Does the UK have the right idea about insulation?

In a recent article from the BBC, it was announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown that people would be able to receive free or half priced insulation for their homes.  The program (or programme for our English friends) involves providing assistance to all homeowners to combat the sharp increase in energy prices.  The program will cost approximately £910 million.

A major concern for the industry, and many homeowners, is the time it will take to insulate the approximately 15 million homes that would be eligible under the scheme.

But beyond the time frame and the cost, there is an even better story here that is being ignored – the reduction of green house gases (GHG).

It is estimated that households account for between 18% and 25% of all GHG emissions.  While the boom in appliances which are never unplugged has contributed to increased energy usage and GHG emissions, the biggest cost is still associated with heating and cooling.  Lack of insulation means that more energy is used to heat and cool a home than is really necessary.  In fact, the government expects people to be able to save £275 per year on electricity bills without having to unplug their new flat screen TV every evening.

So, if the United States government is serious about reducing GHG emissions, what simpler way is there than giving homeowners direct support to add insulation?  Not only does it help the homeowner make a good choice for the environment, but it also saves them money every year.  If that isn’t a vote winner during the elections I am not sure what is.

Some people might try to argue that more pollution will be created by manufacturing insulation than will be saved.  Unfortunately for them, this argument does not have any merit.  Even fiberglass saves 10 times the GHG emissions used in production over the life time of the product.  But if Cellulose insulation was used it would also have two additional benefits – the lowest embodied energy in production and it reduces the amount of waste paper going into landfills.

The benefits of this type of program are clear:

  1. Cuts down GHG emissions from homes
  2. Saves people money each and every year
  3. Low embodied energy in manufacturing minimizing GHG emissions
  4. Reduces waste going into the landfill

Unlike the NAHB green build program and LEED certification, we would recommend a “sliding scale” for government support based on the types of insulation installed.  The criteria would be based on embodied energy used in manufacture, amount of recycled content in the product and the GHG emissions prevented after installation.

Those products which have less embodied energy and higher recycled content would qualify for greater monetary support from the government.  Obviously, this would benefit Cellulose insulation more that fiberglass but then we do believe that Cellulose insulation is the “Greenest of the Green” and should be viewed in that way.

With a proposed $700 Billion bail out planned for the financial market, what would an extra $3-$5 billion investment for homeowners make to the bottom line?  Not much in our opinion.  More importantly, a direct subsidy would have much more impact than a tax rebate which won’t be seen for at least a year and gets lost in the overall tax planning of most people – especially low income households.

In summary, we think the UK government has got it right.  Well done Gordon Brown and good luck with the implementation.

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