First things first


Sunday, 1 February 2009

Lighting the touchpaper

A big thanks is due to the Westcombe News for putting our article about the transition towns concept so prominently on pages 1 and 3 of the latest issue, which we hope has lit the touchpaper and whetted people's interest.

If you don't get the WN delivered, you should be able to see it within a few weeks by clicking here.

If you want to get involved or simply be kept up to date on upcoming Transition Westcombe events, simply email us at (replace 'AT' with '@'). We promise not to swamp your inbox, as we intend to send only occasional messages, and of course you can unsubscribe at any time.

What was particularly interesting about the new issue of the Westcombe News is that so many of the articles touched on 'transition' themes, which are increasingly preoccupying people even if they aren't labelled as such.

A piece about the need to preserve local businesses and shops ('use them or lose them') fits very snugly with the transition towns' drive to localise the economy so that we get more of our basic needs from within the local community, making us more resilient to whatever shocks are thrown at us by economic turmoil, the end of cheap-and-easy oil and the challenge of combating climate change.

Inside, Anne Robins from the Victorian Society talked about the importance - and the difficulty - of making Westcombe's many Victorian buildings more energy efficient. As she writes, they were built 'in an era of different energy needs and technology', and creative ways of adapting them now have to be found. Elsewhere, other transition towns have gone at this issue with gusto, even arranging for residents to buy insulation, renewable energy equipment or energy efficiency measures in bulk in order to cut the cost.

Perhaps we can put our heads together and come up with a similar scheme in Westcombe.


Andy C said...

Hi there

Well done for getting the ball rolling - this is very exciting! I've emailed you seperately to establish contact properly but I'm a fellow Westcombe Park-er keen to help make this happen.

John said...

There are massive problems with insulation and many other 'green' technologies in older properties: by and large they're expensive, ugly and missold.

As a rule of thumb, the only things worth doing *on the basis of their cash return* are loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, and draughtproofing.

Double glazing and commercial solar installations, as examples, will never repay their installation cost.

(Bah, why can't you edit or invisibly delete comments? This replaces the deleted contribution above, with added bons mots.)

Gavin said...

Really, is double glazing not an effective investment? I've never heard that before.

I believe we could add solar water heating to your list of cost-effective installations.

John said...

OK, let's make up some numbers ...

I've got a Victorian semi: gas bill is £50 a month, so £600 a year for heating and water.

Two bay windows, seven other windows, and a set of French windows, so replacement with UPVC double glazing is going to be, what, £6000 minimum? I suspect it's closer to £10k.

Let's assume that double glazing saves 1/3 on the heating bill, and ignore the hot water element of gas usage: let's also admit that my £600 is in a house where the double glazing has mostly been done, so with this assumption it would be £900 a year.

So, I'm investing £6000 to save £300 a year. Ignoring the opportunity cost of that capital, that's a 20 year payback. The expected design life of UPVC windows is 15-20 years.

In reality, by far the greatest heat losses in a home are through air movements (ie draughts), through the roof, and through the walls as opposed to the windows, so the gain from double glazing is a lot less than 1/3 of the bill.

The maths for commercially installed solar hot water is similar. Let's assume 1/3 of my gas bill is for hot water, so £200 a year. A decent solar insallation is going to be £2-3k minimum: let's be optimistic and say £2000.

If it provided *all* of my hot water, all year round, it would take ten years to pay it back. Not even the cowboys who'll rip you off for £5 or £6k for a sub-standard installation claim it will provide all your hot water.

I reckon 75% over the summer, and 1/3 over the rest of the year is probably not unfair, which would put the cash return at about £85 a year.

If you can DIY, then you might get the return period down to about 10 years, which is probably marginally worthwhile.

Of course, all of this is based on the cash payback and says nothing at all about any other reasons for doing such work.