Under a contract inked in February, drones are now driving efficiencies in maintenance for the authority.
But the biggest challenge, says Mr Treweek, lies in future-proofing more than 4,000 two-storey dwellings against driving wind and rain in one of the most weather-exposed regions of the country.
‘Very severe’ is how industry experts that set environmental performance targets for housing stock rank the weather in the Vale.
It is known that driving rain hits levels in excess of 100ml per square metre per spell, when in more sheltered areas of the country, such as London, rainfall levels will reach 33ml or less.
But the problem is not just the extreme weather.
Much of the Vale’s housing stock received cavity wall insulation in the 1990s when quality was hard to control, says Mr Treweek.
“We can now be confident that the remedial work undertaken is tailored to a specific property.”
Andrew Treweek, operational manager of building services, Vale of Glamorgan Council
The nascent industry involved multiple players in a long supply chain, he says, which included referral teams, surveyors, contractors and suppliers.
And while cavity wall insulation became the fix-all solution to energy efficiency issues, critics warned the use of cavity wall insulation would undermine the integrity of properties over time.
The very purpose of the cavity, say critics, is to enable the outer layer of a structure to absorb rainfall while allowing the inner structure to remain dry.
In the Vale, these warnings have come home to roost. Water has been penetrating the external brick of many buildings and transmitting to the internal leaf using the cavity fill as a bridge.
So how is BBA CIT shaping the authority’s energy efficiency programme? Prior to February, the Vale adopted a standard approach to properties where cavity wall fill had failed.
The property would undergo the government’s standard assessment procedure (SAP) used to assess the environmental performance of a dwelling.
Where a property failed to meet a minimum SAP rating of 65 – signifying that it is capable of retaining heat – remedial work would automatically be ordered.
This involved returning the wall cavity to its intended purpose, making the property watertight and improving energy efficiency.
But the Vale faced two major problems: not only was the one-size-fits-all approach costly, the remedial work was in many cases ineffective, with total costs of about £10,000 per home.
“But the approach we had also meant that remedial work was being carried out unnecessarily in some cases, while in others, the work failed to get to the root of the problem.
“Instead of future-proofing our housing stock, we were building up problems for the future. We knew we needed a new approach.”
Under that new approach, the Vale can now call on a team from BBA CIT to investigate each property before work starts, says Mr Treweek.
CIT focuses on the issues of recurring damp and insulation. It also offers technical advice on issues around dealing with drainage. All in all, it covers a pretty comprehensive list.
Mr Treweek says BBA CIT’s “meticulous” approach to inspections – recording installations, identifying damp and assessing the suitability of solutions – is already delivering tangible efficiencies for council and residents alike.
“We can now be confident that the remedial work undertaken is tailored to a specific property. That means we know exactly what we have to order in the way of products, the scope of the work, how many people we will need on site – it drives efficiencies throughout the workflow.”
The Vale has traditionally funded its energy efficiency programmes through capital funding, and so these efficiencies save taxpayers money. But there are also wider social benefits, says Mr Treweek.
In 2015, the authority drew down funds from the strategic energy performance investment programme, Arbed, run by the Welsh Government, which aims to eradicate fuel poverty and help combat climate change.
The funding allowed Glamorgan to target a small community in Gibbonsdown, Barry, to overhaul energy efficiency in their homes.
The project would make homes more energy efficient and improve the overall environment.
The authority owned about 70% of the housing stock in Gibbonsdown, while private owners were invited to join the scheme free of charge. There was a 97% uptake of the project among the residents. Overall, the scheme was an overwhelming success.
The project in Gibbonsdown, says Mr Treweek, is an example of what can be achieved through energy efficiency schemes, and a model that the Vale hopes to replicate across its communities through its work with BBA CIT in the coming months.